AVOCA, Pa. — An Air Force Academy graduate and veteran pilot died Friday when his vintage World War II plane crashed shortly after takeoff Friday at an airport in eastern Pennsylvania.

Andy Travnicek, 50, a commercial airline pilot from Hampton, New Hampshire, was a member of the Geico Skytypers Air Show Team and was scheduled to perform Saturday at the Great Pocono Raceway Airshow in his North American SNJ-2.

The crash at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport occurred around 12:35 p.m., authorities said. The plane was heading north when suddenly, “for reasons unknown,” it veered to the left, crashed into the grass and caught fire, said the airport director, Carl Beardsley.

Travnicek was the only person on board and there were no injuries on the ground.

The Skytypers who identified Travnicek as the pilot, said an investigation is underway in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy and his family at this time,” the statement said.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team offered a “toast” to the fallen pilot on its Facebook page, saying Travnicek was a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former C-5 Galaxy cargo plane pilot. He also flew he C-21 Learjet, T-34C Turbomentor, T-6 Texan II and MC-12 Liberty ISR aircraft, according to a statement on the Skytypers web page., and also flew the Galaxy in special operations missions

“He was a phenomenal pilot and friend,” the Thunderbirds said.

“At a young age, Andy Travnicek knew he wanted to become a pilot after flying in a Cessna with a local pilot in his hometown, Southbridge, MA,” according to the Skytypers. “He later attended the U.S. Air Force Academy where he learned how to fly gliders and became a pilot instructor.”

He graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering, and later earned an MBA from Nova Southeastern University. Travnicek completed deployments to Spain, Qatar and Afghanistan and also worked with cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy as a staff member, according to the Skytypers.

At the time of his death, Travnicek was a a first officer with a major airline but also flew alternate left wing with the Skytypers.

“He enjoyed flying warbirds to honor the men and women of all eras and all branches of the U.S. military,” the Skytypers said. “Andy aspired to inspire young people to pursue interests and careers in aviation.”

The Long Island, New York-based Skytypers create aerial smoke messages and perform maneuvers with six world War II-era aircraft, the North American SNJ-2 and its T-6 Texan variant, which were used as advanced training aircraft to prepare pilots for battle

Pocono Raceway expressed “deepest condolences” to the pilot’s family. It said it decided to hold the airshow as scheduled “after much consideration and with the support of the GEICO Skytypers.”

It was the second fatal Skytypers crash since 2018. That year, a vintage Skytypers plane went down in a wooded area in Melville, New York, killing the pilot.

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