The following is the results of a Navy investigation into the June 2, 2016 crash in which Blue Angels pilot, Capt. Jeffery M. Kuss, USMC was killed in Smyrna, Tenn.
From the report:
a. On the afternoon of 2 June 2016, Captain Jeffery M. Kuss, USMC, was pilot in command
of an F/A-18C, Blue Angel Number 6, conducting the Team’s first practice show for the Great
Tennessee Air Show at Smyrna, Tennessee. Shortly after takeoff, in the middle of the first
maneuver, a mishap occurred resulting in the death of Capt Kuss and destruction of the aircraft.
b. All relevant evidence pertaining to the mishap has been assembled and thoroughly
considered. The investigation did not uncover evidence the mishap was caused by mechanical,
maintenance, or other aircraft-related issues. Although there is evidence that the Number 5 and
Number 6 solo pilots communicated at the time of takeoff about a cloud near the maneuver
location, weather was also not a causal factor. All personal flight equipment was properly
functioning and Capt Kuss was fully certified, qualified, and authorized for flight status.
c. The cause of the mishap was pilot error. Capt Kuss did not properly transition from the
initial High Performance Climb (HPC) to the first maneuver, the “Split S.” In order to conduct
the maneuver within existing Blue Angels standard operating procedures, the aircraft should
have had an optimum airspeed between 125 and 135 knots and reached a minimum altitude of
3,500 feet Above Ground Level (AGL) prior to commencing the inverted maneuver at the top of
the high performance climb. Capt Kuss had a maximum airspeed of 184 knots with a maximum
altitude of 3196 feet AGL. In layman’s terms, he transitioned from the high performance climb
to the Split S too low and too fast, and by not deselecting his afterburners during the maneuver,
he continued to accelerate. The net effect of these deviations was that the aircraft was simply too low and too fast to avoid impacting the ground. Although he might have been able to recover the aircraft after the initial deviations, Capt Kuss did not attempt any type of dive recovery procedure and he unsuccessfully ejected from the aircraft too late. Although Capt Kuss was a highly trained and respected naval aviator, his deviations from standard operating procedures in executing the Split S maneuver resulted in a fatal loss of situational awareness.