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

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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.

Canadian Snowbirds Visit Blue Angels, Perform In Pensacola

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Snowbirds and Blue Angels at Pensacola

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds made a visit to NAS Pensacola, home of the US Navy Blue Angels, ahead of their show in Anderson, SC.

The team arrived Sunday night, and joined the Blues in ‘buzzing the beach’, their tradition when returning home from a show. Because the Snowbirds were low on fuel, the teams did not join up but flew along the white sandy beaches of Pensacola at the same time.

Fans in the area also got a special treat during the week from the Canadian team as they practiced over the base. Traditionally, the Blue Angels practice during the week at Pensacola, with performances open to the public. To have two jet teams perform several times in one week was quite the show!

The teams took the opportunity to ride with each other and discuss best practices. Last year, the US Air Force Thunderbirds stopped by Pensacola for a similar visit.

The teams also took some time to sign autographs following their practice performance.

Snowbirds and Blue Angels Sign AutographsSnowbirds and Blue Angels at Pensacola

Snowbirds and Blue Angels Sign Autographs

Snowbirds and Blue Angels at Pensacola

USAF Thunderbirds Announce Return To Airshows Following Fatal Crash

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams | 0

USAF Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds are back! In a video posted by the team, Thunderbird #1 Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh announced that the team has been authorized to perform at the AirPower Over Hampton Roads airshow at Langley AFB this coming weekend. This will mark their first public performance following the fatal crash of Thunderbird #4, Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, in April.

Several airshow appearances were canceled in the wake of the crash, as the team observed a safety stand down from flying and then welcomed the previous Thunderbird #4 Major Nick “Khan” Krajicek back to the team to fly as the replacement slot pilot. Now that they have been approved to return to performing, they will get back to their previously announced 2018 airshow schedule.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds To Visit Blue Angels, Perform For Pensacola

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Canadian Forces Snowbirds

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds will be making a rare and surprise appearance at NAS Pensacola next week! The team will be performing demonstrations over the base on May 15 and 16. The Blue Angels also have practice demonstrations those days, but their May 15th (and May 18th) performances are shown as not open to the public. The demonstrations can be viewed from the National Naval Aviation Museum on base.

According to the Pensacola News Journal, this is the plan for public viewing:
– The flight line will open at 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, for the Snowbirds performance at 2 p.m.
– Access to the base will begin at 8 a.m., and the flight line will open at 8:30 a.m. before the Blue Angels fly at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 16. There will be an autograph session after the performance in the museum atrium. The flight line will reopen at 1 p.m. to allow for viewing of the Snowbirds demonstration that begins at 2 p.m.
– The flight line will open at 10:30 a.m. for the Blue Angels practice demonstration at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, May 17.

The Snowbirds are Canada’s national demonstration team. They perform with nine CT-114 Tutor trainer aircraft flying in close formation. You can see their 2018 airshow schedule here on our blog!

USAF Thunderbirds Announce New #4 Pilot, Cancel Two More Appearances

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US Air Force Thunderbirds

The US Air Force Thunderbirds announced today that Major Nick “Khan” Krajicek will return to the team as the new Thunderbird #4. He flew as #4 with the team in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, and rotated out of the squadron only a few months ago. 

Major Krajicek takes over for fallen Thunderbird #4 Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, who was killed in a crash during practice earlier this month. Del Bagno was just beginning his time with the team. Team members usually serve two year tours, with about half of the officers leaving each year. We expect that Krajicek will serve the rest of Del Bagno’s tour, performing in 2018 and 2019. 

Since the team is working to bring Krajicek up to speed, they have canceled their appearances at the Joint Base Charleston Air and Space Expo in South Carolina and the Fort Lauderdale airshow in Florida. Further cancellations may be announced once the team evaluates their training progress. 

Maj. Nick "Khan" Krajicek has been named as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron's Thunderbird 4/Slot Pilot for the remainder of the 2018 show season.

Here is the full text of the announcement:

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – Maj. Nick “Khan” Krajicek has been named as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron’s Thunderbird 4/Slot Pilot for the remainder of the 2018 show season.

Krajicek is an experienced Thunderbird alumnus who performed as the Slot Pilot during the 2016 and 2017 show seasons.

“We’re grateful to have Khan coming back to the team,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, Thunderbird 1, Commander/Leader. “His experience and familiarity with our team’s mission and the demonstration profile make him the right choice as we safely make our way back on the road to recruit, retain and inspire once more.”

