Following up on recent events involving the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, what is the typical procedure for these teams following a unexpected turnover of a pilot (in this case, a fatal or other serious crash)?

Do these teams have a "B" team in training to pull talent from, or possibly have a larger pilots roster that will rotate in and out throughout the season to pull from? Maybe even have multiple teams that trade off show duties and training during the season?

(I assume that the Thunderbirds will just paint up a new plane and give the pilot a good pep talk).

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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure the military takes accidents more seriously than a 'pep talk'. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2016 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth, Oh for sure, they won't be flying for the next few weeks at least, but should nothing else serious turns up, then they could be by the end of the summer. I just didn't want too much talk on on the loss of the aircraft affects it (FYI for the stumbler: the Thunderbirds F-16s are straight combat stock with a few changes). $\endgroup$
    – BPugh
    Jun 7, 2016 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


I can't answer for the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, but I can for the UK equivalent, the Red Arrows.

The Red Arrows have no spare pilots (or 'B team'). The nine pilots on the team fly every display in their 3 year tour. The explanation is that a spare pilot would not fly frequently enough to be current and safe. They do however have the capability to do an 8-plane display (rather than the usual 9) which they can use if a pilot is temporarily incapacitated. They also have a spare plane, something I know also applies to the Thunderbirds.

In the event of any kind of serious accident, it is likely that displays would be suspended for at least a while, in order to investigate and also out of respect. If all pilots are available when displays resume everything would be normal, using the spare plane if required. If a pilot was out for a short time they might fly the 8-plane display. The Arrows fly standard planes with minimal modifications, so presumably a new one could be readied fairly quickly.

In 2010 when Flt Lt. Ling was injured too badly to continue with display flying he was replaced by a pilot who had already flown with the team in a previous season. There was sufficient time before displays recommenced to make the "new" pilot current and safe.

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    $\begingroup$ The other problem with having a reserve pilot is that he or she would have to be able to replace any one of the first-choice pilots, so would have to know all the parts instead of just one. $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2016 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ In 2010 when Flt Lt. Ling was injured too badly to continue with display flying he was replaced by a pilot who had already flown with the team in a previous season. I'm not going to dispute facts (which I assume this is), but this part doesn't make sense to me from an organizational point of view, considering that spare pilots aren't used for fear of not being current and safe enough. $\endgroup$
    – Jules
    Jun 7, 2016 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ My understanding is that there was enough time while the team wasn't flying displays to get him back up to speed $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2016 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ Recently, the Red Arrows flew with 8 pilots during the rest of the 2011 display season, after the death of Flt Lt Egging - flying resumed at the end of August. They then lost a second pilot in November of the same year, after the display season was over. A third pilot left the team prematurely at the start of 2012, so the Red Arrows flew with a unique 7-ship configuration for the 2012 season. They did not bring old pilots back in either case. $\endgroup$
    – Moo
    Jun 8, 2016 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth I know I'm being pedantic but it's not just "temporarily incapacitated" - for a couple of displays in 2014 they flew 8-ship because one of the pilots was attending the birth of his baby (see bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/…) $\endgroup$ Jun 8, 2016 at 12:21

Similar to what happened in the aftermath of this 1999 crash, I would anticipate that the Navy will bring back one of the former team members to replace Capt. Kuss when the Navy and the team are ready to resume flying.


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