AF Thunderbirds return to practice, but more shows could be canceled

The U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds in the diamond formation at the Vectren Dayton Air Show on Saturday, July 23, 2011. STAFF FILE PHOTO
Caption
The U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds in the diamond formation at the Vectren Dayton Air Show on Saturday, July 23, 2011. STAFF FILE PHOTO

The Air Force Thunderbirds return to training over the Nevada desert Wednesday, but have not announced a date the demonstration team will return to the air show circuit, the team’s leader said.

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: Thunderbirds cancel more air show performances after deadly crash

“While our hearts are still heavy with the loss of our wingman Cajun, we know he’d want us back in the air and preparing to recruit, retain and inspire once more,” Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, team leader, said in a statement Wednesday.

“These flights will focus on maintaining our team’s proficiency with the demanding manuevers of our air demonstration,” Walsh added. “They will also strengthen our confidence following a trying two weeks for the squadron.”

At the same time, the team will support a “robust investigation process” to ensure “the highest level of safety in our operations,” Walsh said.

He cautioned more cancellations of upcoming air shows are possible.

So far, the team canceled shows at March Air Reserve Base in California, in Lakeland, Fla., and upcoming “Wings Over Columbus” air show April 21-22 at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.

A memorial service was recently held for the fallen aviator.

RELATED: Excessive speed blamed for Thunderbird crash in Dayton

he crash was the most serious since a Thunderbird jet flipped over and ran off a runway at Dayton International Airport last June during a familiarization flight, trapping two crewmen until they were rescued by first responders.

An Air Force investigation determined excessive speed and landing too far down on a wet runway contributed to the incident.

The mishap injured then team narrator and F-16 pilot Capt. Erik Gonsalves, who was hospitalized for leg injuries, and destroyed the $29.2 million fighter jet on June 23, according to the Air Force. A second crewman who was a backseat passenger in the F-16D jet was uninjured, the Air Force said.

The Thunderbirds are scheduled to appear at the Vectren Dayton Air Show during the 2019 show season.