Competing to be the next commander of the Navy’s famed Blue Angels aerobatic team required a job application unlike any other Cmdr. Eric Doyle had filled out inhis more than two decades in the military.
Along with five other finalists, Doyle, a League City native, had to make his case before a panel composed of an admiral and nine other Navy officers who once held the coveted position he sought.
“It’s very intense. We all wanted the job,” Doyle said. “Every single one of the finalists is top-notch.”
The panel at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida apparently liked what they saw in the 43-year-old. On April 4, they hand-picked Doyle to be the Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader for the 2018-2019 show seasons. He will report for initial training in September and assume command at the end of November.
“I’m still kind of like a deer in the headlights,” an excited Doyle said soon after the decision was officially announced in Pensacola, the home base for the unit officially called the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron.
The selection was a childhood dream come true, said Doyle, whose jet fighter call sign is “Popeye” after Gene Hackman’s detective in “The French Connection.”
“My motivation to become a pilot came from watching the Blue Angels,” Doyle said. “We used to watch (them) at the Houston Air Show.”
Military aviation runs deep in Doyle. His late father, who also used “Popeye” as a sign on, flew the F-4 Phantom with the Air Force in Vietnam and later transferred to the Texas Air National Guard. Doyle was 8 when his family moved to the Houston area, which he still calls home even though his Navy career has taken him around the world. He sometimes accompanied his father to Ellington Field to watch him fly.
“My dad was an Air Force pilot and I tried to walk that path,” Doyle said.
Swimmer at A&M
Doyle graduated in 1991 from Clear Creek High School. He was on the school’s swim team and earnedan athletic scholarship to Texas A&M, where he studied civil engineering. When he wasn’t swimming competitively, Doyle still spent a lot of time as a young man skiing on Lake Conroe or fly fishing with his family in Montana.
“I just enjoyed anything in the water,” he recalled.
Jay Holmes, now the head of the men’s swimming program at Texas A&M, was an assistant coach when Doyle was on the team as a sprint freestyler.
“He trained twice a day for months at a time to swim a race that only takes about 20 seconds to perform. The preparation required to succeed as a swimmer is a great teacher,” Holmes said. “That same attention to detail and good old-fashioned work has carried into his career as a jet pilot.”
He graduated in 1996 from Texas A&M and was commissioned in the Navy after completing Officer Candidate School. He was not in the Aggie Corps of Cadets.
“Swimming was kind of my job in college,” Doyle said. “Along with going to school and getting an engineering degree.”
Doyle and his wife Meghan have two children – Eloise and Grant, ages 6 and 4. He said the family is excited to be moving to the sandy beaches of Florida.
“My wife is incredible. She’s just so supportive,” he said. “She’s my coach and she’s my motivator.”
During Doyle’s first year as flight leader, the Blue Angels will perform 61 shows in 33 different locations. While acknowledging the schedule can seem brutal, Doyle said flying in a tactical squadron is just as taxing on the family if not more so.
“We did a 10-month deployment and I missed an entire school year,” he said. “That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Before they are allowed to lead the Blue Angels, the applicants must have at least 3,000 hours in the air and have already commanded a tactical jet squadron. Doyle’s most recent assignment was as the commander of VFA-113, an F/A-18 Hornet unit based in Lemoore, Calif. – about 40 miles south of Fresno. He has several combat deployments under his belt, supporting ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They ‘fly so precise’
The dizzying loops and rolls that have thrilled audiences since the Blue Angels was formed in 1946 are all based on current naval aviation maneuvers, Doyle said.
“It’s an adaptation of what we do in the fleet,” he said. “They just fly so precise.”
As the incoming commander of what is arguably the most famous flight demonstration team in the world, Doyle said he’s prepared to spend the next couple of years in the public eye.
“It’s really easy to answer questions or talk about things you’re passionate about,” he said. “I’m just honored and privileged to be picked for this position.”
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