The U.S. Navy Blue Angels on Tuesday announced Cmdr. Eric Doyle as the next leader of the elite flight demonstration squadron.
Doyle will join the Pensacola-based team for his two-year tour in November, taking over from current flight leader, Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi.
Doyle was selected from a field of six finalists who interviewed for the job on Monday and Tuesday.
“It is absolutely an honor and a privilege. I’m still in shock after getting the news about 30 minutes ago. It’s still sinking in,” Doyle said Tuesday evening, moments after learning he would lead the team through the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Rear Adm. Dell Bull, the chief of naval air training, announced Doyle’s selection and said all of the 11 applicants and six finalists for the post were highly qualified.
“The next Blue Angel (leader) must be an aviation expert, he must be in the top in his career and he must have the right personality to represent the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps,” Bull said.
Bull and a committee of Navy leaders, including current and former Blue Angels, chose Doyle for the high-profile post.
Doyle currently commands a fighter squadron of F/A-18 E Super Hornets based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. He is a native of League City, Texas, and a graduate of Texas A&M University.
Doyle recalled watching the Blue Angels when he was at Officer Candidate School in Pensacola.
“I watched the Blue Angels fly over my head in formation and tried to not look up because I was in formation marching,” he said.
Doyle’s call sign is Popeye, taken from the character of Detective Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle in the movie “The French Connection.” It is the same call sign used by his late father, an Air Force fighter jet pilot.
Flying with the Blue Angels was a childhood dream, said Doyle, who recalled seeing the team fly for the first time at an air show in Texas.
Bernacchi and Doyle attended the Navy’s TOPGUN fighter weapons school together. Both men were also instructors at the school in Fallon, Nevada.
Bernacchi said Doyle was the right person to take over the team.
“I’m looking forward to passing the torch. He will continue the legacy and success of the team,” said Bernacchi, who led the team through its 70th anniversary season in 2016.
This summer, Doyle, Bernacchi and other Navy leaders will select the new pilots who will fly with Doyle in 2018.
Blue Angel pilots come from the Navy and Marine Corps fleet and typically serve two-year tours with the team before returning to other duties.
Pilots selected for the team must adapt to flying without the traditional G-suits worn by other fighter jet pilots and to flying with a 40-pound spring attached to the flight stick of their F/A-18 Hornet.
The G-suits, used to keep blood in the upper body and prevent pilots from passing out, have inflatable bladders in the legs that can interfere with a pilots’ ability to control the flight stick. The Blue Angels instead use abdominal exercises and breathing techniques to fight the G forces. The 40-pound spring on the flight stick allows for more precise control of the jet. The six jets typically fly in formations with their wingtips just inches apart.
The 2017 Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show is scheduled for July 8, and the Homecoming Air Show at Pensacola Naval Air Station is set for Nov. 11 and 12.