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Thunderbirds name new pilot, cancel more shows to prepare after crash

The Air Force Thunderbirds canceled two more shows to allow a new pilot to qualify while the team prepares to resume the 2018 show season after a deadly training crash.

BEHIND THE SCENES: News Center 7 had rare access to Thunderbirds just weeks before crash

Maj. Nick “Khan” Krajicek, who will fly the remainder of this season, was the No. 4 pilot the previous two show seasons.

The team had suspended flights and canceled public performances since a tragic April 4 crash killed Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno during practice over the Nevada Test and Training Range.

RELATED: Air Force Thunderbirds return to practice, but more shows could be canceled

“We’re grateful to have Kahn coming back to the team,” Thunderbirds commander Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh said in a statement Thursday. “His experience and familiarity with our team’s mission and the demonstration profile make him the right choice as we safely make our way back on the road to recruit, retain and inspire once more.”

The team announced Thursday it would cancel upcoming aerial performances at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., this weekend and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and had not yet determined if two additional air show appearances in Texas and Virginia may be canceled in May.

Thunderbirds pilot killed in training crash identified

After the crash, the Thunderbirds scrubbed appearances at March Air Reserve Base in California, in Lakeland, Fla., and at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., this month.

The accident was the most serious since a Thunderbird jet ran off a runway and flipped at Dayton International Airport last June during a familiarization flight, trapping two crewmen until they were rescued by first responders. The mishap scrubbed the team’s appearance in Dayton.

An Air Force investigation determined excessive speed and landing too far down on a wet runway contributed to the June 23 incident that destroyed the $29.2 million fighter jet.

RELATED: Excessive speed blamed for Thunderbird jet crash in Dayton

Then team narrator and F-16 pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalves was hospitalized for leg injuries, according to the Air Force. A second crewman who was a backseat passenger in the two-seat F-16D jet was uninjured, the Air Force said.

The Thunderbirds are scheduled to appear at the Vectren Dayton Air Show in the 2019 show season. The Navy’s Blue Angels are set to fly at the air show June 23-24.

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