A Nebraska-born fighter pilot who flew for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in 2016 and 2017 has returned to the precision flight team to take the place of a pilot who died in a plane crash earlier this month.
Maj. Nick “Khan” Krajicek, who grew up in West Point, Nebraska, will fly the Thunderbirds’ No. 4 jet for the rest of the current air show season, according to a Thunderbirds press release. He replaces Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, who died when his No. 4 plane crashed in the desert near Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the team’s home, while on a training flight.
Krajicek also flew the No. 4, or “slot” position — just behind the leader in the team’s 6-jet delta formation — during his two-year tour.
“I am honored and humbled to be invited back to the team, and to honor Cajun,” Krajicek said in an email. “This is an extremely difficult time for our Thunderbird Team and family. … By continuing our mission, we show the resiliency of not only our team, but of the entire Air Force.”
The team has canceled two air show appearances to give Krajicek time to retrain for the Thunderbirds.
Before his graduation from West Point Central Catholic High School in 1995, Krajicek dreamed of being a military pilot — a helicopter pilot, he told The World-Herald in a 2016 interview. He joined the Nebraska National Guard and trained initially as an infantryman. Later he went to flight school, qualified as a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot and joined the 24th Medical Company in Lincoln. He also earned a business degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
After graduation, he worked for Union Pacific Railroad. He applied for Air Force officer training school in 2004 and became an F-16 pilot. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and originally joined the Thunderbirds in late 2015. He has logged more than 4,100 military flight hours, including 650 combat hours.
Since leaving the Thunderbirds at the end of 2017, Krajicek has been serving on the headquarters staff of the Pacific Air Forces command in Honolulu. He said his wife, Tisha, and two daughters will remain in Hawaii until he completes his Thunderbirds assignment early next year.
“We will likely spend most of the next eight months apart,” Krajicek said. “But let this be an example of the sacrifices our families make, and the resiliency our families have.”
Numerous friends and relatives from Nebraska turned out at Offutt Air Force Base’s Defenders of Freedom Open House and Air Show in 2016 to watch Krajicek perform with the Thunderbirds. This year’s Offutt air show will take place Aug. 11 and 12, but the Thunderbirds are not scheduled to perform.