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Blue Angels announce new aviators, other officers for 2017 season

The Blue Angels fly in formation over the U.S. Naval Academy on graduation day in May. The elite flying demonstration squadron announced new officers, including three F/A-18 pilots, for the 2017 air show season.

ANDREA PEREZ/U.S. NAVY

By AARON KIDD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2016

Three Navy F/A-18 pilots, a Marine KC-130 aviator and other officers have been chosen to join the elite Blue Angels flight demonstration team for next year’s air show season.

“It is such a privilege to have so many talented officers apply to be part of the Blue Angels tradition of showcasing the Navy and Marine Corps to the American public,” Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, the squadron’s flight leader and commanding officer, said in a Navy statement. “I am inspired by all of those who applied this year, and we have an exceptional group to add to next year’s team.”

The new aviators are Lt. Brandon Hempler, 32, a Super Hornet pilot from Training Squadron 22 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas; Lt. Damon Kroes, 34, a Hornet instructor pilot from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.; and Lt. Nate Scott, 31, a Hornet instructor pilot from Strike Fighter Squadron 106 at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va.

Joining the C-130 demonstration team is Marine Capt. Kyle Maschner, 33, a Hercules pilot from 1st Marine Aircraft Wing out of Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan.

The other new officers are Lt. Dave Steppe, 31, event coordinator; Lt. Juan Guerra, 31, flight surgeon.; Lt. Bryan Pace, 32, supply officer; and Lt. j.g. Timothy Hawkins, 37, administration officer.

They’ll join the Blue Angels’ new executive officer, Cmd. Matt Kaslike, who was selected earlier this year.

Each officer was recommended by Rear Adm. Dell Bull, chief of Naval Air Training, and approved by Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, chief of Naval Air Forces, the statement said.

Tragedy struck the squadron on June 2, when Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed during a Blue Angels practice flight in Tennessee. The Navy is still investigating the crash, but amateur video shows the plane freefalling shortly after takeoff.

The Blue Angels returned to the sky a month later with a modified five-jet show for Fourth of July celebrations in Traverse City, Mich.

kidd.aaron@stripes.com

Twitter: @kiddaaron

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