PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Blue Angels newest pilot did not grow up dreaming about aviation. In fact, the first time he ever flew in an aircraft was as a junior in high school.
It was that first flight aboard a twin-engine private plane which began his love for aviation. A passion which carried the future military aviator to new heights.
“I fell in love with being in the air and I fell in love with flying,” Marine Maj. Frank C. Zastoupil recalled during an interview at MCAS Beaufort. “I fell in love with having the controls of that airplane.”
As a F-35B Lightning II pilot, Major Zastoupil confirmed last season he was in his dream career as a F-35 Lightning II pilot. Three months later, that career banked 180-degrees after he was accepted as a pilot with the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron.
Zastoupil transitions from the F-35 to F/A-18
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Texas A&M in 2009, he joined the U.S. Marines. His career in military aviation began with flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He earned his wings of gold in 2013.
“I wanted to fly jets for the Marine Corps. — like what’s cooler than flying jets for the Marine Corps, right,” Zastoupil said. “After years of hard work, I think the F-35 is where it’s at for becoming a tactical aviator.”
The recent F-35B instructor pilot at MCAS Beaufort added last year, “I’m an F-35 pilot and the capabilities this thing brings is bar none to anything else that’s out there.”
The recently promoted Major is fimilar with flying during an air show. He piloted an F-35B during the 2019 Beaufort Airshow — flying a few similar maneuvers the F/A-18 Hornet can perform.
Last July, Maj. Zastoupil was notified by the Blue Angels he was accepted as the squadron’s new left wing pilot for the 2020 and 2021 air show seasons. Once notified, he quickly reported to MCAS Miramar in California to train with VMFAT-101 to learn to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.
To date, Maj. Zastoupil has made only ten carrier arrested landings — far fewer than most Blue Angels pilots. As an F-35B pilot, 90 of his shipboard landings were vertical.
As Blue Angel 3, he will fly in the left position during the four-jet diamond formation. In addition to his precision flying, Zastoupil looks forward to visiting schools and community centers at local air show locations.
The Blue Angels close out three months of fast-paced winter training this week at NAF El Centro, Calif. They will launch into their 74th anniversary season on Saturday with a public performance at the naval base.
[Update: As of March 20, the Blue Angels season has been delayed until NET May 22d with a fly over of the U.S. Naval Academy graduation.]
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)