Tributes pour in after loss of Blue Angels pilot

An outpouring of support has taken place at Naval Air Station Pensacola and in the local community as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, grieve the loss of Opposing Solo Pilot No. 6 Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss.

Kuss was killed June 2 when the U.S. Navy F/A-18 he was flying crashed during a practice session at an airport in Smyrna, Tenn.

Tributes have included:

After citizens were invited to express their respects, a large number of flowers, mementos and children’s’ artwork accumulated at NASP’s west gate.

U.S., Marine Corps and Blue Angels flags are on display with an assortment of ribbons and flyers on the bridge leading to NASP’s main gate and on Murray Road leading to NASP’s chapel.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and his wife, An, placed a wreath below the Blue Angel jet on display at the Pensacola International Airport to designate a public tribute area.

Local artist Chaz Ogden painted a mural on Pensacola’s iconic graffiti bridge.

Hundreds of fans turned out June 7 for a flyover in honor of Kuss as the team transported his body back to their NASP home base for a memorial ceremony slated to be held June 9. Lead Solo Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, flying plane No. 5, escorted the Blue Angels C-130 Hercules, “Fat Albert,” during the flyover of downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key before landing at NASP.

The public was invited to attend a candlelight vigil in honor of Kuss at 7:30 p.m. June 9 at Veteran’s Memorial Park. Six minutes of silence will be observed as Kuss was the pilot of plane number six.

Kuss, 32, was a Durango, Colo., native and the pilot of the No. 6 Blue Angels jet, according to the Blue Angels website.

After graduating from Fort Lewis College with a degree in economics in 2006, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Kuss reported to NASP for aviation indoctrination in July 2007. He completed primary flight training at NAS Corpus Christi in Texas and advanced training at NAS Kingsville in Texas, before receiving his wings of gold in November 2009.

He served tours with Strike Fighter Squadron 125 (VFA-125), Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 312 (VMFA-312), and the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and was deplyed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

He joined the Blue Angels in September 2014 and served a year as narrator before assuming the opposing solo position. He accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier-arrested landings, and his decorations included the Strike Flight Air Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and various personal and unit awards.

He is survived by his wife, Christina, and two children.

A private memorial service for the Kuss family, Blue Angels team members and families, and other military personnel was planned for June 9 the NASP chapel.  The Blue Angels team will then travel to Durango, Colo., June 10, and attend a private funeral June 11.

In the meantime, the Blues have announced the cancellation of their upcoming performances at the Syracuse International Air Show and Vectren Dayton Air Show.

Currently, the team is in an operational pause following the mishap.
The team was scheduled to attend the air shows in Syracuse, N.Y., and Dayton, Ohio, June 11-12 and June 18-19, respectively.

The Navy has offered to support these two air shows with their Tactical Demonstration Teams during the time slot of the scheduled Blue Angels performance. The Tactical Demonstration or “TACDEMO” is designed to highlight the mobility, versatility and power of the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet for the citizens who look to the Navy for the defense of freedom.

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