UPDATE Friday, May 3, 2016: It is with a heavy heart that I write this, but I just can’t believe what happened today. I had the honor of speaking with Captain Jeff Kuss just three weeks ago. Last night, I learned that his plane crashed in Tennessee and he was killed during a practice run for an upcoming air show. My heart goes out to his family, friends and his fellow Marines and Blue Angels. I hope his family will keep this story as a reminder of the amazing, passionate and dedicated man he was. Rest in peace, Captain Kuss.
The Blue Angels are ready to take to the skies on May 28 and 29 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the 13th annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach. For the first time, three jet teams will perform at the air show alongside the Blue Angels including the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds and the Breitling Jet Team. Other performers include the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, legendary air show pilot Sean Tucker, the world famous GEICO Skytypers and their flight squadron, the American Airpower Museum Warbirds, the SUNY Farmingdale State College Flying Rams and several others.
Captain Jeff Kuss, a captain in the Marine Corps from the small town of Durango, CO, can’t wait to get up in the air. The Blue Angel and his comrades are based in Pensacola, FL, but are beyond excited to come to New York.
LIW: Why did you want to become a pilot?
Kuss: As far back as I can remember, I’ve been infatuated with airplanes and that was my passion in life. I started flying before I got my driver’s license. I got my pilot’s license and the Marine Corps appealed to me; the ideas and values, and I wanted to fly the fastest things I could find.
LIW: How long have you been in the military?
Kuss: This is my 10th year in the military and once you get in, you go through basic flight and water training and a fundamental school for the F18 where you learn to fly that aircraft. This is my second year in the Blue Angels and it’s amazing to be a part of this team and represent our country in this fashion, but it takes a lot of practice to make everything so precise.
LIW: What are the requirements to become a Blue Angel?
Kuss: You have to have a required level of flight hours to get experience that you need in the aircraft. You also need to meet recommendations and character traits from the Marine Corps and combat forces we all come from. Once you meet those, then you apply online, meet the team and go through testing. It’s very competitive.
LIW: You pick a handful of officers each year to join the team. How many Blue Angels are there?
Kuss: There’s about 100 to 130 in the squadron, which sounds like a lot but it’s pretty few, and all of the marines and sailors are well-versed in the aircraft. We do 35 seasons and each season goes from mid-March through mid-November. We have 16 officers on board right now, including three marines that fly Fat Albert, our transportation aircraft.
Kuss: They’re all difficult. It depends on the show site obstacle course because some are more challenging than others. The looping cross with all six aircrafts is a lot of fun to practice.
LIW: What do you do when you’re not flying?
Kuss: I spend most of my spare time with my family. My son has been to quite a few air shows and he likes the camaraderie with all the other families on the team. We’re all one big family.
LIW: What is your favorite part about being a Blue Angel or pilot?
Kuss: The flying is awesome, but talking to the kids is so cool. To take a knee and kneel down and ask the kids what they want to be when they get older and what they thought of our flight…to have that interaction is so special. Just to offer encouragement and inspiration and promote what the team does as a whole, to be a good person and be happy. Do what you want to do and find success there.
For more information, visit www.bethpageairshow.com.
Can’t get enough flying? See American Airpower Museum Celebrates ‘75 Years Of Thunder’ to learn about the American Air Power Museum.