The Blue Angels will fly the balance of their 2008 season with five jets instead of six because of pending administrative action against one of the team's pilots. Marine Corps Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger, the Blue Angel's spokesman, allowed that the pilot had been removed from flying duties for an "inappropriate relationship" with a female member of the demonstration team. Dunkelberger would not, however, identify the rank or squadron billet of either party involved, citing legal reasons.
The five-plane demonstration will employ a diamond formation without the "slot" position, but Dunkelberger was quick to point out that the loss of Blue Angel No. 4 in the show did not necessarily mean that the pilot has flown in that position during this season is involved in the inappropriate relationship. The mystery will be short-lived, however, as the Blue's are scheduled to perform a practice show today in San Antonio minus the flyer in question and his absence will be obvious to anyone in attendance holding a show program.
The Blue Angels have dealt with other personnel issues in recent years. In 2000 Blue Angel No. 2, a Marine Corps officer, was removed from the team for having another "inappropriate relationship" with the team's female public affairs officer. And last year, Lcdr. Kevin Davis, Blue Angel No. 6, flew his F/A-18 into the ground and was killed during a show near Beaufort, South Carolina. In each of these cases a pilot who had been on the team the year prior was pulled out of a fleet squadron and returned to the Blue Angels so that the team could fly the balance of the season with a full six-jet complement. Dunkelberger stated that there weren't enough shows left to justify that sort of effort in the current case. After the San Antonio shows this weekend, the Blue Angels will perform at the Kennedy Space Center and then close their season with two shows at their home base in Pensacola, Florida.
Updated Nov. 1: This from a discussion thread at the Blue Angel's hometown paper, The Pensacola News Journal:
"calfan wrote: It was two officers...#4 Maj. Clint Harris and Lt. Gretchen Doan. They are both officers...they both know better. Clint flew back Sunday in his jet, minus the #4. Didn't fly in the airshow or practice. He's married with kids. She's not. Bottom line is these are two adults who made a huge mistake/decision, broke a major rule, ruined their careers, humiliated their families, got kicked off the team...they will have this hanging over their heads and following them around forever. Boss did the right thing..."
The allegations in this post are unconfirmed but the tenor of it makes me think this person knows what he or she is talking about, including the use of the term "Boss" to refer to the Blue Angel's commanding officer. And if the IDs are correct, then in fact (and in spite of Capt. Dunkelberger's insistence to the contrary) it was the slot pilot who's been removed, which makes things much easier in terms of working the five-plane show in that all the remaining pilots are flying in the same positions they've flown all year.
And making Maj. Harris fly back from his final show without the number on his jet his something right out of King Arthur's Court or a Hollywood scriptwriter's fantasy. (Remember the opening of the TV series "Branded" back in the day?) Who said the spirit of Naval Aviation is dead?