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A Beaufort pilot will fly with the elite Blue Angels. How he’s also breaking new ground

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels announced this week that Marine Maj. Frank Zastoupil will join the 2020 team — and mark the first F-35 pilot to ever fly with the Blue Angels. Here’s how the Marine became an F-35 pilot.

A Beaufort pilot will soon fly with the iconic Blue Angels.

Marine Corps Maj. Frank Zastoupil was chosen this week to the elite, 16-member U.S. Navy flight team. Zastoupil is assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 “Warlords” at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

He is the first from an F-35 squadron to be a Blue Angel pilot, a Blue Angels spokesman said.

But he won’t fly the F-35 with the Angels. He’s one of two new pilots selected to fly the squadron’s F/A-18s during the 2020 show season.

Zastoupil flew the F-35 in the Beaufort Air Show in April. In a Marine Corps video, the Texas native said he fell in love with flying the first time he traveled by plane in high school.

“And then what’s cooler than flying jets for the Marine Corps, right?” Zastoupil said. “You get to fly from ships, you get to come back and land…you get to fly the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, like the F-35.”

The Blue Angels selected new team members this week after finalists were interviewed at the squadron’s headquarters during the Pensacola Beach Air Show in Florida. Training will begin in November, a Blue Angels release said.

Prospective pilots must have aircraft carrier qualification and a minimum of 1,250 tactical flight hours.

Zastoupil joins Navy Lt. Julius Bratton as new officers on the F/A 18 demonstration team. Two C-130 pilots, a maintenance officer and public affairs officer were also new selections for the 2020 season.

“We had a phenomenal group of applicants this year,” Capt. Eric Doyle, the Blue Angels commanding officer, said in a statement. “The 2020 Blue Angels are lucky to have these talented individuals join them to represent the Navy and Marine Corps in the team’s 74th show season.”

The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 and perform shows throughout the country. Sixteen officers make up the team of F/A 18 Hornet fighter jets and the C-130T Hercules cargo plane known as “Fat Albert.”

Pilots typically serve two-year terms before returning to their squadron.

The demonstration flying is inherently dangerous.

Four of the fighter jets fly in formation as close as 18 inches apart. Two jets flying solo reach speeds as high as 700 mph.

Both of the Blue Angels’ most recent tragedies involved pilots with Beaufort ties.

Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss died in 2016 after crashing during practice for a show in Smyrna, Tennessee. An investigation found that pilot error, cloud cover and fatigue contributed to the fatal crash, the Navy Times reported.

Kuss was stationed in Beaufort when he was selected in 2014.

In 2007, Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis was killed after crashing during the MCAS Beaufort Air Show while trying to execute a hard turn.

Marine Corps Maj. Frank Zastoupil has been selected to join the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Zastoupil, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, is the first F-35 pilot to join the iconic team.