Blue Angels lead solo pilot Frank Weisser has flown dozens of air shows during his five years with the elite flight demonstration team, but Weisser said Thursday the Pensacola Beach show is always special.
Weisser, a U.S. Navy commander, said the beach show is like an extra homecoming show but without the emotions that come with the end of a show season and having to say goodbye to teammates.
“It is really a vacation show for all of us,” Weisser said during an interview at the Blue Angels hangar at Pensacola Naval Air Station before Thursday’s practice show over the beach.
Weisser flew with the Blue Angels from 2008 through 2010. He returned to the team during the middle of the 2016 season after Blue Angels pilot and Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed in a crash at an air show in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Most Blue Angels pilots serve two-year tours with the team before returning to regular duties as part of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Weisser said Thursday that flying in his fifth and likely last Pensacola Beach air show is meaningful in part because of his connection with the city.
“I am grateful to be here in Pensacola. The Navy has bases all over the world, but this is for sure my favorite base that I have ever been stationed at,” he said.
His friends and family members are always among the huge crowds at the local show.
“It is just a really fun week. The beaches are beautiful and all of our families are here,” he said.
Because the show is performed over the Gulf, he said, it is a relatively easy show for the pilots.
“In other cities we are in, there is rising terrain or hills or mountains, obstructions,” he said. “When you are flying over the beach, there are almost no obstructions. At least half of the air space is just ocean and that makes it easier. It is just really fun to be over the beach and have opportunities to see the crowds.”
And Weisser said he enjoys performing in front of a local crowd that has watched the team fly many times before.
“I look at this air show as an exceptionally good movie that you want to see again and again. The more they watch, the more they see,” he said.
As a solo pilot, Weisser said his job is to demonstrate the maximum capabilities of the F/A-18 fighter jet.
“How low, how high, how slow, how fast can I get it to go,” he said.
But he said his favorite part of the show is when all six jets come together at the end of the performance.
“That is our salute to all of our deployed troops,” he said.
Weisser, an Atlanta native and graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served at NATO in Oberammergau, Germany, as director of mobile training and education before he rejoined the Blue Angels in 2016.
Weisser is scheduled to leave the team after the annual homecoming show at Pensacola Naval Air Station in November. He said he has not yet received orders for his next assignment.
“I wouldn’t mind staying in Pensacola,” he said.
Regardless of what happens next, Weisser said his tenure with the Blue Angels has made him a better aviator.
“It has made me a better pilot for sure,” he said.
Weisser said he joined the Navy to fly fighter jets off of aircraft carriers.
“But flying air shows is surprisingly challenging,” he said.