Air Force Identifies Thunderbirds Pilot Killed in Wednesday Crash

Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, the “slot pilot” who flew the No. 4 Thunderbirds jet, was killed Wednesday when his F-16 crashed over the Nevada Test and Training Range during routine training, the Air Force announced. Del Bagno 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. Read the full story by Amy McCullough.

Recent Air Incidents Not a Crisis, Pentagon Says

The Defense Department Thursday pushed back against the notion that a spate of recent US military aircraft incidents represent a trend or military crisis. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Joint Staff director, made the comments during a briefing for reporters the same day the US military cancelled an exercise in Djibouti following two of those incidents there April 3 and the day after a USAF Thunderbirds pilot was killed during a training mission. Read the full story by Steve Hirsch.

F-35 Restructure Not Imminent

Responding to a congressional directive, Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord this week told Congress she plans to break up the F-35 Joint Program Office and allow the services to manage the variants associated with their air arms. However, no specific timetable for the change was set, and a great deal of planning and vetting of the devolution plan will be needed before the change takes place. Read the full story by John A. Tirpak.

KC-46 Completes Fuel On-Load Testing

The KC-46A Pegasus program recently completed Supplemental Type Certification fuel on-load testing, after two of the new aerial refuelers successfully refueled in flight, announced Boeing. A KC-46A transferred 146,000 pounds of fuel to another KC-46A during a nearly four-hour flight out of Boeing Field, south of Seattle. During the testing, the Pegasus demonstrated its ability to receive fuel from another KC-46 tanker, as well as KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft, taking on a total of 540,600 pounds of fuel in 68 contacts, according to the release. The program’s test aircraft have completed 2,700 flight hours and made more than 2,500 contacts refueling F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, C-17, A-10, KC-10, and KC-46 aircraft, according to the release. However, no stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 or B-1 bomber, have attempted to receive fuel from the KC-46A. The Air Force announced in September 2017 it had identified three deficiencies with the tanker, including the fact that during some refueling test flights with other aircraft it had observed “undetected contacts outside the receptacle,” which could cause significant damage to the special coatings on low-observable aircraft. For a full update on the KC-46A program, read The Tanker’s Trying Time from the April issue of Air Force Magazine. —Amy McCullough

Thompson Assumes New Role as Vice Commander of Space Command

Lt. Gen. David Thompson on Wednesday pinned on his third star and assumed the newly created role of Air Force Space Command vice commander. Thompson will report directly to AFSPC boss Gen. Jay Raymond, though he will be based at the Pentagon. In his new role, he will work with Headquarters USAF and other national security agencies to advocate for USAF space missions and capabilities. “Space is absolutely critical to the joint fight and to our daily lives,” said Thompson in an April 4 release. “I will be just one of thousands of airmen working relentlessly to ensure our nation has the space capabilities we need to win any fight.” Thompson, who previously served as the special assistant to Raymond at AFSPC, was first confirmed last year for a similar position, which the Air Force called the deputy chief of staff for space. However, the Fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act eliminated that position, as some members of Congress pushed to create a whole new service dedicated to space. The Air Force announced the vice commander position and renominated Thompson for the job earlier this year. “This is a well-deserved promotion,” said Raymond. “DT brings the right mix of leadership and space ops experience—I look forward to working with him to execute the Air Force’s critical space mission.” —Amy McCullough

US Syria Policy Unchanged, Pentagon Official Says

Despite indications that the Trump administration has reached a decision on how to move forward on Syria, US policy remains unchanged, a top US military official said Thursday. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told reporters Wednesday the administration had made a decision Tuesday on whether to withdraw from Syria, although he refused to reveal what it was. Addressing reporters Thursday during a Pentagon press briefing, Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, said, “one of the things that we haven’t been given is a timeline, and that’s actually very effective.” He said that might have been a problem in Afghanistan, “where we operated against a timeline that was known to the enemy.” He lauded President Trump for “not giving us a specific timeline,” which he called “a tool that we can use to our effect as we move forward.” He said the plan was always as “we reach finality against ISIS in Syria,” the presence there would be adjusted, “so in that sense, nothing actually has changed.” —Steve Hirsch

Lockheed to Show Off T-50A Cockpit Demonstrator on Capitol Hill

Lockheed Martin is taking its T-50A cockpit demonstrator to Capitol Hill on Friday, to “highlight the T-50A advanced pilot trainer’s fighter-like performance capabilities” to members of Congress, Hill staffers, and the media. The company is entering the T-50A into the Air Force’s new advanced pilot trainer competition. An award was originally expected to be announced last year, but a decision got bumped to 2018 with an announcement now slated for this summer. The cockpit demonstrator will be on display in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building. The Air Force wants to buy at least 350 new aircraft to replace its T-38 trainer at an anticipated cost of roughly $16.3 billion. In addition to the Lockheed/Korean Aerospace Industries team, other companies who have confirmed their participation in the competition include Boeing/Saab of Sweden, Leonardo of Italy, Sierra Nevada/Turkish Aerospace Industries, and Stavatti Aerospace. See also: From T-38 to a New Trainer from the December 2017 issue of Air Force Magazine. —Amy McCullough



—MSgt. William Posch, who was one of seven airmen killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq last month, returned home to Patrick AFB, Fla., on April 4: USAF release.

—Five CV-22 Ospreys arrived at their new at Yokota AB, Japan, on Thursday morning. Air Force Special Operations Command plans to eventually base a total of 10 CV-22s there: Stars and Stripes.

—Air commandos assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Wing and members of the US Army Special Forces recently conducted six weeks of Arctic training in Sweden: AFSOC release.

—The State Department has approved a possible $2.91 billion foreign military sale to Slovakia for 14 F-16V Block 70/72 aircraft, as well as associated engines, weapons, and equipment: DSCA release.

—The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center is rolling out a new inspection process that uses a computed radiography imaging plate instead of film to produce digital X-rays of airframes and their components. The more environmentally friendly process also is meant to streamline operations: USAF release.