Blue Angels return for 2nd time to Smyrna air show since death of Capt. Jeff Kuss
This year's return of the U. S. Navy Blue Angels to The Great Tennessee Air Show will be the second performance since Capt. Jeff Kuss died after crashing in practice in 2016.
The Blue Angels canceled their appearance from the 2016 show after the death of the 32-year-old U.S. Marine Corps pilot but returned for the 2019 event. The Navy aviation team will again be the headliner for this year's show June 10-11 at Smyrna Airport off Sam Ridley Parkway.
The Smyrna government responded to the 2016 tragedy by building a monument to memorialize Kuss, who's survived by his widow, Christiana Kuss, and two young children, Calvin and Sloane. A decommissioned F/A-18C Hornet that serves as the centerpiece of the Kuss memorial is similar to the jet flown by the Blue Angels team. It's on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.
The memorial is located within Lee Victory Recreation Park off Sam Ridley Parkway and sits directly across from the runways at the Smyrna Airport.
A memorial for Kuss: 'He was our everything'
Christiana Kuss spoke at the 2018 dedication for the monument.
“This memorial has been created, and I’m awestruck every time I let it resonate," she told the crowd who attended the ceremony June 9, 2018. "You all loved him so much. Thank you. You grieve for me and my babies. Thank you. He gave us a great sense of peace and protection. He was our pillar of strength and our soft place to land. He was our everything.”
Christina Kuss returned to Smyrna in 2022 when her children were ready see the memorial to their father.
The Blue Angels team of fighter pilots will be the main headliner for this year's show. The airport also had the Air Force Thunderbirds perform in 2021, said John Black, the 31-year executive director at Smyrna Airport.
"We’re always proud to host the United States military, and we’re proud to offer one of the signature aviation events in the Eastern United States," Black said. "It’s a rare occasion to be able to see aviation so up close and personal, and to inspire the next generation of aviators."
In addition to the Blue Angels, this year's show will include two other military teams with modern jets, including from an Air Force F-22 Raptor. The other will be a U.S. Navy F-35 demonstration team that will fly with other legacy aircraft that had served during other eras, Black said.
Those in attendance also will be able to examine static aircraft, Black added.
"People are super passionate in aviation," Black said.
Smyrna mayor: Welcome back 'Blues'
Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed said in a statement emailed to The Daily News Journal that the town is thrilled to have the Blue Angels back.
"We look forward to welcoming the air show visitors," Reed said. "The Blue Angels have been a part of the Smyrna community since the early 70s. There is always such excitement in the community when the Blues are in town. I am elated that the 2023 Great Tennessee Airshow will include a performance by the demonstration squadron featuring Lt. Amanda Lee, the first female demonstration pilot for the Blue Angels. We are looking forward to a wonderful performance and seeing everyone at the airshow.”
Smyrna has Tennessee's third busiest airport. The runways accommodated over 124,000 operations (take offs and landings) in calendar year 2022, Black said. The airport provides an annual economic impact of $232 million, according to a recent study by the state government.
The airport dates back to 1942 when it was then known as Smyrna Airfield to train Army aviators for World War II. It became part of the Air Force operations in 1948 and was known as Sewart Air Force Base from 1950 until closing in 1970. The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority assumed control until May 15, 1991, at which time the property was transferred to the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority.
The Blue Angels are based at the Navel Air Station in Pensacola.
What was the cause of the 2016 crash?
The Navy investigated the crash with Kuss and determined he had been flying too fast and low, forgot to disengage his afterburners, and lost control of his jet, according to a Peninsula News Journal story published September 2016.
Kuss attempted to eject in the seconds before the crash, Navy investigators said in the report, which was obtained by the Pensacola News Journal through an official records request.
The report cited pilot error as the cause of the crash, and said weather and fatigue were contributing factors. The Navy mandated numerous short-term and longer-term changes to the flight demonstration team in response to the crash.
Kuss had been with the team since 2014. He was one of the six-jet team's two solo pilots and had served in Afghanistan before joining the Blue Angels.
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About The Great Tennessee Air Show
When: June 10-11
Location: Smyrna Airport off Sam Ridley Parkway
Main attraction for this year's show: Navy Blue Angels
Ticket information assistance: phone, 615-549-6640; website, www.greattennesseeairshow.com
This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: Navy Blue Angels return for Tennessee air show in Smyrna