Category Archives: Airshows

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

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)

Did You Know That Thunderbird 9 Uses Mirror To Mark Show Center For Thunderbird 1 During Airshows?

The U.S. Air Force demo team rely on a signal mirror that provides a fixed reference point to the formation during the display.

The video below is particularly interesting. It was filmed in 2016 and shows the then current and future USAF Thunderbird 9 pilots using their signal mirrors to signal Thunderbird 1 and mark the show center to the team.

The footage was filmed at Huntington Beach, CA, on Oct. 20, 2016, during the practice session for the weekend airshow.

Thunderbird 9 is the flight surgeon for the USAF Thunderbird air demonstration team. On the right hand side is Maj. (Dr.) Christopher Scheibler, Thunderbird 9 for 2015-2016; on the left is Capt. (Dr.) William Goncharow, who would be Thunderbird 9 for 2017-2018.

Obviously, TB1 can’t see the very small mirror itself, whose size is that of a business card. What TB1 sees is the concentrated ray of sunlight reflected by the mirror – 4,000,000+ candlepower of it – more than 20 times brighter than an air traffic control signal light gun.

This signal mirror is a USAF issue 2″x3″ glass MIL-M-18371E Mark 3 Type 1 emergency signaling mirror with a retroreflective mesh aimer. The MIL-M-18371E is standard USAF pilot survival gear, also used for ground-to-air communication. On a clear day, with the sun overhead, this mirror can reflect a beam that is naked-eye visible at 20+ miles – see the video here.

Maj. (Dr.) Chris Scheibler, Thunderbird 9, holds the signal mirror he used to mark show center for Thunderbird 1 during the USAF Thunderbirds’ aerial performance at the “Thunder over the Empire” airshow at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, CA on April 17, 2016. (Image credit: Signal Mirror)

Even though to the eyes of a spectator a demo team’s display overhead an airport does not change much from the one which takes place over another airfield or the coastline of a beach resort or a lake, the way the team flies may differ significantly depending on the “environment” in which the aerobatic display is executed. The different topographic features of the place where the air show takes place, and the surrounding landscape may, in fact, require the adoption of specific solutions in order to maintain standard distances and for the correct evaluation of terrain separation under peculiar light conditions.

Familiarisation with the landscape and evaluating the display arena are the purposes of the preparation flight which precedes every airshow display. In the case of displays flown over land, the terrain usually offers a multitude of fixed references which assist in the perception of speed, travelled airspace and altitude, such as crop lines, fields, roads, railways, and water courses. Over the water, however, it is necessary to utilise buoys or small boats which, besides delineating the display area in respect to a crowd line which is frequently extremely extended, allows the accurate determination of the display line. This line constitutes the reference for the pilots for the safe execution of all the manoeuvres. Whereever the display takes place, the show center is one of the most important reference points for the team.

By the way, the Blue Angels demo team use the same mirror.

Top image: right screenshot from rafowell video

Take A Look At These Videos Of Blue Angels Solo Takeoff At El Centro During Winter Training

Blue Angels #6 performs very low take off from NAF El Centro.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, are preparing for the 2018 airshow flight demonstration season at their winter practice airfield at Naval Air Station El Centro, California.

And here are two amazing videos showing Lieutenant Brandon Hempler, Blue Angels #6, the Opposing Solo, taking off from runway 12 at NAF El Centro on Feb. 24, 2018, during a winter training sortie.

Several photographers were there and were buzzed by the F/A-18 Hornet performing a really low take off.
Enjoy.

Top image credit: screenshot from Norman Graf Aviation Photography FB page.

Reflecting on The Raptor: F-22 Demo Team Changes Pilots for 2018.

We Get a Rare Opportunity to Meet the Outgoing and Incoming F-22 Demo Pilots.

As the 2018 air show season rapidly approaches in the United States it occurs to me that I’ve written about military aviation in some capacity since I was a kid. Today aviation journalism is my job, and I’ll tell you it is among the best jobs in the world. This story is one example why.

Along with every other author who has written about flying, from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry to modern-day journalists like our Editor David Cenciotti, Tyler Rogoway of The Drive, Laura Seligman, Valerie Insinna and many others, aviation has also been a passion since I was a kid.

