The Blue Angels returned home to Pensacola on Monday, executing their now-trademark flyover down Palafox Street and across Pensacola Beach before landing at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Founded in 1946, the team, which is formally known as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, has been based in Pensacola — often called the “Cradle of Naval Aviation” — since 1954. During the offseason, the Blue Angels head to Naval Air Facility El Centro in California. The team kicked off its 71st season earlier this month with airshows at El Centro and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, also in California.
Pensacola photographer Laura Bogan was in the air Monday to document the team’s return. Bogan serves as the public relations director for the Blue Angels Association.
“Like every Pensacolian, every time I see them come home, or practicing during the week, or at one of our two airshows, I am filled with pride, awe and joy,” Bogan said. “I think of the Blue Angels as our team.”
“It’s bigger than aviation for me,” Bogan added. “The Blue Angels represent the best in all of us. When I see them flying I know that with determination, passion, perseverance and self-belief we can all achieve our dreams, whatever they are.”
The Blue Angels’ 2016 season — the team’s 70th — was marred by tragedy when opposing solo pilot Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed in a crash during a practice flight in Smyrna, Tenn. on June 2. A formal investigation later attributed the crash to pilot error, finding that Kuss was going too fast and at too low an altitude when he tried to execute a “Split S” maneuver. The tragedy resulted in the team standing down for a month, cancelling three scheduled airshow performances before returning to the skies in early July.
The Blue Angels’ 2017 season continues this weekend with the Wings Over the Golden Isles Air Show in Brunswick, Ga. The team’s two annual shows in Pensacola — the Pensacola Beach Air Show and the Homecoming Show at NAS Pensacola — are scheduled for July 8 and November 10-11, respectively. As in past years, the team will also conduct practice flights in Pensacola most Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the season, with team members stopping by the National Naval Aviation Museum after most of the Wednesday practices to meet with fans and sign autographs.
The core seven-member team features three returning pilots along with three new pilots and a new narrator. Returning from last year’s team are flight leader Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi (#1), lead solo Cmdr. Frank Weisser (#5), and opposing solo Lt. Tyler Davies (#6). New to the team are right wing Lt. Damon Kroes (#2), left wing Lt. Nate Scott (#3), slot pilot Lt. Lance Benson (#4), and narrator Lt. Brandon Hempler (#7).
Of the three pilots manning the Blue Angels’ C-130 logistics aircraft — better known as “Fat Albert” — Marine Corps Maj. Mark Hamilton and Maj. Kyle Maschner are holdovers from last year, while Maj. Mark Montgomery is new to the team.
In addition to her role with the Blue Angels Association, Laura Bogan also manages social media for the City of Pensacola and is the author of Upside: An Aerial Perspective of Pensacola, Florida. For more of Laura’s work, visit lauraboganphoto.com.