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 Report: Wet Runway Contributed To Thunderbird F-16 Crash In Dayton

posted in: Jet Teams | 0
USAF Thunderbird #8 Crash in Dayton, OH
Photo via AP: Dayton Daily News

US Air Force officials stated that “excess speed and insufficient stopping distance” on a soaked runway resulted in the crash of a two seat F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the USAF Thunderbirds in Dayton, Ohio this past June.

Capt. Erik “Speedy” Gonsalves, Thunderbird #8, was in command of the jet at the time of the incident. Sgt. Kenneth Cordova, a maintenance crew member, was also on board at the time. The two were on a “familiarization flight” over Dayton while the team was in town to perform at the 2017 Vectren Dayton Airshow.

Upon landing, the jet slid off the runway and into the grass, causing the aircraft to flip.

The report mentions that Gonsalves missed his first landing approach and that water had restricted the view of his head-up display or HUD. This forced him to rely solely on cockpit instruments. On the second approach, the report claims that Gonsalves focused more on the runway than his airspeed, contributing to the crash. The Thunderbird F-16 touched down with only 6,130 feet of runway left. Seven to eight thousand feet of runway is required to land safely on wet pavement. The aircraft exited the runway and came to rest upside down in the grass nearby. It was destroyed in the incident.

An audio recording between Air Traffic Control and Thunderbird 8, obtained by the Dayton Daily News last month, revealed that the pilot was warned of “extreme precipitation” in the area and that ATC told him he was “flying at your own risk.”

In a statement, Air Combat Command spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said “Capt. Gonsalves is traveling with the team and narrating shows, but he is not medically cleared to fly at this time.”

2015 Vectren Dayton Air Show Entertains Despite Rain

posted in: Airshows, Event Recap | 0

Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015

Two jet teams soared over Dayton, OH this month (June 20-21) as the 2015 Vectren Dayton Air Show hosted both the USAF Thunderbirds and the Breitling Jet Team. The real story, however, was the weather. The week leading up to the show was soured by the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill, which brought low clouds and soaking rains to the area. Saturday looked to be a total washout, and Sunday also was far from guaranteed. Luckily the performers and show officials were able to work around the weather to put on an entertaining event!

USAF Thunderbirds - Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration Team - Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015

Saturday started out with a lot of low clouds and a constant rain. The morning was a great chance to visit the nearby National Museum of the United States Air Force. The rain let up in the early afternoon and Sean D. Tucker started off the weekend’s flying after a ground run by Shockwave. Only a few acts were skipped; The US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet demonstration team, the USCG HH-65 Dolphin, Breitling Jet Team, and the Thunderbirds were all able to perform after the airspace flight restrictions were extended later into the afternoon. The crowd was understandably small, but the grounds were still turned to mud by the foot traffic. The grass parking lots were also a muddy disaster, and many cars got stuck. Show officials moved quickly overnight to make alternative arrangements. Paved parking lots nearby were put into use, and shuttle buses were brought in to service them. The show even worked with a local towing company and car wash to make sure that any stuck cars were removed and washed for free. That’s fantastic customer service!

Sunday started off hot and humid. Scattered showers and thunderstorms were in the forecast, but neither ended up anywhere nearby. The clouds stayed lower though, and forced low shows by the Super Hornet and Thunderbirds. The crowd filled in very slowly, surely due to the confusion over the parking and the choke point of the shuttle buses. The show has been forced in recent years to face the harsh reality of static display availability, and the ramp that historically has overflowed with aircraft was rather sparse due to the budget situation. They did spring for some warbirds at least, like the C-46 Commando “Tinker Belle”, and even brought in a pair of A-4 Skyhawks owned by Draken International. In order to give the fans something extra to look at in recent years, the show has set up the Performer Pit Row, an area for the flying performers to park near the spectators.

Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015 From AboveDraken International A-4 Skyhawk - Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015

The flying portion was noticeably shorter than usual, but it was actually a welcome change. Instead of endless repeat performances and repetitive acts, it was a sort of highlight reel with a very good variety of performances. Matt Younkin, the Screamin’ Sasquatch Jet Waco, and the Golden Knights (get an inside look at their performance here) were able to perform on Sunday after sitting out Saturday’s show. The DAV’s B-25 “Panchito” even got added to the lineup as a surprise act, and was given over 10 minutes to do flybys in front of the crowd. The shorter lineup also meant less time in the hot and humid air!

Jack Link's Screamin' Sasquatch Jet Waco Biplane - Vectren Dayton Air Show 2015US Army Golden Knights - Vectren Dayton Air Show 2015

This was our first look at the Breitling Jet Team, and they were thoroughly enjoyable. The team is based in France, but is touring around North America for the summer to advertise for their sponsor. The team flies their seven L-39s as hard anyone else, and the routine is a nice mix of large formation grace and solo aircraft high speed maneuvers. For their final maneuver, six of the team split formation and fire flares from their aircraft. This is a rarity at US shows and was well received by the crowd. The entire routine lasted about 25 minutes, although the team cut it down to 15 minutes on Saturday to make way for the Thunderbirds. It is a shame that Breitling has canceled several of their remaining Midwest appearances this year, including AirVenture in Oshkosh.

USAF Thunderbirds, Breitling Jet Team, and US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration Team - Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015B-25 Mitchell "Panchito" - Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015

Overall the show was very good, and only the weather could have made it better. Major credit is due to the organizers for solving the parking lot issue when many other shows may have canceled. Hopefully next year they will be able to expand the static and flying lineup a bit, but that is partially out of the shows control. The Vectren Dayton Air Show will return on June 18-19, 2016 and feature the US Navy Blue Angels!

Breitling Jet Team - Vectren Dayton Airshow 2015