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.

Belgian Air Force Unveils STUNNING “Dark Falcon” F-16 Paint Scheme

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Belgian Air Force "Dark Falcon" F-16AM FA101

The Belgian Air Force has finally unveiled an absolutely incredible paint scheme after teasing it for weeks. The “Dark Falcon” F-16 will serve as the primary aircraft used by the country’s F-16 Fighting Falcon solo display team for the next three airshow seasons.

Belgian Air Force "Dark Falcon" F-16AM FA101Belgian Air Force "Dark Falcon" F-16AM FA101

The scheme is a nod to the callsign of the demonstration pilot, Comd.av. Stefan ‘Vador’ Darte from No 2 Wing at Florennes AB. It was designed by Johan Wolfs and Nicolas Deboeck, and applied by the 2W paint shop team.

Belgian Air Force "Dark Falcon" F-16AM FA101Belgian Air Force "Dark Falcon" F-16AM FA101

Thank you to Laurent Heyligen/Low Approach Aviation Photography for allowing us to share these photos!

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.

USAF Thunderbirds Soar Over Paris, Normandy Beach, And More In Preparation For Bastille Day Flyover

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USAF Thunderbirds Over Paris, France - July 2017
Photos Courtesy of the USAF Thunderbirds

Members of the United States Air Force (USAF) Thunderbirds demonstration team are in Europe this week, preparing for their upcoming shows in France and England. The team is set to fly over the city of Paris, France on July 14 in celebration of Bastille Day, France’s La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration) commemorating the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789.

The team flew a practice sortie over the city as well as the beaches at Normandy and Mont Saint-Michel. Check out these incredible photos!

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Mont. Saint-Michel

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Pointe Du HocUSAF Thunderbirds Over France - Normandy Beach

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Louvre

USAF Thunderbirds Over France - Normandy Beach

This year, the traditional flyover of the parade through Paris will feature the Patrouille de France and a number of other aircraft from the French Air Force’s inventory, to include Dassault Mirage 2000s and Rafales. Following them will be the USAF Thunderbirds and a pair of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors. Much like the Patrouille de France’s American Tour earlier this year, the inclusion of the Thunderbirds in these festivities marks the 100th year since the United State’s entry into the First World War, signifying solidarity between the French and American forces.

Following their Bastille Day flyover, the team will be performing at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, England July 14-16. Afterwards, they will depart Europe back for the US to fly at Flight Over the Falls in Great Falls, Montana on July 22-23.

To see where you can catch the USAF Thunderbirds this year, check out our post with their 2017 schedule!

US Air Force Thunderbirds And Patrouille de France Fly Together Over Nevada

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Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly Together

Two teams, together as one. That was the sight in the skies around Nellis AFB on today as the Patrouille de France arrived in Las Vegas for a visit with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds at their home base. The Thunderbirds sent up all six of their F-16 Fighting Falcons to escort the eight French Alpha Jets in, setting up a dramatic photo opportunity over the desert and mountains near Nellis.

Patrouille de France and Thunderbirds Fly Together

The pilots and maintainers will spend two days in Las Vegas before flying to Colorado Springs, CO and Peterson AFB to fly over the US Air Force Academy. From there, they will travel to Langley AFB to take part in a VIP event which AirshowStuff will bring you coverage of on Friday. Several other events on their North American tour follow before they return to France in May.

Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds

This isn’t the first time that the USAF Thunderbirds have spent time with the Patrouille de France. The teams performed together at the Melbourne Air & Space Show in early April, and again one week later at Maxwell AFB in Alabama.

The Patrouille’s visit to Nellis AFB comes a short time after they had a similar joint formation flight with the Blue Angels while visiting them in Pensacola.

All photos courtesy of the Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds

Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly TogetherPatrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly Together
Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly TogetherPatrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly Together
Patrouille de France and USAF Thunderbirds Fly TogetherPatrouille de France and Thunderbirds

“SOLOTURK” Turkish F-16 Fighting Falcon Demo Scheduled For 2017 Canadian Airshow Appearance

posted in: Airshows, Military | 1

SoloTurk F-16 Fighting Falcons

The ongoing Patrouille de France North American Tour is not the only exciting international appearance in North America this season! The Turkish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration, known as SOLOTURK, will reportedly be traveling to the airshow in London, Ontario this September for one of just six appearances outside of Turkey. The other scheduled shows are listed on our forums.

The team typically performs a very aggressive demonstration utilizing smokewinders and a spectacularly painted black, silver, and gold aircraft. This same team was scheduled to perform at the NAF El Centro show last year, but the plans eventually fell through. Hopefully London will fare better!

