Blue Angels crash was pilot error

Sep 18, 2016
Cap. Jeff Kuss

Recently announced report of Blue Angels crash during practice at Smyrna, Tennessee on June 2, stated that Captain Jeffrey Kuss performed the Split-S maneuver at a lower-than-standard altitude. In addition, he forgot to switch off the afterburner at the top of the maneuver resulting aircraft going too fast to the ground with no enough altitude anyway.

Flying as a Number 6 opposing solo position, every demo pilot should perform its first maneuver right after the take off, in which he must accelerate at low attitude to 125-135 knots and then pitch up the plane almost vertical (high performance climb) up to minimum 3500 feet above ground level. Then he should perform Split-S maneuver with 180 roll entering a half loop to return for runway flyover.

“Capt. Kuss had a maximum airspeed of 184 knots with a maximum altitude of 3,196 feet above ground level. 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 report stated.

Rather than performing the planned 180-degree roll at the top, Kuss performed a 540-degree roll, which is not part of the Blue Angels airshow routine. On the video bellow, you can watch routine #6 take off.

During the Split-S maneuver, Kuss made a call on the radio indicating that he had reached a position of flying vertical and pointing down and had lowered the throttles from their “MAX” position, but the report states the throttles were still at MAX when the plane crashed. He did not attempt a dive recovery maneuver as he neared the ground.

Kuss did attempt to eject from the aircraft but did so too late to survive the crash.

The report also noted that Kuss, had noted billowing cloud conditions before takeoff and had a conversation with another pilot about how the clouds would impact a specific maneuver. The clouds might have influenced his decision to begin the Split S maneuver at too low of an altitude, the report stated.

The report also suggested Kuss was fatigued, noting that he made paperwork and procedural errors before takeoff that were unusual for him. Capt. Kuss showed signs of fatigue on Thursday, 2 June 2016 as evidenced by out-of-character habit pattern omissions, such as not signing the aircraft acceptance sheet, not turning on his transponder, and not deselecting afterburner after verbalizing it on the radio.

Until further notice, the Split S maneuver is no longer part of Blue Angels routine.