Capt. Ryan Bernacchi handed over command of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels on Sunday to Cmdr. Eric Doyle at a formal ceremony filled with decades of Navy tradition and pride in the elite fighter jet demonstration team.
“When you think of special forces, you think of the U.S. Navy SEALs. When you think of demonstration teams, who comes to mind?” asked Rear Adm. Dell Bull, the former head of Naval Air Training and Sunday’s guest speaker.
“It’s not the (U.S. Air Force) Thunderbirds or the (Canadian) Snowbirds or any of those other pilots, it’s the U.S. Navy Blue Angels,” Bull said to huge applause from the crowd of more 500 gathered in the Blue Angels Atrium inside the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Cmdr. Eric Doyle officially took command of the Blue Angels for the 2018-2019 season during a ceremony Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017, at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. Melissa Nelson Gabriel\email@example.com
Guests at the change of command ceremony included many former Blue Angels commanding officers, team members and other naval aviation leaders.
Bull said the Blue Angels represent the best of America at a time when the country is divided.
“They are one thing we can all stand together and be proud of,” he said.
Bernacchi gave a sometimes emotional farewell to his team.
He paid tribute to Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, a Blue Angels pilot who was killed in a Tennessee air show crash in 2016.
“I have to start with the person who is missing,” said Bernacchi, who added that Kuss continues to inspire the team.
Bernacchi then thanked the 2017 Blue Angels.
“It has been the distinct honor of my life to be your teammate,” he said.
He told Doyle that he was the ideal person to take over command of the squadron.
“I am placing a treasure in your very capable hands,” he said.
Bernacchi and Doyle attended the Navy’s elite TOP GUN fighter weapons school in Miramar, California, together. Bernacchi said their careers have often intersected, and they were even roommates at one time.
Doyle was selected from a field of top naval aviators to lead the team after an intensive interview process in April. He previously served as the executive officer of a Lemoore, California-based fighter squadron known as the Stingers.
Doyle was the top choice from a field of six finalists.
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In his speech to the crowd, Doyle recalled coming to Pensacola for his selection interview. He was nervous, didn’t sleep well and decided to head to the National Naval Aviation Museum in the early morning hours before his interview.
He said walking through museum and spending time at the exhibits, which date to the earliest days of naval aviation, and thinking about the thousands of naval aviators who came before him a sense of calm.
“I was given a gift of perspective that instantly calmed my nerves,” Doyle said.
Despite spending time with the 2017 team during the transitional period, Doyle has yet to fly the blue and gold #1 F/A 18 Hornet, which now carries his name. Doyle expects to fly the jet over Pensacola Naval Air Station in the coming days.
Doyle recalled his time in Pensacola as flight student and said he has always loved the area.
“The more time I get to spend here, the better,” he said.
The 2018 Blue Angels will head to El Centro, California, for the winter. They will return to Pensacola in March to start next year’s show season.