Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté didn’t hesitate last summer when a Blue Angels pilot asked if Forté wanted a sightseeing flight — or instead do something that would make his heart race.
“I said, ‘Man, give me everything you want to do,’ ” Forté recalled Friday. “If I wanted to do a sightseeing tour, I would take a helicopter ride.”
The pilot behind the controls of the F/A-18 Hornet that sunny day in August 2015 was Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss. The Blue Angels were in town for the Kansas City Aviation Expo & Airshow. The team routinely takes prominent people on flights to promote shows.
And with that, Kuss took Forté on a 45-minute, adrenaline-filled flight that stretched from Kansas City to Knob Noster, Mo., and back.
“If you could think of the funnest roller coaster ride you have been on and magnify that by 100,” said Forté as he looked at a signed photograph he received from the Blue Angels that day.
Kuss was flying an F/A-18 fighter jet when he died in a crash near Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, just days before a weekend air show performance, U.S. military officials said.
Navy officials said Kuss was beginning to take off during an afternoon practice session when his jet crashed.
Forté said he received a text that the crashed occurred. Forté pondered whether it might be the pilot who took him on the flight.
Moments later, Forté received another text that the deceased pilot was Kuss.
“I immediately said a prayer for his family,” Forté said. “I know that (a sudden death) is hard for anybody. Someone goes to work and they are doing something that they love to do.”
Forté later posted a series of tweets praising Kuss and recalling their time together.
“It was important for me to acknowledge his death when I found out about it,” he said. “Through a brief relationship that I had with him and the high level of respect I had for him, I thought it was important for me to acknowledge that.”
Despite the prestige of serving as a Blue Angels pilot, Kuss was down-to-earth.
“Just a regular guy,” Forté said. “He seemed like a friend more than just somebody I just met.”
Kuss took Forté through a series of stomach-churning maneuvers. He instructed Forté on breathing techniques and how to tighten his legs to handle the high G-forces. He also told Forté what handle to pull if they had to eject from the plane.
“You could just see in his eyes that this was his dream job,” the police chief said. “You could just feel that he loved doing what he was doing.”
Forté said he hadn’t spoken to Kuss since their flight.
“It was a chance of a lifetime and I am glad that I participated,” he said.