Air Force Identifies Thunderbird F-16 Pilot Killed in Crash at Nevada Test and Training Range.

Apr 05 2018 - Leave a Comment
By Tom Demerly

USAF Major Stephen Del Bagno, Thunderbird #4, Was Experienced Pilot, First Year Thunderbird.

Update: a previous version of the story only mentioned the flyover at the Daytona 500 whereas the Thunderbirds have performed a display at Melbourne air show 2018, Florida.

The U.S. Air Force has identified the member of the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team who died in a training accident near Nellis AFB, Nevada yesterday morning while training for the upcoming airshow demonstration season.

USAF Major Stephen Del Bagno, listed as being from Valencia, California by ABC7 News in California, was previously the F-35A Lightning II Chief of Standardization and Evaluation at the 58th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Florida. He became a Thunderbird demonstration pilot in 2017 for the 2018 airshow season.

Major Del Bagno is reported to have only had the opportunity to participate in one Thunderbird public flyover at the Daytona 500 NASCAR race in Florida on February 18, 2018 and to the display at Melbourne Air and Space Show, Florida, on March 24-25 prior to his fatal accident. As an experienced tactical aircraft pilot with more than 3,500 total flight hours including 1,400 hours in U.S. Air Force aircraft, Major Del Bagno began flying and rehearsing with the Thunderbirds last year and was experiencd as the Number 4 “Slot” pilot in the Thunderbird diamond formation. He had flown over 30 types of aircraft, civilian and military, during his career.

The official USAF Thunderbird page for Major Del Bagno summarized his impressive career as an exceptional aviator:

“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 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.”

Major Del Bagno had replaced former Thunderbird #4 slot pilot Major Nick Krajicek, who moved within the Air Force to another assignment. Maj. Del Bagno, callsign, “Cajun”, was the first F-35A Lightning II pilot to fly on the Thunderbirds team in the F-16.

In a February 2017 release, Maj. Del Bagno talked about the capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II he was flying at the time, “This jet is going to take us to 2050 and beyond. As threats evolve, we need to continually stay ahead of them. It’s a multi role platform and this proves how versatile the aircraft can be. We can shoot missiles, we can drop bombs, so we can take the fight to the enemy.”

No further information has been released about the accident. As is common with any military aviation accident a formal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Air Force.

Thunderbird diamond (credit: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)