Blue Angels Community Stunned By Navy Investigation Of Greg McWherter

The allegations of misconduct by former Blues ‘Boss’ Greg McWherter stir surprise and support


News about the Navy’s investigation of former Blue Angels lead pilot Capt. Greg McWherter over alleged misconduct when he commanded the flight demonstration team sparked shock among some who know him and expressions of hope for his exoneration Friday.

“I always thought he was exceptional (and) would go right up the chain of command to be the Chief of Naval Operations,” said Terry Hynds, a Blues ground crew supervisor from 1985 to 1988. “I just hope it’s a bunch of garbage and it goes away.”

But the probe, disclosed by the Navy on Friday morning, is already about a month old and continuing in Pensacola. Meanwhile, 44-year-old McWherter was relieved of duty from his current job as second in command at the Coronado Naval Base in San Diego, Calif. Coronado is a prestigious assignment as home to a variety of Naval operations, including two aircraft carriers, four SEAL commando teams and 18 squadrons of helicopters and other aircraft.

“The decision was based on initial findings of an ongoing investigation into recent allegations of misconduct and an inappropriate command climate at the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels) based at Naval Air Station Pensacola,” according to a Navy press release.

Vice Adm. William French, commander of Navy Installations Command, made the decision, the Navy said. Thus McWherter has come full circle since a panel of admirals and former Blue Angels officers selected him as they do all aviators named to lead the Blues.

McWherter had been at Coronado since November 2013. He has been temporarily reassigned in San Diego to Naval Air Forces, but the Navy gave no further details about his duties.

The specific nature of the investigation hasn’t been disclosed. But it’s being led by an admiral whom the Navy declined to identify. It began in March after a complaint was filed with the Navy’s Office of Inspector Gen-eral, said Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Naval Air Force Atlantic Command based in Norfolk, Va.

Dennis Wisely, a retired Blues pilot and rear admiral, now the volunteer vice president of the Blue Angels Alumni Association, said he couldn’t recall a previous investigation involving the team that originated with the Navy’s Inspector General. “I don’t know what the allegations are. It’s unfortunate. Whatever it is, the Navy will look into it and decide if there’s enough to move forward.”

The accusations refer specifically to the period when McWherter served as the Blues’ commanding officer from November 2008 to November 2010 and again from May 2011 to November 2012, according to the Navy’s news release.

McWherter was a high-profile Blues team leader, the No. 1 pilot in its six-jet group, a position known informally as “The Boss.” His tenure was twice the normal length of a Blues tour, four years spread over two stints. That’s because he was brought back to run the team after an incident at an air show in Lynchburg, Va., in May 2011.

During that event, according to news reports, the Blues flew their F/A-18 Hornets within a reported 130 feet of the ground, far closer than the team’s 500-foot standard. Afterward, Cmdr. Dave Koss requested to be relieved of duty and was succeeded by his predecessor, McWherter.

People familiar with McWherter’s command of the Blue Angels complimented his reputation.

“I’m speechless. I thought McWherter was as fine a person as they have had in that role in 30 years,” said Jim Breen, owner of Air Show Network in California, who said he has produced events for the Blues since the late 1980s.

Kafka, who spoke in a phone interview, said there are no changes to the Blues 2014 air show and practice schedule “at this time.”

He declined to elaborate other than saying, “Safety of flight is a top priority. We continue to assess the situation.”

As of now, the Blues’ next scheduled public practice sessions in Pensacola are still on for April 22-23. Their next air show is in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 26-27.

Breen said the investigation won’t erode the Blue Angels public appeal. “They’re known as a team. That’s the way the Navy promotes their brand.”

McWherter, who could not be reached to comment on Friday, is a native of Atlanta. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from The Citadel, where he graduated cum laude. He received his Navy commission through the NROTC program and entered aviation training at Pensacola Naval Air Station in 1990. His career has included about 950 aircraft carrier landings.

When he handed over the Blues reins to Cmdr. Tom Frosch in November 2012, McWherter told the News Journal he welcomed a chance to decompress from the team’s 290-day annual travel schedule. He said he hoped to eventually command a Navy base and added: “If being with the Blue Angels was the last time I fly a Navy plane, that’s a pretty good way to go out.”

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