Blue Angels' grounding leaves air shows scrambling Lead flier called in Tailhook probe


The grounding of the Blue Angels, the Navy's precision flyin team, has created a problem for two Maryland air shows, including the annual demonstration during commissioning week at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Cmdr. Robert Stumpf, the Angels' lead flier and commanding officer, was one of six officers ordered to shore duty Thursday so they could be "readily available" to Adm. J. Paul Reason and investigators conducting disciplinary proceedings in the Tailhook sex scandal.

A Pentagon inspector general's report has recommended that as many as 140 officers be disciplined for their conduct at the 1991 Tailhook convention in Las Vegas.

A statement issued by the Navy warned that Thursday's order does not necessarily mean that disciplinary action will be taken against the six officers ordered to shore duty.

But Commander Stumpf's reassignment meant the cancellation of the Blue Angels' performances at Corpus Christi, Texas, yesterday and today; the Patuxent River Air Show, Saturday; and the Naval Academy, May 24.

Before the team can perform, it must find and practice with a replacement for Commander Stumpf, a Navy spokesman told the Associated Press, speaking on condition that his name not be used.

Meanwhile, officials at Patuxent Naval Air Station and the Naval Academy were scrambling for replacements.

Patuxent's 23rd annual Air Expo will go on as scheduled Saturday with flight demonstrations of the country's newest military aircraft and acts by civilian performers, said Capt. Roger Hill, the base commander.

The cancellation was a blow to tradition at the Naval Academy, where the Blue Angels have been an attraction during graduation week since 1946.

Word of the grounding came late Thursday, and the academy's graduation planners began making calls to air stations "up and down the East Coast" looking for a replacement, said Cmdr. Michael John, an academy spokesman.

They found a team of pilots at the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., that flies F-14 Tomcats, the Navy's top air intercepter planes, "just like the ones in 'Top Gun,' " he said.

"The key to a good graduation is flexibility," Commander John said. "Though, I should point out that we didn't actually have a show by the Blue Angels last year because the weather went bad on us.

"We feel very bad that the performance was canceled this year, but we're doing our best to put together a top-flight show -- no pun intended."

The pilots from Virginia will practice over the Severn River between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. May 23.

The May 24 show will begin at 2 p.m., Commander John said.

During the rehearsal and show, the Severn River will be closed to boat traffic from Greenbury Point to the U.S. 50 bridge, and the Old Severn River Bridge will be closed.

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