Air Force Concludes Investigation Into Fatal Crash Of Thunderbird #4, Releases Report

posted in: Jet Teams | 0

US Air Force Thunderbirds - F-16 Fighting Falcon

The US Air Force has released the crash investigation report for April’s fatal crash of Thunderbird #4, Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno. Cajun was flying a practice routine with the team near Creech AFB in Nevada when his aircraft impacted the ground.

Very little information about the crash has been made public until now, and the remote location ensured there were few if any civilian witnesses. The report does not hold back, however, and describes in great detail how Del Bagno tragically succumbed to G-induced loss of consciousness, or G-LOC, during a high speed dive and failed to recover from it.

Specifically, the dive was part of the rejoin maneuver following the High Bomb Burst and four-ship crossover. Following the cross, the #4 pilot pulls up into a half loop, then flies down the show line inverted before pulling downward into a Split-S to drop into formation behind the lead aircraft. You can watch a video of the typical #4 rejoin sequence on our Youtube channel.

The report explains that on this particular occasion, Del Bagno flew at a maximum of -2.06 Gs while inverted, before immediately pulling to a peak of 8.56 Gs. It is believed that this quick transition from strong negative to intense positive Gs was too much for even the seasoned fighter pilot to handle. He lost consciousness for an estimated 5 seconds as the aircraft rocketed towards the ground. No attempt at ejection was registered by the aircraft systems and the aircraft impacted at nearly 60 degrees nose down and 90 degrees of bank with a descent rate of near 40,000 feet per minute.

Thunderbird #4 Major Stephen Del Bagno

Blue Angel #6, Capt. Jeff “Kooch” Kuss, was also killed while performing a Split-S about two years before Cajun’s accident. In that case, it was determined that he mistakenly initiated the maneuver lower than required. Following his crash, the Blue Angels removed the Split-S from their takeoff routine, although they do perform the maneuver later in the show.

As for the Thunderbirds, they resumed flying a few weeks after the crash, eventually bringing back former #4 pilot Major Nick “Khan” Krajicek to assume the slot position again. Based on observations at shows following the crash, they do not appear to have significantly changed the rejoin maneuver.

Here is the executive summary of the full 37 page report:

On 4 April 2018, the mishap pilot (MP), flying a F-16CM, tail number (T/N) 91-0413, assigned to the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the “Thunderbirds,” 57th Wing, Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada (NV), engaged in a routine aerial demonstration training flight at the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) near Creech AFB, NV. During the training flight, at approximately 1029 local time, the mishap aircraft (MA) impacted the ground and fatally injured the MP, without an ejection attempt.

The mishap mission was planned and authorized as a practice of a Thunderbirds aerial demonstration in the south part of the NTTR. The mishap flight was a formation of six F-16CMs (Thunderbirds #1-6), the standard Thunderbirds aerial demonstration flight. Thunderbird #4 was the MA/MP. During the High Bomb Burst Rejoin, an aerial maneuver near the scheduled end of the aerial demonstration training flight, the MP flew the MA for approximately 22 seconds in inverted flight between 5,500 and 5,700 feet above ground level. During this time, the MP experienced a change in force due to acceleration measured in multiples of the acceleration of gravity felt at the earth’s surface (G), between -0.5 to -2.06 G’s. While experiencing -2.06 G’s in inverted flight, the MP initiated a descending half-loop maneuver (Split-S). After five seconds in the Split-S, the MP attained a maximum +8.56 G’s. The MP experienced G-induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) and absolute incapacitation at the end of that five-second period.

For approximately the next five seconds, the MP remained in a state of absolute incapacitation and made no deliberate flight control inputs as the MA accelerated toward the ground. Approximately one second prior to ground impact, the MP began deliberate flight control inputs as he transitioned from absolute to relative incapacitation. The MA impacted the ground at 57 degrees nose low with 89 degrees of left bank and the MP was fatally injured on impact, without an ejection attempt.

The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) President found by a preponderance of evidence the cause of the mishap was the MP’s G-LOC during the Split-S portion of the High Bomb Burst Rejoin maneuver. Additionally, the AIB President found by a preponderance of evidence two factors substantially contributed to the mishap: (a) the MP’s diminished tolerance to +G’s induced by the physiology of the MP’s exposure to –G’s (“Push-Pull Effect”) and (b) an associated decrease in the effectiveness of the MP’s Anti-G straining maneuver under those conditions.

USAF Thunderbirds Cancel Appearance At Wings Over Columbus 2018

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Schedules | 1

USAF Thunderbirds F-16 Fighting Falcon

The USAF Thunderbirds have canceled their planned appearance at the 2018 Wings Over Columbus airshow at Columbus AFB in Mississippi. The move was announced in a video update by Thunderbird #1 following the death of Thunderbird #4, Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, in a crash during practice last week. The team had previously announced they were skipping their performances at the March ARB airshow this past weekend as well as Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, FL next weekend.