Covering aviation is long days of travel, waiting under a hot sun or in freezing weather, sitting in a canyon or a desert waiting for something to happen. It is getting to a flight demonstration or media event hours before anyone else and staying long after it’s over to catch that one story, that one photo, that no one else may have gotten. It’s also lots of research, fact checking, and covering your ass so, when millions of people read your story it’s as accurate as you can make it. Even then, it sometimes goes wrong.

But during the heavy lifting of packing, flying, waiting, hoping, getting smacked for printing an error, getting read and shared when you write a scoop, I still have the same boyhood enthusiasm for the miracle of flight. I also still have my boyhood admiration for the women and men who fix and who fly the aircraft we write about. They are humble heroes who are larger than life. Military aviation is one of very few vocations where a young person can earn so much responsibility so quickly.

Because of my boyhood excitement for aviation, I’m more than just a journalist covering a story, I’m also a fan. While I did take journalism in school and can put on a game face as a “reporter” asking tricky questions of a Public Affairs Officer, I’ll also ask a pilot or a crew chief for an autograph or a handshake, or take a photo with the women and men who do the jobs I write about. They’re heroes to me, and I remain an unapologetic fan.

This past summer during 2017 I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time for a great story, a great transition into the 2018 air demonstration season and a great aviation moment. As is usually the case, Nellis AFB was where it happened.

The Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada is among the greatest air shows in the world. Along with MAKS in Russia, the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK, the Dubai Air Show and the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition it is unique in both setting and displays. No other show on earth provides the insight into U.S. air power that Aviation Nation does. In November 2017, the show also celebrated the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

On media day before the show opened to the public at Nellis, I got to meet both the outgoing F-22 Raptor Demo pilot and the new incoming F-22 Demo pilot. It was a unique chance to see a big transition in flight demonstration history.

For the past couple years, I’ve seen USAF Major Dan Dickinson, call sign “Rock”, fly the F-22 Raptor at flight demos around the country. Maj. Dickinson was the F-22 Aerial Demonstration Commander. He represented the USAF, the DoD and, at international airshows around the world, the face of our nation, at over 20 airshows each year. “Rock’s” team has 19 members responsible for getting the F-22 Raptor from show venue to show venue, being sure it is flight-ready and coordinating all the logistics from travel to maintenance to lodging. He also represents, at least by association, giant defense contractor Lockheed Martin, builders of the F-22 Raptor.

Outgoing USAF F-22 Demo Team pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson taxis in on his last demo. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

The Air Force estimates that every year a staggering 10 million spectators see Major Dan Dickinson fly his F-22 in person. According to statistics published by NBC Sports, that is more than double the amount of people who watched the NHL Stanley Cup Final on television. In addition to his work as the F-22 Demo Team leader and pilot, Maj. Dickinson is also an active F-22 instructor pilot for the 1st Operations Group at Langley AFB in Virginia.

Among many other fascinating facts about Major Dan Dickinson and the Air Force F-22 Demo Team, I find it remarkable that a Major in the USAF earns $111,760 USD according to a Google search, but an NHL player like Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators hockey team earns $14,000,000 USD in about the same time period, but with half the fan exposure as Maj. Dickinson gets even in NHL hockey’s biggest game series.

Unlike overpaid sport stars, if you want to talk to an American hero like Maj. Dickinson, all you have to do is walk up to him in the F-22 Demo Team tent at an airshow before or after his demonstration.

I always visit the F-22 Demo Team tent to see if Maj. Dickinson, his Crew Chief or one of the other members is there to have a chat, get a free photo or buy a patch that benefits an air force supported charity. Every time Maj. Dickinson and his team take the time to answer questions, shake hands and pose for another photo with me. I bet I have over a hundred photos with these guys, tons of autographed aircraft photos, a few profile prints of their aircraft signed by them and whatever other stuff I could collect. Every time Maj. Dickinson answers my questions with enthusiasm and interest.

