Brian Norris, who pilots the chase plane flying above, said Tucker is the only pilot in the world allowed to fly in close formation with the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, a six-plane fleet famous for its tight, fast, close-formation stunt routines. He said Tucker is widely regarded as one of the best stunt pilots in...
At first it’s a solo act. A little red biplane zips by the Space Needle, flies above Lake Washington and flips upside down above Mercer Island, leaving a trail of heavy white smoke behind it.
Then, almost out of nowhere, four Blue Angels zoom behind the little plane and fly tantalizingly close to its tail as if to invite it into their elite sky club.
Sean Tucker, the red plane’s pilot, flashes them a smile and a thumbs-up, laughing into the intercom.
Brian Norris, who pilots the chase plane flying above, said Tucker is the only pilot in the world allowed to fly in close formation with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, a six-plane fleet famous for its tight, fast, close-formation stunt routines. He said Tucker is widely regarded as one of the best stunt pilots in the world.
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Tucker and the six-plane Blue Angels fleet are in Seattle to perform at Seafair’s three-day Boeing Air Show.
Tucker, a National Aviation Hall of Famer from the Bay Area, has been practicing almost daily and pulling daring air stunts for more than 30 years.
Tucker’s logged 24,000 hours in the sky, and has performed at hundreds of air shows across North America.
At 58, he’s venerable in the stunt-piloting world; the average pilot age in the Blue Angels fleet is 33.
It was easy to forget that Tucker, a lively, gregarious man, is old for his profession — until he mentioned that one of the current Blue Angels, 31-year-old left wing Lt. Robert Kurrle Jr., had asked him to sign a toy airplane as a child.
That’s why Tucker was even more ecstatic than usual to fly over Seattle, one of his favorite cities, on Thursday — he was just feet away from Kurrle and was anticipating an in-person meeting later.
Tucker, like the Blue Angels when they’re in formation, doesn’t worry about getting too close to other planes.
After so much practice, he can fly perpendicular to the ground with ease, can execute ever-so-graceful flips, and can glide out of difficult cartwheels without wobbling.
All the while, he’s keeping his eye on the Angels, who skim just feet above the Interstate 90 floating bridge before they join him at an altitude of about 1,000 feet.
Printed in blue lettering on the underside of the chase-plane’s wing: “If you can read this and you’re not Sean Tucker, you are too close.”
Unlike the Angels, whose routines are based on speed and close formations, Tucker “is in your face the entire time” with “head over heels” moves that “pull more Gs,” or more units of gravitational force, said Ian Nilsen, who works on Tucker’s team.
Tucker said he’s just as passionate about planes as he was at 14, when he went for his first plane ride with his father.
“It was 5 o’clock in the morning and it was very dark and overcast. Then we broke through the fog, and it was so beautiful,” he said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a pilot.”
Tucker said it takes dedication and persistence, more than talent, to master the art of stunt flying — and those who have done so comprise a very small, elite club.
“It’s truly a fraternity of people who have a passion for perfection,” he said.
Jill Kimball: 206-464-2136 or firstname.lastname@example.org