Pilot’s G-LOC behind last April F-16 Thunderbird crash

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After transitioning into a descending half-loop maneuver (Split-S) Major Stephen Del Bagno experienced a G-LOC becoming completely incapacitated for a period

On Oct. 16, 2018 Air Combat Command (ACC) released an accident investigation board report regarding the F-16 Thunderbird crash which occurred on Apr. 4, 2018. Major Stephen Del Bagno, an F-16CM pilot assigned to the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the “Thunderbirds,” fatally crashed while engaged in a routine aerial demonstration training flight at the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) near Creech AFB, Nevada.

The mishap took place during a practice of the “High Show” version of the Thunderbirds aerial demonstration in the south part of the NTTR. During the “High Bomb Burst Rejoin” maneuver near the scheduled end of the aerial demonstration training flight, the pilot spent approximately 22 seconds in inverted flight between 5,500 and 5,700 feet above the ground level. After transitioning into a descending half-loop maneuver (Split-S) the pilot experienced a gravity induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC), became completely incapacitated for a period, and was fatally injured on impact without an ejection attempt.

The Air Force is constantly evaluating its procedures with regard to flight safety, and the Thunderbirds will incorporate the findings of this report into their procedures and process improvements.

The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, performs precision aerial maneuvers demonstrating the capabilities of Air Force high performance aircraft to people throughout the world. The squadron exhibits the professional qualities the Air Force develops in the people who fly, maintain and support these aircraft.

A Thunderbirds air demonstration is a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The four-aircraft diamond formation demonstrates the training and precision of Air Force pilots, while the solo aircraft highlight the maximum capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Pilot's G-LOC behind last April F-16 Thunderbird crash
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Photo credit: Master Sgt. Christopher Boitz/Air Force

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