I grab to opportunity for a couple autographs from F-22 Demo Pilot Dan Dickinson. (Photo: Jan Mack/TheAviationist)

“How much pressure does it take to move the sidestick?” “Have you ever worried about hypoxia?” “What is the longest time you’ve been in the cockpit?” “What was it like to take-off for the first time in an F-22?” “What is the plane like to fight with?” “What’s your favorite flight demo venue?” I never ran out of questions for Maj. Dickinson, and he always had enthusiastic answers as he signed one more autograph for me. By the way, we will provide his answers as part of a new article we will publish in the next weeks. “Rock” probably started thinking I was selling all the airshow schwag on eBay. But I wasn’t. If you visit our house the walls are covered with framed profile prints and aircraft photos, many of them from Nellis, many of them of Rock’s F-22 Raptor.

This year marks a big transition for the F-22 Demo Team. At the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB. Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson would fly his final demo and Major Paul “Loco” Lopez would be there observing in his role as incoming F-22 demo pilot for the 2018 season and beyond.

Word on the tarmac is that Major “Loco” Lopez got his call sign because of his infectious enthusiasm for military aviation. When you meet him in person you see that is absolutely true. A big smile and a bigger handshake, Major Lopez initially seems too jovial to be a deadly Mach 2 predator stalking the skies for enemy aircraft and killing them with impunity from beyond visual range, but ask him about the technical performance of his F-22 Raptor and you get a sense of his seriousness about the aircraft and its mission. Major Lopez’s knowledge of the F-22, its capabilities and tactical role is encyclopedic. He discusses the aircraft as though he were one of the engineers who built it.

At Nellis I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to shake the hand of outgoing F-22 demo pilot, Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson, then turn to my left and immediately shake the hand of incoming pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez. It was living aviation history.

A moment in airshow history: outgoing F-22 demo pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson on the left, the author in the center, and incoming 2018 F-22 demo pilot Major Paul “Loco” Lopez on the right. (Photo: Jan Mack/TheAviationist)

New incoming demo pilot U.S. Air Force Major Paul Lopez, call sign “Loco”, completed his certification of capabilities as a demo team pilot at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia on December 18, 2017. He flies his first public demo on March 17, 2018 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

Since the schedule at the 2018 Yuma Air Show next month does not include one of the major U.S. military demo teams, The Navy’s Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds, Major Lopez’s solo demonstration flight of the F-22 along with his Heritage Flight formation with a North American P-51 Mustang of WWII fame, will be one of the headlining demos along with the civilian Patriot’s Jet Team and a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B demo.

According to an official public affairs release from the U.S. Air Force, Major Paul “Loco” Lopez’s 13-member F-22 Demo Team for 2018 will showcase the fifth-generation aircraft through 25 flight demonstrations, including solo displays and Heritage Flights, at 21 locations around the country, as well as international demos in Santiago, Chile and Alberta, Canada. If you get the opportunity to see Major Lopez’s flight demo or Heritage Flight at any of the scheduled shows, you’ll be witness to a chapter in aviation history as his first year flying F-22 demos begins in 2018.

Video Shows South Korean Black Eagles T-50 Accident at Changi Airport

A Republic of Korea Air Force T-50 trainer belonging to the Black Eagle aerobatic team suffered a burst tyre and flipped over, resulting in a fire. Here’s the video.

A ROKAF T-50 jet with the Black Eagles team caught fire on the runway at Changi Airport, Singapore, at 1.24PM LT on Feb. 6, 2017.

The aircraft was taking off within a 3-ship section in preparation for a display at the Singapore Airshow when it reportedly suffered a burst tyre, skidded into the grass close to the runway 02L/20R, flipped over and caught fire. According to the first reports, the pilot escaped the aircraft with minor injuries.

Here’s the video of the accident.

Nicknamed “Black Eagles”, the 53rd Air Demonstration Group is the official aerobatic display team of the ROKAF since Dec. 12, 1994. Back then they flew the Cessna A-37B Dragonfly aircraft. The team is based at Wonju airbase and is equipped with the T-50 Golden Eagle since 2010, when the team was reactivated after a being temporarily disbanded in 2007.

H/T Shawn Chung for the heads-up