“The Town of Smyrna is glad to have the Blue Angels back in the skies over our community,” said Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed as she joined the Town Council, the City Administrator and other city officials on a Smyrna Airport runway to welcome the Blue Angels.
The Navy flying group was participating in the Great Tennessee Air Show for the first time in the three years since one of its team members, Capt. Jeff Kuss, USMC, was killed when he crashed Blue Angel Tail Number Six into the ground near the Sam Davis Homes during practice for the air show.
Blue Angels pilot Brandon Hempler, LCDR, U.S. Navy flies Aircraft Number Five, and talked to the media about his role on the Blue Angels team.
“We practice six days a week, trying to keep our skills and motivation high,” said Hempler, a native of Kansas. “There is certainly an adrenaline component to the work. However, what really motivates us is the people that come out and watch us. It feels great to put on an amazing show for them.”
“I wanted to serve my country ever since I was small. I did see the movie ‘Top Gun’, and that definitely inspired me. At that time, I had no idea that I wanted to be a Blue Angel. I had grown up in the Midwest, and the Thunderbirds were also inspirational to me. The very first air show that I had ever seen was right here in Smyrna, and it featured the Thunderbirds. They put on an amazing show.”
Hempler said he appreciates the Smyrna Airport from an aviation perspective.
“It looks beautiful, the landing was pretty easy, and you’ve got a nice big runway that’s easy to line up on. It looks like a great place for the crowd to be. I’d say it’s an ideal show site for the Blue Angels.”
Hempler is a combat qualified Naval Aviator with more than 320 aircraft carrier landings to his credit in his deployments. After his tour with the Blue Angels, he will return to the Fleet. The Blue Angels don’t perform a lot of aircraft carrier landings while doing air shows, so he will have to requalify, a process that takes a month or so.
The F/A-18c aircraft used by the Blue Angels can also be rapidly converted from a high-performance air show plane back to a high-performance combat aircraft. However, according to Hempler, the Blue Angels are schedule to convert to the even higher performance Super Hornets, and the Hornets they are currently flying — like the one at Smyrna’s Kuss Memorial — will be retired.
Hempler spoke with the Murfreesboro Post last Thursday, the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Across Europe, there are hundreds of towns that remember an American or British aircraft shot down near them, sometimes killing the aircrew. There are monuments to these aircrews still adorned with fresh flowers.
Hempler said those World War II aircrews and the young men and women now serving in the United States military are the true heroes.
“They are all a testament to what military personnel are capable of,” he said. “A number of people have given their lives in service to our country, and we honor every single one of them.”