Blue Angels Capt. Ryan Bernacchi praises Pensacola and community before the team’s final show of the season, the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show. Tony Gibersonfirstname.lastname@example.org
As he prepares for his last flights as leader of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, Capt. Ryan Bernacchi said he is thinking about the thousands of deployed service members his team represents.
“We have three carriers deployed in the Pacific right now. We fly for them and for all of the military members,” said Bernacchi, who will hand over his command of the elite fighter jet demonstration team, on Sunday.
He will take to the skies above Pensacola for his final flights in his blue and gold #1 F/A 18 during the team’s annual Homecoming Show Friday and Saturday at Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Bernacchi, who doesn’t yet know where the Navy will send him next, said he and his family have come to consider Pensacola home.
“We have received so much warmth and support from the city of Pensacola,” he said during a pre-show interview Thursday. “We have fallen in love with the community and would love to stay here as long as the Navy allows.”
Bernacchi took command of the team after the 2015 homecoming show. His tenure included the difficult loss of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, a Blue Angels pilot who died in a 2016 crash at a Tennessee air show.
Bernacchi and his team reached out to the community after Kuss’ death, joining in an emotional candlelight vigil attended by thousands of area residents.
Leaving the team and the town won’t be easy, Bernacchi said.
“Who knows where I will go next, but I know it will be rewarding and that it will also involve great people,” he said.
Also leaving the team after the Homecoming Show is Petty Officer 1st Class Rasmey Luos, the crew chief who maintains Bernacchi’s jet.
Luos will head to California, where he will take a break from the Navy to study for his master’s degree. He hopes to become a Navy officer after he completes his studies.
Luos said his thoughts have turned to the team’s rich, 71-year history as he prepares to ready the #1 jet for the final shows of 2017. Many people have been part of the Blue Angels over the last seven decades, but the commitment to representing the excellence of the Navy and Marine Corps has remained the same, he said.
“We aren’t famous, but our (Blue Angels) uniforms are famous,” he said “We are representing the best of the best.”
Although Luos and Bernacchi will no longer work together on a daily basis, they plan to maintain their friendship. Luos said Bernacchi has become a trusted mentor and father figure.
“He and (his wife) are like family,” Luos said.
The annual Homecoming Show at Pensacola Naval Air Station is unique because it is always attended by hundreds of Blue Angels alumni.
Bernacchi said some of the former Blue Angels pilots who will attend the show inspired him to become a naval aviator when he watched them fly as a young boy.
While it is an honor to fly for the former pilots and crew members, it is also challenging, he said.
“They are our toughest critics. They see what we are seeing through the same critical eyes,” he said.
Bernacchi will hand over command of the Blue Angels to Cmdr. Eric Doyle on Sunday.
Bernacchi said he and Doyle have been in regular contact since Doyle’s appointment as the team’s new leader was announced in April.
“Eric and I talk all the time, we have known each other for a while and I think he is is perfect guy to hand the team off to,” he said.