Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2019

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Thunderbirds resuming air shows after fatal Nevada crash

2014 Aviation Nation at Nellis AFB

Steve Marcus

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform during the 2014 Aviation Nation open house at Nellis Air Force Base Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014.

The Air Force Thunderbirds perform today in Virginia, their first air show since the April 4 death of team member Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno during a training flight.

The elite aerobatic squad, assigned to the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base near North Las Vegas, will resume its season today and Sunday in Virginia at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, the team said.

“The Thunderbirds look forward to safely resuming public shows at Air Power over Hampton Roads,” Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, the team’s commander and lead pilot, said in a statement earlier this week, referring to Langley’s biennial air show. “It’s been challenging to get us to this point, but the team is resilient, focused and ready to get back to our mission of recruiting, retaining and inspiring.”

The Thunderbirds said in a statement that the return to regular performances is a milestone as they recover from their first fatal mishap in 36 years. Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, gave the green light for the resumption of air shows, officials said.

The Thunderbirds paused training and canceled public performances after Del Bagno, 34, crashed his jet during routine training on the Nevada Test and Training Range. They resumed practice last month.

Del Bagno was the slot pilot in the No. 4 jet, according to the Thunderbirds. He was an experienced pilot who had logged more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft, including 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot. Before joining the Air Force in 2007, he was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter and banner tow pilot. His last job before the Thunderbirds was as an F-35A evaluator pilot and chief of standardization and evaluation at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. He joined the Thunderbirds in November.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

After Langley, the Thunderbirds have 26 more demonstrations across the United States listed on their 2018 schedule, according to their website.