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Blue Angels’ new Marine fighter pilot is team’s first-ever F-35 squadron aviator

United States Navy Blue Angels fly in close proximity during a sight survey over Duluth International Airport Thursday afternoon.

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Frank Zastoupil will bring with him a unique background when he joins the U.S. Navy Blue Angels next year.

Zastoupil, one of six new officers selected for the 2020 team earlier this month, will be the first aviator from the F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter squadron to fly with the elite fighter jet demonstration team.

The Kingwood, Texas, native is currently assigned to Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 in Beaufort, South Carolina. He previously demonstrated the capabilities of the F-35B, the newest and most advanced aircraft flown by the Marines, at air shows around the country.

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Most Navy and Marine Corps aviators selected to fly in formation with the Blue Angels come from Super Hornet squadrons. The Blue Angels plan to transition from the F/18-Hornet to the Super Hornet in 2021 season.

Lt. Cmdr. David Gardner, spokesman for the Blue Angels, said Zastoupil was the first F-35 squadron aviator selected for the team. Gardner said Zastoupil was selected from a pool of applicants.

“All of our aviators have a proven record in the fleet and are tactically trained,” he said.

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Among the many Blue Angels fans looking forward to talking with Zastoupil about his experiences flying the F-35B is Dave Lorenzo, a former Marine fighter pilot who flew in Vietnam and then had a career as a pilot for Delta Airlines.

As a volunteer at the National Naval Aviation Museum, Lorenzo narrates the Blue Angels practice flights for thousands of museum visitors.

“The F-35 is so different from anything else flown by the Marine Corps right now Lorenzo,” said.

He explained that Zastoupil will go from flying what is perhaps the world’s most advanced aircraft to flying a very basic and stripped down F/A-18 during winter training for the Blue Angels in El Centro, California.

But, Lorenzo said, he is sure Zastoupil will make the transition just fine.

“It’s going to be very different from the F-35, but I am sure coming from a Marine Corps background that he has experience flying the legacy Hornets,” said Lorenzo, who added that he was envious of Zastoupil for experiences flying in the various air frames.

“I get to live vicariously through the Blue Angels pilots,” said Lorenzo, who retired from Delta Airlines in 2002.

In an online video posted by the Department of Defense in March, Zastoupil highlighted some of the capabilities of the F-35 and talked about his own background.

In the video, he mentioned that he did not ride in an airplane until he was a junior in high school. But, Zastoupil said, he fell in love with flying after his first flight.

“And what is cooler than flying jets in the Marine Corps and flying jets off a ship?” he said in the video.