To facilitate Krajicek’s requalification training, the Thunderbirds’ participation at the Charleston Air Show and the Fort Lauderdale Air Show have been canceled.

The team’s participation in the Laughlin AFB Air Show and the Air Power over Hampton Roads air shows are being evaluated and are dependent on the team’s readiness to perform a safe 6-ship aerial demonstration.

Krajicek has logged more than 3,400 flight hours as a military pilot, with more than 650 hours of combat experience. He flew UH-60 Blackhawks in the Army, is an F-16C/D Fighting Falcon instructor pilot and commissioned into the Air Force in 2004.

USAF Thunderbirds Cancel Appearance At Wings Over Columbus 2018

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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

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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

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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.

Blue Angels Release 2018 Pensacola Practice Schedule

posted in: Jet Teams, Schedules | 40

US Navy Blue Angels Release Practice Schedule for 2018

The US Navy Blue Angels have released their 2018 Pensacola practice schedule!

Although the team travels the country during the year, they return home to NAS Pensacola in Florida most weeks. In order to stay proficient in their demanding routine, they traditionally fly practice performances over the base on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during airshow season (March through November). Look below for their planned practice dates, but keep in mind that these can and do change as the year progresses due to things like weather or other circumstances. We will do our best to keep the list updated here and on our forums, but we can only pass on information as it is released.

Also be sure to check the 2018 Blue Angels airshow schedule to see where else they’ll be performing!

Practices typically begin at 11:30 am central time and last about 55 minutes. Public viewing is available at the National Naval Aviation Museum at no cost. The outside viewing area for the Blue Angels practice is located on the museum’s flight line north of the museum. Signs are posted to direct visitors to viewing and parking locations, including limited parking for handicapped visitors. Open bleacher seating is available and seats 1,000 people. A limited quantity of chairs are available for a fee of $3 per chair, good for that day’s practice session. Concessions (bottled water, sport drinks, light food, and treats) and merchandise are also available. Chair service, concessions and merchandise are provided by the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and proceeds support the museum and foundation programs.

A valid ID is required for all visitors 16 and over to gain access to the museum flight line. Backpacks, daypacks and other similar items are not allowed on the flight line.

2018 Blue Angels Pensacola Practice Schedule
March 27th
March 28th*
March 29th
March 30th (9am-10am)

April 3rd
April 4th
April 10th
April 11th*
April 17th
April 18th*
April 24th
April 25th*

May 1st
May 2nd*
May 8th
May 9th*
May 15th
May 16th*
May 17th
May 18th (9am-10am)
May 29th

June 5th
June 20th*
June 26th

July 3rd
July 5th
July 6th (9am-10am)
July 11th
July 17th
July 18th*
July 24th

August 15th*
August 21st
August 22nd*
August 28th
August 29th*

September 5th*
September 6th
September 7th (9am-10am)
September 11th
September 12th*
September 18th
September 25th*

October 17th*
October 23rd
October 24th*
October 30th
October 31st

November 1st
November 2nd

*Denotes autograph session following the practice inside the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Again, practices may be canceled due to weather or other circumstances without notice. Please contact the museum for last minute information.

Blue Angels Return To El Centro For 2018 Winter Training Period

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Blue Angels Return for Winter Training

The Blue Angels have returned to their winter home at Naval Air Facility El Centro in California!

The team flew into the base, located about 87 miles east of San Diego, on January 3rd. They’ll remain at El Centro throughout January, February, and early March, flying several flights a day to perfect the demonstration.

The 10 week, 120 flight period will begin over the desert adjacent to El Centro; once the team feels confident in the demonstration they will begin to fly over the airfield.

This year marks the 51st year the team will use El Centro as their winter training base. The usually calm and warm weather of the Imperial Valley makes southern CA the perfect place for the Blue Angel’s winter training.

The 2018 season will be the Blue Angels’ 72nd show season. We have a copy of their 2018 airshow season schedule here on the blog – see if they’ll be performing near you!

One important member of the team will not be joining the rest of the aircraft though; Fat Albert, the team’s C-130 Hercules transport, has been grounded during an investigation into the crash of a Marine Corps C-130 last summer. A post on Instagram shows her in the maintenance hangar for an inspection. Bert’s Marine pilots typically practice their routine during their own winter training period at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona.

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