Thunderbirds Pilot Maj. Stephen Del Bagno Killed in Training Accident, Was Inspiration To Space Coast Daily Editor
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Senior Editor // April 5, 2018
RECENTLY PERFORMED AT Melbourne Air & Space Show
ABOVE VIDEO: U.S. Air Force Maj. Stephen Del Bagno was killed during flight training in Nevada on Wednesday. According to the United States Air Force website, Maj. Del Bagno was killed during a routine aerial demonstration training flight.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Space Coast Daily Publisher Tom Palermo always tells me I have the best job with the best assignments.
He’s right, and two weeks ago following the first day of the Melbourne Air & Space Show, I was given the assignment and privilege of attending an event to honor the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilots and ground crew at the Florida Tech hangar at Orlando-Melbourne International Airport.
It was there I was introduced to and interviewed Maj. Stephen Del Bagno or “Cajun,” as he said I could call him. Cajun was the first-ever F-35 pilot to become a member of the prestigious Thunderbirds.
On Wednesday, Maj. Del Bagno was killed during flight training with the Thunderbirds in Nevada. According to the U.S. Air Force website, Maj. Del Bagno was killed during a routine aerial demonstration training flight at around 10:30 a.m.
The team’s participation at March Air Reserve Base’s “The March Field Air and Space Expo” this weekend n California has been canceled and the accident is under investigation.
The Thunderbirds perform about 65 shows per year and their first of the year was at the Melbourne Air & Space Show on the March 23 when I had the honor and pleasure to meet and interview this outstanding military officer.
“We are mourning the loss of Major Del Bagno,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, 57th Wing Commander on the Thunderbirds’ Facebook page,
“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.”
Maj. Del Bagno was in his first season with the team and was the “Slot Pilot,” flying the No. 4 jet.
Originally from California, Maj.Del Bagno was a 2005 graduate of Utah Valley State University and commissioned from Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama in 2007. He was a civilian flight instructor, corporate pilot, skywriter and a banner tow pilot before joining the Air Force.
Maj. Del Bagno was the first F-35 pilot to serve on the team, and prior to joining the Thunderbirds, was an F-35A Evaluator Pilot and Chief of Standardization and Evaluation of the 58th Fighter Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He had logged more than 3,500 total flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, with 1,400 hours as an Air Force pilot.
Upon arriving at the hangar the night I interviewed Maj. Del Bagno, I was greeted by the public relations representative for the Thunderbirds, Maj. Raymond Geoffroy, who asked if I was there to conduct any interviews with the pilots. When I replied yes, he said he had the perfect guy.
Maj. Geoffroy was right, and in the brief time, I spent with “Cajun” I was impressed with the fact that he recognized that while you might fly a plane as an individual, success in the air and in life comes with teamwork.
When I asked Maj. Del Bagno what advice he had for younger boys and girls who may want to become pilots, he didn’t have to think. He immediately said he believed in the “Five P’s” when it came to living life.
“Find your passion, find your purpose, be persistent in your pursuit, be personable in being humble, credible and approachable and then it’ll pay off,” he said.
I continued to talk with Maj. Del Bagno for a while after the interview and he was the same off camera as he was on it, constantly giving praise to those on his team.
“Cajun” it was an honor to meet you and there is no doubt that you’re now higher than you’ve ever been in the sky.
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