Three weeks after a Thunderbirds pilot was killed in an F-16 crash in Nevada, the Air Force aerial demonstration group has brought back a veteran pilot to fill his slot.
But it will be at least two more weeks until the Thunderbirds return to the skies ― and maybe longer.
Maj. Nick “Khan” Krajicek will be the Thunderbirds’ slot pilot for the rest of the 2018 season, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron said in a Thursday release.
He will replace Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, who died April 4 in a crash during a training flight at the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Krajicek performed as the slot pilot, or Thunderbird 4, in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“We’re grateful to have Khan coming back to the team,” Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, commander of the Thunderbirds. “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 Thunderbirds canceled three shows ― at March Air Reserve Base in California, Lakeland, Florida, and Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi ― in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
And while Krajicek trains to become requalified with the Thunderbirds, the group has canceled its next two appearances, at the Charleston Air Expo at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina April 28, and the Fort Lauderdale Air Show in Florida May 5 and 6.
The Thunderbirds are next scheduled to appear May 12 at the Laughlin Air Force Base Open House in Texas, and the Air Power Over Hampton Roads show at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia May 19 and 20.
However, the squadron said it is still trying to figure out whether the team will be ready to perform a safe six-ship aerial demonstration by then. If not, those shows could be canceled as well.
Krajicek, an F-16C and D Fighting Falcon instructor pilot, has more than 3,400 flight hours in the military, including more than 650 combat flight hours. He also flew UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in the Army before commissioning into the Air Force in 2004.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.