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Remembering Blue Angel #6, One Year Later

One year ago today, on June 2, 2016, USMC Capt. Jeff “Kooch” Kuss, Blue Angel 6, was lost in a tragic accident while practicing for The Great Tennessee Air Show.

I was honored to work with Sean Tucker that day on a few shoots, ahead of the weekend’s shows, one of which was with Jeff and Blue Angel 5, Lt. Ryan Chamberlain. A dream come true for any aviation photographer, and I think most pilots too. The flight went flawlessly too; everyone made it look so easy, true professionals.

But the day would quickly go from amazing to tragic, because little did we know, it would be Jeff’s last flight.

I hadn’t thoroughly reviewed the images yet, when the accident happened. We were actually preparing for another photo shoot, our third of the day, when it occurred.

It wasn’t long after, when the Blues and Sean asked to see the images, and there’s one that sticks out more than the rest, easily. At one point, the sun reflected a starburst off Capt. Kuss’ canopy, but only his canopy – not Blue Angel 5 or Sean Tucker’s. I caught it on video too; it clearly happens only to jet 6.

 
Another aviation photographer, Glenn Watson, had worked a shoot with Capt. Kuss earlier in the year too, along with performer Rob Holland. Knowing how rare it is for photographers to fly photo shoots with the Blues, we compiled our “behind the scenes” footage from our shoots into a video tribute, following the accident.
 
The Blues cancelled several scheduled upcoming shows following the crash, as they grieved the loss of Capt. Kuss and worked to figure out what went wrong.
In the meantime, the U.S. NAVY F/18 Tac Demo team stepped up to replace the Blues, with both demo teams (Legacy and Super Hornets) painting the number “6” on their planes.
So I contacted VFA-106 Demo Hornet pilot, Lt. John “Toby” Keith, to do a tribute photo shoot honoring Capt. Kuss, in formation with Rob Holland, at the Vero Beach Air Show on June 24, 2016.
Rob and I both flew shoots with Capt. Kuss, so it meant a lot to us to honor him in this small way, with one final shoot. It meant a lot to the VFA-106 Tac Demo team too, and they did not hesitate at the chance.

The same day, the Blues announced they would return to airshows for Independence Day weekend July 2-4, flying a modified five jet demonstration, along with Fat Albert, until Cmdr. Frank Weisser joined the team again as their new #6 pilot last fall.
This week, to mark the 1 year anniversary, WKRN-TV in Nashville, TN produced a 30-minute special titled, “One Year Later: Honoring the Life of Blue Angel Pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss”. It aired June 1, and can now be watched online:
Will the team be performing at an air show near you soon? Check out the 2017 / 2018 Blue Angels schedule to find out:

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Written by Mike Killian

Mike Killian

Killian is an accomplished aerospace photographer and writer, specializing in rocket launch and air-to-air aviation imagery. Over the years his assignments have brought him onboard NASA's space shuttles, in clean rooms with spacecraft destined for other worlds, front row for launches of historic missions and on numerous civilian and military flight assignments, including working as a photographer for Breitling Jet Team in 2016.

When not working the California-native enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, storm chasing, producing time-lapses and shooting landscape and night sky imagery, as well as watching planes of course.