It is important to note that while the Thunderbird performances have been canceled, the airshows themselves will be held as originally scheduled. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command has been working to add single-ship demonstrations to affected shows; Sun ‘n Fun recently announced that the F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration team (Viper Demo) will perform there to fill in for the Thunderbirds.

We have updated our 2018 USAF Thunderbirds schedule to reflect the confirmed cancellations, but we expect more appearances to be canceled as part of a safety stand down after the accident. Stay tuned to AirshowStuff for future updates.

Thunderbird #4 Killed In F-16 Crash Near Creech AFB

posted in: Jet Teams | 0

Thunderbird #4 Major Stephen

The US Air Force has released the name of the Thunderbird pilot killed in yesterday’s F-16 crash in Nevada. Thunderbird #4, Major Stephen Del Bagno, was killed in the crash that occurred while the team was practicing their airshow routine near Creech AFB. He was in his first of two seasons with the team, which is based at nearby Nellis AFB in Las Vegas. He had over 3,500 flight hours in both civilian and Air Force aircraft.

Here is Maj. Del Bagno’s full bio from the Thunderbirds’ website:
Maj. Stephen Del Bagno is the Slot Pilot for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying the No. 4 jet. He is a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State University, and commissioned from Officer Training School, Maxwell AFB, Ala. in 2007. Before joining the Air Force, Del Bagno was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter, and a banner tow pilot. He enjoys snowboarding, water sports and spending time with family and friends. Prior to joining the Thunderbirds, Del Bagno served as an F-35A Evaluator Pilot and Chief of Standardization and Evaluation, 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Fla. He has logged more than 3,500 total flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot. Del Bagno is in his first season with the team and hails from Valencia, Calif.

“We are mourning the loss of Major Del Bagno,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander. “He was an integral part of our team and our hearts are heavy with his loss. We ask everyone to provide his family and friends the space to heal during this difficult time.”

Our thoughts are with Maj. Del Bagno’s family and teammates.

This is the first fatal crash for the team since 1982, when the four pilots in the diamond formation were killed after failing to recover from a loop. The famous tragedy became known as the “diamond crash”, and occurred in the same training area as today’s crash.

There have been more recent nonfatal crashes; in 2016 Thunderbird #6 crashed just short of the runway at Peterson AFB in Colorado after the team performed a flyover for the US Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. The pilot ejected safely, and the crash was eventually blamed on a faulty throttle component. The same day, Capt. Jeff Kuss of the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration team was killed in a crash while practicing for an airshow in Smyrna, TN.

In 2017, Thunderbird #8 skidded off a soaked runway while landing at the Dayton Airshow in Ohio. The flight was not part of the airshow; it was a “familiarization flight” with a member of the team’s maintenance crew in the back seat. Both pilot and passenger survived, though the pilot was injured.

Please visit our forums for further discussion on the crash and what it means for the airshow season.

Thunderbird F-16 Crashes In Nevada; Pilot Killed

posted in: Jet Teams | 7

US Air Force Thunderbirds - F-16 Fighting Falcon

UPDATE: The name of the pilot has been released.

ORIGINAL POST: An F-16 Fighting Falcon jet belonging to the US Air Force Thunderbirds crashed Wednesday inside the military’s Nevada Test and Training Range outside of Nellis AFB. The pilot of the jet was killed, however, the name has not been released yet pending next of kin notification. We expect to hear the name on Thursday. An investigation is being conducted into the cause of the mishap.

The team was performing an airshow practice routine near Creech AFB in Indian Springs, NV when the crash occurred. The Thunderbirds are based at nearby Nellis AFB, which sits on the outskirts of Las Vegas, NV. They opened their 2018 airshow season just a week and a half ago after canceling a couple of appearances to allow extra training time for their new commanding officer.

This is the first fatal crash for the team since 1982, when the four pilots in the diamond formation were killed after failing to recover from a loop. The famous incident became known as the “diamond crash”, and occurred in the same training area as today’s crash.

There have been more recent nonfatal crashes; in 2016 Thunderbird #6 crashed just short of the runway at Peterson AFB in Colorado after the team performed a flyover for the US Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. The pilot ejected safely, and the crash was eventually blamed on a faulty throttle component. The same day, Capt. Jeff Kuss of the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration team was killed in a crash while practicing for an airshow in Smyrna, TN.

In 2017, Thunderbird #8 skidded off a soaked runway while landing at the Dayton Airshow in Ohio. The flight was not part of the airshow; it was a “familiarization flight” with a member of the team’s maintenance crew in the back seat. Both pilot and passenger survived, though the pilot was injured.

There are few details available at this point, but we will update you once the pilot’s name is released. In the mean time, be sure to check our forums for further discussion on the crash and what it means for the airshow season. The team’s participation at the March Air Reserve Base “The March Field Air & Space Expo” has been cancelled.