Twilight has fallen. It is still light enough to see but everything is softer now. The lights on the flight line stand out against the falling darkness. The ground begins to vibrate as the engines rev. Your chest fills with the roar of the jet engine. From your vantage point, you watch the jet taxi, lining up for takeoff. Then, given clearance, your world is momentarily consumed as the engine reaches its fervent pitch and you watch lift off. Too quickly, the plane is banking and lost to the night sky, signaling the end of another air show.
On Thursday, June 2, 2016, two separate incidents led to the loss of two majestic planes. More importantly, one life was lost as the pilot reportedly navigated his plane to an empty field to avoid homes, but left him unable to eject from the plane himself. Fortunately, the second pilot was able to eject and he was uninjured.
Growing up as an Air Force brat, these stories are particularly poignant. But anyone who has ever seen either team perform knows how exciting the shows are. Nicholas Rodgers remembers the excitement, anticipation and intensity of the Blue Angels performance in 1995 when he was visiting his Uncle in St. Louis, MO. “We watched from the driveway. We had a barbecue and set up a bunch of lawn chairs on a hill so we had a 45-degree angle to watch. We weren’t so close that the sounds were extremely loud but we could feel it when they zoomed by.”
I didn’t know Capt. Kuss, but from what I’ve read about him, I believe that he would want the shows to go on. The military’s flight demonstration squadrons, the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, inspire the young and old at every show. Our nation needs the opportunity to experience the thrill and excitement of the jet engine roar filling their chest. Our nations’ youth needs the inspiration to set them on a course that will find them journeying a path of service. Quickly, we must find the new normal, resuming flight in order to continue to inspire and demonstrate how our flight teams excel. But today, we pause in honor of Navy Blue Angels Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss. With all due respect, may he rest in peace.
Please note: In my photo library, I don’t have any shots of the Blue Angels, no disrespect is meant by using images of the Thunderbirds.
High Flight By John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (A sonnet written by John Gillespie Magee, an American pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War. He came to Britain, flew in a Spitfire squadron, and was killed at the age of nineteen on 11 December 1941 during a training flight from the airfield near Scopwick.)
AP journalism student Jennifer Hickok in Redlands, California, contributed to this blog.