PENSACOLA, Fla. — The U.S. Navy Blue Angels announced on Monday the departure of one popular jet pilot and the return of a former pilot for the 2021 air show season.
The squadron had announced in July all six jet pilots would remain for their 75th anniversary season. Their special year will arrive with a fleet of new jets.
The Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron will see the return of Navy Cmdr. Benjamin “Baxter” Walborn to the squadron. Walborn, who served as the narrator, opposing and lead solo between 2009-11, will become the new lead solo.
Cmdr. Walborn will replace current Blue Angels lead solo pilot Lcdr. Brandon Hempler. Pilot Lt. Cary Rickoff will continue for a second season as the opposing solo.
The Blue Angels are in the middle of transitioning from their classic F/A-18 C/D Hornets to the faster F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. Since departing the Blue Angels, Walborn has been busy piloting the Super Hornet at NAS Oceana in Virginia.
“The flying is very challenging in order to get to the Blue Angels’ standard that we want in order to accurately represent all the other aviators out there,” Cmdr. Walborn said during an interview with the U.S. Navy.
Walborn, who earned his wings of gold in April 2004, first joined the Blue Angels in September 2008. He has served the last three years as a commanding officer and Super Hornet pilot with the “Ragin’ Bulls” of VFA-37 at NAS Oceana.
He carries fond memories to this day of his time around air shows. For Walborn, it was not the flying as much as it was the community surrounding each air show.
“The most memorable is going to the crowd lines, visiting the schools, and meeting all the people around the United States,” Walborn said. “It is pretty amazing when you go up to the crowd line and see children looking up to you with big smiles on their faces, because I remember … when I was that kid.”
The Blue Angels’ 2021 season is scheduled to begin at NAS Jacksonville air show the weekend of April 10-11. Later, that September, the Blue Angels will perform at NAS Oceana, and Cmdr. Walborn will perform for his former squadron.
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)