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.

Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, And Snowbirds Combine For Incredible 21-Ship Mass Formation

posted in: Jet Teams, Popular Posts | 2

US Navy Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, Canadian Forces Snowbirds Joint Formation Flight

In an historic moment, the US Navy Blue Angels, US Air Force Thunderbirds, and Canadian Forces Snowbirds joined together in a massive formation yesterday near Lake Erie. The three teams have crossed paths and flown jointly before, but this is believed to be the first and only time that all 21(!) display aircraft have shared the skies together.

US Navy Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, Canadian Forces Snowbirds Joint Formation FlightUS Navy Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, Canadian Forces Snowbirds Joint Formation Flight

US Navy Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, Canadian Forces Snowbirds Joint Formation Flight

The flight was only possible because all three teams are performing relatively close to each other this Labor Day weekend. The Snowbirds and Thunderbirds are in Toronto, ON for the Canadian International Air Show while the Blue Angels are in Cleveland, OH for the Cleveland National Air Show.

US Navy Blue Angels, USAF Thunderbirds, Canadian Forces Snowbirds Joint Formation Flight

Photographer Glenn Watson captured the joint flight from the rear of the formation and all three teams shared these same photos on their social media pages. Hopefully more photos come out from another angle!

USAF Thunderbirds Announce New Pilots and Officers for 2019

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams | 3

USAF Thunderbirds

The USAF Thunderbirds have announced the new pilots and officers for the 2019 show season.

Lt. Col. John Caldwell, 28th Test and Evaluation Squadron Commander, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become Thunderbird No. 1, the squadron’s Commander/Leader. Caldwell will replace Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh.

Capt. Michael Brewer of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., has been selected as Thunderbird No. 3, the team’s Right Wing Pilot.

Maj. Whit Collins, the current Lead Solo Pilot, will transition to the Slot Pilot position as Thunderbird No. 4 in 2019.

The Thunderbirds will also have another female pilot in 2019! Capt. Michelle Curran of the 355th Fighter Squadron, located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, has been chosen as Thunderbird No. 6, the team’s Opposing Solo Pilot. This will be the first show season since 2014 with a female demonstration pilot on the team. Maj. Matt Kimmel, the current Opposing Solo Pilot, will transition to the Lead Solo position in 2019.

Capt. Michelle “Mace” Curran
Pic by Staff Sgt. Samantha Mathison

Maj. Jason Markzon, 35th Maintenance Operations Flight Commander and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, will become Thunderbird No. 8, the team’s Advance Pilot and Narrator.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Noel Colls, a flight surgeon and family practice resident assigned to the 60th Medical Operations Squadron Travis Air Force Base, Calif., will become Thunderbird No. 9, the team’s Flight Surgeon. As the team’s flight doctor, Lt. Col Colls will be responsible for the health and safety of the team and working with the pilots to ensure their flight readiness.

In a statement, the team’s current commander, Lt. Col Kevin Walsh said tThis year’s exceptional officer applicant pool reflects the incredible degree of talent, motivation and diversity that exists throughout our Air Force. It was a tough selection process, but ultimately these officers rose to the top. The Thunderbirds are proud to welcome these leaders aboard as they assume responsibility for showcasing the pride, precision and professionalism of more than 660,000 total force Airmen serving around the world.”

Officers on the Thunderbirds team serve two year tours of duty. By design, the position openings are staggered, allowing the squadron to maintain continuity of experience and leadership. In 2020, Thunderbird Nos. 2, 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12 will be replaced.

Congrats to all of the newly selected team members!

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.

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

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Schedules | 0

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

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.

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

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.

Thunderbirds Are Go For 2018 Daytona 500 Flyover

posted in: Flyovers, Jet Teams | 2

US Air Force Thunderbirds

The US Air Force Thunderbirds are set to perform the flyover for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Florida this Sunday. This will be the team’s first public performance with their new leader, Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh.

The race will be broadcast on FOX at 2:30 PM Eastern time on Sunday, February 18th. Fans near Daytona Beach will likely see the jets flying around earlier in the weekend as well, as they practice (9-10am on Saturday) and take VIPs for media flights.

Flying over the race is somewhat of a tradition for the Thunderbirds, who use the trip as a warm up for their intense travel schedule during the regular airshow season. The team’s first full airshow performance is scheduled for March 24 and 25 in Melbourne, FL.

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