PENSACOLA, Fla. — The U.S. Navy Blue Angels announced the selection of new pilots and support officers on Thursday poised to join the elite flight demonstration squadron for the 2019 air show season.
The announcement occured as the Blue Angels prepared for their performances this week at the Boeing Seafair Air show near Seattle.
Three new F/A-18 Hornet pilots along with several new support officers and enlisted men and women will begin a two to three year tour with the Blue Angels. Nearly 130 sailors and Marines embody a select discipline and character to be selected to join the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron.
Led by Commander Eric C. Doyle in Angel 1, the 2019 Blue Angels diamond pilots will include returning left wing Major Jeff Mullins, LCDR Brandon Hempler who will move up as lead solo pilot, current narrator LT Andre Webb who will graduate up to opposing solo, and new pilots LT James Cox, LT James Haley, and LT Cary Rickoff. Of the three new pilots, two will be selected for the diamond and one will become the new advance pilot/narrator.
LT Cox, from Chesapeake, Virginia, is serving with Strike Fighter Weapons School Atlantic at NAS Oceana, Virginia.
LT Haley, a native of Canadian, Texas, has served as an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet pilot with the Gladiators of Strike Fighter Squadron ONE ZERO SIX (VFA-106). Prior to that he served with VFA-32 as a pilot aboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75).
LT Rickoff of Atlanta is currently serving with the “Golden Eagles” of Training Squadron TWO TWO (VT-22) at NAS Kingsville, Texas — a strike training squadron.
“It was an impressive slate of applicants this year,” CDR Eric Doyle said on Thursday. “Every officer that applied represented the high caliber of personnel serving in our Navy and Marine Corps. It was a hard decision, but one that will ultimately lead to an amazing 2019 show season.”
The three Marine Corps pilots of the Blues hulking C-130 transport aircraft nicknamed Fat Albert will remain on for 2019. Bert will fly with returning Marine Corps pilots Major Mark Montgomery, Major Kyle Maschner, and Captain Beau Mabery.
“Navy and Marine Corps pilot finalists are selected mid-season and interviewed at the Blue Angels’ squadron in Pensacola,” a Blue Angels spokesperson stated. “The new demonstration pilots and support officers are selected by unanimous vote.” According to recent pilots who have served with the Blues, when a pilot finalist is going through the selection process, every current pilot must approve them or they do not make it.
The Blue Angels will welcome a new Executive Officer as current XO Commander Matt Kaslik departs this November and Commander William Schomer takes over for the next two years. CDR Schomer is returning to the Blue Angels where he worked in airframes and paint shop between 1994-97 as an enlisted member. Those three years inspired Schomer to earn his wings of gold in 1998.
The Blues also selected a new medical doctor to the team to replace outgoing flight surgeon LCDR Juan Guerra. Incoming “Doc” LT Aaron B. Hicks will be poised on the flight line during practices and air shows to provide routine check ups. He has been serving aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) as a member of Carrier Wing ONE SEVEN (CVW-17).
LT CDR Adam Kerrick was selected as the new events coordinator, and LTJG Kristin Toland will become the squadron’s new supply officer.
The newly selected pilots and support personnel will arrive in mid-September to the squadron’s home at Pensacola Naval Air Station to begin training. They will also travel with the current Blue Angels to air show sites to gain a great experience for life around the show site.
The Blue Angels will depart Pensacola the first week of January for their winter home at NAF El Centro in southern California for six weeks of intense flight and tactical training prior to their first air show of the 2019 show season.
For the pilots, they will perform three to four flight practices each day as they work on the timing and graceful style of each maneuver. Meanwhile, on the ground, the new narrator will learn the lines which will detail each flight maneuver, and later practice the timing of when he delivers each line.
The Blue Angels have performed for over 505 million fans since their first public air show in May 1946. The 2019 season schedule will begin at El Centro on March 16 and conclude 30 show sites later at their home base in Pensacola for the popular Homecoming Airshow in November.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and science. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)