Here’s the story of the MCAS Beaufort Marine set to be Blue Angels’ first F-35 pilot
Frank Zastoupil’s jam-packed summer continued by listing his family’s Beaufort home for sale this week.
Last month, the U.S. Marine Corps pilot met President Donald Trump and oversaw an F-35 flyover of the White House. This month Zastoupil learned he had been selected to join the elite U.S. Blue Angels flight demonstration team and will perform a regular schedule of air shows starting with the 2020 season.
On Sunday he leaves for San Diego to begin learning the F/A 18 Hornet, a jet the 32-year-old pilot has not flown before but will need to master before performing with the Blue Angels.
“You go to an air show and see the Blue Angels and you’re like ‘Holy cow, that’s a cool thing to do,’” Zastoupil said during an interview with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Wednesday. “And as a kid you don’t realize what’s behind that team. I think as you get older you realize these guys are great role models; these guys are a phenomenal team that can show what you can do and achieve if you just out your mind to it and work hard at it.”
Zastoupil grew up outside of Houston, Texas, attending air shows nearby and in Dallas with his dad. His father wanted to fly planes and attend Texas A&M but instead worked in oil and recently retired from Shell, Zastoupil said.
It was the son who attended Texas A&M and became a pilot. As a sophomore, Zastoupil signed a ground contract to join the Marine Corps before participating in a flight orientation program.
Zastoupil recalled a Marine major in shorts and flip-flops taking students 2,000 feet up in a twin-engine propeller plane over a lake near the university. He let Zastoupil take the controls for several minutes.
Back on the ground, Zastoupil went to see a recruiter about switching to an air contract and becoming a Marine pilot.
After flight school, Zastoupil flew Harrier jets more than three years in North Carolina before moving to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort to learn the F-35. He was supposed to be in town only six months before shipping out to Yuma, Arizona.
But instead he was assigned to Beaufort longer term as an instructor pilot with the Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 “Warlords.” Zastoupil and his wife, Shannon, who have a 21-month-old daughter, relished the opportunity.
”It’s a very welcoming town,” Zastoupil said. “It’s something my wife and I have loved the past 2 1/2 years.”
In the F-35, Zastoupil flew air shows in Cherry Point, North Carolina, in Washington, D.C., and in Beaufort. Now he’s the first pilot from an F-35 squadron to join the Blue Angels.
Applying for the elite team requires a minimum number of tactical jet hours and the ability to positively represent the Blue Angels and military in public.
Two and a half years after learning the F-35, Zastoupil will learn a new jet from scratch.
The process will include reading thousands of pages of documents and studying flash cards on the aircraft’s various systems and procedures. After meeting the basic requirements for flying the F/A 18, Zastoupil will work through a detailed syllabus of all of the flights and maneuvers required to perform with the Blue Angels.
Along with other new members, he’ll move to Pensacola, Florida, in September to shadow the team and learn how the pilots conduct themselves.
“And it all starts Monday,” Zastoupil said. “It’s fast and furious.”