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Air Show Photographers Made This Video Tribute to a Fallen Blue Angel

On June 2, Marine Capt. and Blue Angels pilot Jeff Kuss lost his life
in a crash during practice for an air show. Just minutes before he had
been in the air for a photo shoot with his teammate, Navy Lt. Ryan
Chamberlain, air show performer Sean Tucker, and professional aviation
and spaceflight photographer, Mike Killian.
was a great day that went really bad, really fast,” Killian says. Now
he and another aviation photographers have compiled their imagery of
riding with Capt. Kuss, into a new video tribute to the aviator.
The photo shoot was
Killian’s first with the Blue Angels, one he hadn’t even planned. “When I
woke up that morning I wasn’t expecting to do that,” Killian tells PM.
“I was working with [airshow performer] Sean Tucker on another shoot.
Sean just told me, ‘Hey, we’ve got time to do a shoot with the Blues,
come on, let’s go!’ It happened that fast.”
months earlier, aviation photographer Glenn Watson did his own shoot
with the two Blue Angel solos and air show performer Rob Holland at a
ahow at NAS Kingsville, Texas. Watson had photographed the team several
times previously and knew Capt. Kuss from working with him in 2015, when
Kuss was the Blue Angel’s narrator and pilot of the #7 jet. “I spent
time with him last year when he was the narrator and showed up early [at
air show sites],” Watson remembers. “He was quiet, confident, and a
very nice guy.”
June 2 was a tragic day for aviation. Earlier the same day, an Air Force
Thunderbird jet crashed south of Colorado Springs, CO, just after a
graduation ceremony flyover at the Air Force Academy. Capt Kuss crashed
shortly after takeoff from Smyrna-Rutherford County Airport in Tennessee
during practice for the Great Tennessee Air Show.
The crashes moved Killian and Watson to combine behind-the-scenes footage of their recent air to air shoots into a video tribute to Captain Kuss.
In the video, Kuss’ F/A-18 Blue Angel #6 can be seen on the outside of
the formation, tucked up on the #5 jet of Lt. Chamberlain, first with
the Team Oracle Challenger biplane of aerobatic performer Tucker and
then with the MXS-RH monoplane of aerobatic performer Rob Holland. The video closes with a shot of Capt. Kuss landing.
Both photographers say
they’ve been honored to fly photo missions with the Blue Angels and
treasure the experience. “It’s fast-paced and you have to deal with the
wind, it’s noisy and sometimes you can’t communicate effectively,”
Watson explains. “But the Blue Angel pilots are the best and they make
it happen safely. It’s so exciting when they pull up, you have to
control your breathing and just get to work.”
understand how rare the opportunity to do this kind of thing is,
especially with the Blue Angels,” Killian adds. “Sometimes we have to
pinch ourselves to remind us it’s real. We hope that folks like imagery
as much as we love producing it.”