The plane was flying low over the tarmac when it crashed and caught fire with a thick plume of black smoke seen in video of the aftermath.
The crash prematurely ended the "Thunder Over Solano" show at Travis Air Force Base, which was attended by an estimated 100,000 spectators each day over the weekend. No one else was injured.
Edward Andreini, of Half Moon Bay, who had been flying since he was teen, was identified by the Air Force as the pilot. Federal Aviation Administration records show he was the registered owner of the 1944 Stearman biplane, a World War II-era plane commonly used to train pilots.
Col. David Mott, 60th Operations Group commander at the base, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the plane was trying to perform a maneuver known as "cutting a ribbon" where it inverts and flies close to the ground so that a knife attached to the plane can slice a ribbon just off the ground.
Andreini's website said audiences would be "thrilled at the sight of this huge biplane performing double outside loops, square loops, torque rolls, double snap rolls, and ... a heart-stopping, end-over-end tumble maneuver." It said he had flown since he was 16.
The National Transportation Safety Board will head up an investigation. Lynn Lunsford of the FAA said the FAA was already on site and will be a member of the team.
Roger Bockrath, a retired photojournalist who was photographing the afternoon show, chronicled the routine and witnessed the crash. He said Andreini, flying into a sometimes gusty wind, passed on two attempts before trying a third time, hitting the tarmac and sliding to a stop in an open field.
"He got down too low and hit the tarmac. He skidded about 500 feet and just sat there. The plane was essentially intact, just wrong side down," Bockrath told The Sacramento Bee.
Bockrath said nearly 2 1/2 minutes went by before someone appeared with a fire extinguisher. By then, the aircraft was fully enflamed and collapsing from the heat. He said it took a total of five minutes before fire crews arrived.
"He should be in the hospital with second-degree burns and smoke inhalation. Instead, he's at the coroner's office," Bockrath said. "It's shocking to me how long it took. I'm still rattled by it."