SoloTurk F-16 Fighting FalconSoloTurk F-16 Fighting Falcon

From the SOLOTURK website:

SOLOTURK is a demonstration team which presents the capability of the modern and high-performance F-16 aircraft possessed by Turkish Air Force and the high level of skill and knowledge necessary for its use to the audience as a show. The demonstration flights are realized with a solo F-16 C Block-40 aircraft. White-colored smoke is released from the smoke devices which are placed on the edges of both wings during the show. No modifications have been made on the aircraft; it can be planned for any mission. Besides the demonstration flights, the SOLOTURK pilots continue their combat training.

London also announced that a KC-30 of the Royal Australian Air Force will be in attendance.

Photos courtesy SoloTurk website

BREAKING: US Air Force Approves Live-Fire Single-Ship Demonstrations Next Year

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A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog Strafe - Hawgsmoke 2016

The US Air Force has decided to add live munitions to its single-ship demonstrations starting next year. The change was announced in a surprise press release today, distributed by Air Combat Command. Not all show sites will be eligible for the new demonstrations; the list will be finalized and released at this year’s ICAS convention.

“We’ve been wanting to share this with the public since our conference back in February,” said ACC Commander General Mike Holmes. “We’ve been planning this since [Secretary of Defense James] “Mad Dog” Mattis was sworn in. All credit needs to go to him. He was the one that brought up the idea and paved the way for us to bring something truly exciting to the air show circuit next year.”

The aircraft that will incorporate the live rounds are the A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-22 Raptor, and F-16 Fighting Falcon (Viper). The F-35 will not be participating for unspecified reasons. The A-10 will be restored to full demonstration status as part of the move; it currently is only permitted to perform in Heritage Flights. Each aircraft will conduct two strafing passes using their cannons and one bombing run with several bombs during their performances.

F-22 Raptor Weapons Nellis AFB Red Flag 2015USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon

When asked about the new addition to show line-ups, Mattis said, “Our folks at home need to see we ain’t messin’ around. They need to harden up and get some. They need to hear the rumble of the guns and feel the motivation to drop and give our boys in blue fifty.”

The US Navy will not pursue live-fire passes until 2020, deciding instead to focus on the upcoming plan for the Blue Angels to transition to unmanned drones.

Until next year, here’s a dose of some BRRRRRRRrrrrrrt to tide you over!

USAF Thunderbirds Museum Reopens At Nellis AFB

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USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

The United States Air Force Thunderbirds have re-opened their team museum at their home base of Nellis AFB. The museum helps tell the Thunderbird story, from its beginnings, to today.

Inside the museum, you’ll find artifacts and other memorabilia including documentation on the team’s formation. The picture below shows the designation and order to create the 3600th USAF Air Demonstration Unit at Luke AFB on May 23rd, 1953.

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

Other displays include old Thunderbird team gear, patches, and photographs.

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

USAF Thunderbirds Re-Open Museum

To access the museum, visitors must have a valid DOD ID card to get onto base property or be escorted by a DOD ID cardholder. The hours of operation are 8 am to 4 pm, and the location is 4445 Tyndall Avenue, Nellis AFB, NV 89191. For the most up-to-date information, call 702-652-6776.

The Best Of Military Aviation – January 2017

posted in: AirshowStuff, Featured Videos, Military | 0

Each month we bring you a compilation of the very best military aviation videos on our Youtube channel. These videos take you inside military operations all over the world for things like exercises, aircraft carrier operations, aerial refueling, and training missions. Please enjoy the January video, which you can watch below or view on Youtube: The Best Of Military Aviation – January 2017

A compilation of the best military aviation clips from January 2017. Featuring F-35 Lightning II night landings, A-29 Super Tucano cockpit footage, Red Flag 17-1, aerial refueling of F-16s, on board footage of the College Football Championship game flyover, and more!

Be sure to check out the other videos in the series as well by checking out the Best of Military Aviation video playlist!

The Best Of Military Aviation – December 2016

posted in: AirshowStuff, Featured Videos, Military | 1

Each month we bring you a compilation of the very best military aviation videos on our Youtube channel. These videos take you inside military operations all over the world for things like exercises, aircraft carrier operations, aerial refueling, and training missions. Please enjoy the December video, which you can watch below or view on Youtube: The Best Of Military Aviation – December 2016

A compilation of the best military aviation clips from December 2016. Featuring the Checkered Flag exercises, AV-8B Harrier carrier operations, aerial refueling of F-16s and F-15s, and more!

Be sure to check out the other videos in the series as well by checking out the Best of Military Aviation video playlist!

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