Did You Notice The Burning Piano In Captain Marvel? Here’s The Special Meaning Behind It – And Its Connection To A Real Life Hero

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Thunderbird #4 - Major Stephen "Cajun" Del Bagno

Millions of people will be heading to theaters to see Marvel’s new Captain Marvel movie over the next few weeks, but most won’t understand one special image in the movie. Near the beginning of the film, a quick flash of a burning piano is shown on the screen. Marvel movies are known for their detailed backstories and easter eggs, but what’s the deal with the piano, and why are we writing about it on an airshow website?

The piano is actually a tribute to Thunderbird #4, Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno. Del Bagno was one of two Thunderbird pilots who consulted on the movie. Fellow Thunderbird pilot Maj. Matt Kimmel was also involved.

Tragically, Del Bagno was killed in a crash in April of 2018, just a week after concluding his work on the film. The team was practicing their airshow routine at Creech AFB near Las Vegas when his jet impacted the ground after failing to recover from a high speed dive.

Thunderbird #4 Major Stephen Del Bagno

So why the burning piano? It’s actually a traditional send off for fighter pilots who have “flown west” that, according to fighter pilot lore, dates back to World War II or even earlier. There are variations on the story, but perhaps the most common tale is that a particular RAF pilot was especially good at playing the piano in the squadron clubhouse. When he was killed in battle, his squadron mates realized they would never hear him play again and burned the piano as tribute. It’s not only an appropriate shot to include, it fits perfectly with the lead character’s background; Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, an Air Force fighter pilot who would know the tradition well.

There are other tributes to Cajun in the film as well. He is mentioned several times in the credit roll, and the filmmakers reportedly snuck his callsign into the background of several scenes. He even has a brief cameo, playing a game of pool with Danvers in a quick flashback. It’s a wonderful gesture to honor him.

Cajun’s legacy lives on through the Cajun’s Aviation Dream charity, which seeks to help “stellar young Americans chase their own dreams to fly and pursue their passion for aviation” through scholarships and other efforts. You can visit their website to donate to the cause, apply for one of the scholarships, or view photos of Cajun and the many tributes to him, including the real life piano burning.

Major Stephen "Cajun" Del Bagno Piano Burning
Photos courtesy of Cajun’s Aviation Dream

For their part, the USAF and Thunderbirds have tried hard to capitalize on the movie’s portrayal of an Air Force fighter pilot. The Air Force organized a major PR campaign around would-be F-16 demonstration pilot Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnick, calling her the “real life Captain Marvel” until she was suddenly dismissed from the team. The Thunderbirds visited Los Angeles last week to perform a flyover of the movie’s premiere and other area landmarks, including the home of Cajun’s parents.

Did you catch any of the hidden tributes to Cajun in the movie? Let us know in the comments below or in our forums!

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.

USAF Thunderbirds Cancel Appearances After Fatal Accident

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams | 1

Thunderbirds Cancel Shows

Following a crash which killed Thunderbird #4, the team has canceled some upcoming shows.

As of April 6th, the team’s performances at March AFB and Sun ‘n Fun have been canceled. The rest of the season schedule is still to be determined. Canceling shows while the team stands down to investigate the mishap and take time to grieve is standard protocol following crashes.

“Though we are deeply saddened by their loss of a valuable teammate, we totally understand and support the Thunderbirds’ decision. They have a requirement to take the necessary time to assess their current situation and plot a path forward, and we certainly respect their professionalism and diligence in ensuring their safe return to airshows,” said John Leenhouts, SUN ‘n FUN President/CEO.

Leenhouts also confirmed that this year’s daily airshows will include several activities to honor the service of Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, the fallen Thunderbird Number 4, and that a portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will be donated through the proper channels to support the Thunderbird family.

The Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC) and Sun ‘n Fun are working together to bring alternative USAF demonstrations to the event.

In a statement, Airshow Director Greg Gibson said “We appreciate ACC’s efforts on our behalf in such a short timeframe. They are working to make available a potential first-line combat aircraft to perform full aerial displays and/or engage in Heritage Flights with several of the numerous rare WWII fighters we have in attendance this year. We will make periodic announcements throughout the following days as these appearances are confirmed.”

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