Air Force Identifies Thunderbirds Pilot Killed in Wednesday Crash

Thunderbirds Pilot Maj. Stephen Del Bagno was killed April 4, 2018, when his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed in Nevada.

The Air Force has identified the Thunderbirds pilot who was killed Wednesday when his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed in Nevada as Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, pilot of the No. 4 Thunderbirds jet.

Del Bagno was the “slot pilot,” which flies in the middle of the diamond formation, for the US Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. He received his commission in 2007, two years after graduating from Utah Valley State University, according to his Thunderbirds bio. He previously served as an F-35A evaluator pilot and chief of standardization and evaluation for the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla., and had logged more than 3,500 total flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft. The California native was in his first season with the team.

“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.”

The team will no longer participate in “The March Field Air & Space Expo,” which will be held April 7-8 at March ARB, Calif. It’s not clear when the Thunderbirds will resume flying or the impact on the remainder of the season, according to the release.

“Dawn & I are mourning the loss of one of our Thunderbird pilots, who died Wednesday in an F-16 crash near Nellis Air Force Base,” wrote Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein in a Facebook post. “Please join us in honoring our fallen Airman & sending heartfelt condolences to the pilot’s family, teammates, friends & all who are grieving.”

The crash remains under investigation.

During the teams more than six decades of existence, some 20 Thunderbirds aircrew have died in accidents, including three during air shows. This is the third Thunderbirds mishap in two years.

In June 2017, a Thunderbirds F-16D crashed in Dayton, Ohio, after the aircraft landed too quickly in heavy rain, causing the aircraft to overrun the runway. The pilot in that incident sustained several injuries and the F-16 was destroyed at a loss of $29.2 million. The Thunderbirds commander at the time was later relieved of command following a loss of confidence in his “leadership and risk management style,” Air Combat Command announced.

Another Thunderbird F-16 crashed in Colorado in June 2016 minutes after a flyby of the Air Force Academy graduation where then-President Obama was speaking. Air Combat Command determined that a button stuck on the throttle, causing the accident. The pilot of that plane received only minor injuries.