After losing the 2013 flying season due to sequestration, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” have returned with a full 2014 flying schedule. Consisting of 38 shows, the 2014 flying schedule opened with a performance Feb. 23 as part of the Daytona 500, in Daytona, Fla. The Thunderbirds trace their linage to the activation of the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., on May 25, 1953. During their history the Thunderbirds have flown the F-84G Thunderjet, F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100 Super Sabre, F-105 Thunderchief, F-4 Phantom II, T-38 Talon, and their current aircraft, the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the Thunderbirds continue to serve as a recruiting tool for the U.S. Air Force. A mission they will resume in 2014.
The Thunderbirds | Photos
Thunderbird pilots, from left to right are: Capt. C.C. Pattilo, Capt. R.L. Kanaga, Capt. C.A. Pattilo, and Maj. R.C. Catledge, June 13, 1953. These pilots were part of the first Thunderbirds team after the unit's activation on May 25, 1953. The team was designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit and was originally based at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. U.S. Air Force photo Thunderbird F-84G Thunderjets fly in formation. The team utilized the “G” model from 1953 to 1954. The straight-wing configuration of the F-84G was considered well suited for aerobatic and demonstration maneuvers, though the aircraft could not exceed the speed of sound. U.S. Air Force photo Capt. C.C. Patillo inspects the tail assembly of his F-84G Thunderjet in preparation for takeoff, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., June 13, 1953. U.S. Air Force photo Thunderbird commander Jacksel M. Broughton, ca. 1955. Broughton went on to serve in the Vietnam War and write the classic memoir Thud Ridge. U.S. Air Force photo By the spring of 1955 the Thunderbirds received their first assigned support aircraft, the C-119 Flying Boxcar. U.S. Air Force photo Four F-84F Thunderstreaks assigned to the Thunderbirds fly in formation, ca. 1955. U.S. Air Force photo The Thunderbirds team photo taken in 1958 with their F-100C Super Sabres, two C-123 Provider support aircraft, and a T-33 Shooting Star. U.S. Air Force photo U.S. Air Force Thunderbird pilots perform a line formation in their F-100C Super Sabres in 1958. With the change to the F-100 Super Sabre in 1956, the Thunderbirds became the world’s first supersonic aerial demonstration team. U.S. Air Force photo Thunderbird pilots perform aerial maneuvers utilizing the F-100D Super Sabre. The Thunderbirds flew the F-100D from 1964 to 1968, when it was replaced by the F-4E Phantom II. U.S. Air Force photo In 1962, the Thunderbirds were able to meet President John F. Kennedy. Various presidents have honored the Thunderbirds for their professionalism by watching their shows and inviting them to the White House. U.S. Air Force photo Named after a military tradition, the "Dead Ant" maneuver shown here never made it to a public demonstration. Capt. Ron Catton, flew his F-105B Thunderchief jet upside-down with gear extended in a demonstration for the Tactical Air commander in 1964. The maneuver was deemed unsafe and was never flown publicly. U.S. Air Force photo A Thunderbird F-105B Thunderchief in flight in 1964. The team switched to the F-105B for a brief period in 1964, and only performed six airshows in it. Instead of performing the extensive modifications to the F-105s necessary for Thunderbirds use, the team transitioned to the F-100D Super Sabre. U.S. Air Force photo The Thunderbirds fly over Hoover Dam in the wedge formation near their home at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in 1966. The F-100D Super Sabre gave the Thunderbirds air-refueling capabilities, unlike the "C" model. The team flew the F-100D from 1956 to 1963. U.S. Air Force photo Lt. Col. Ralph Maglione, Thunderbird commander/leader from 1965 to 1967, gives a kid a Thunderbird memento during the 1967 show season. By 1967, the Thunderbirds had flown their 1,000th air show. U.S. Air Force photo Lt. Col. Roger K. Parrish, a commander/leader for the 1973-1974 seasons, flying in the Thunderbird one position. The aircraft shown are F-4E Phantom IIs and were used from 1969-1973. U.S. Air Force photo Thunderbirds upload equipment to a C-123 Provider. Various job specialties contribute to uploading and downloading large amount of equipment for air show performances. U.S. Air Force photo F-4E Phantom II jets take off in formation. In the spring of 1969 the Thunderbirds transitioned from the F-100D Super Sabre to the F-4. The conversion to the aircraft was the most extensive in the team’s history. Among several modifications, the paint scheme changed due to the variations in chemicals, which allowed the paint to resist heat and friction of Mach II speeds. U.S. Air Force photo Thunderbird T-38A Talons in trail formation. The fuel crisis of the early 1970s resulted in the selection of the Northrop T-38A Talon, a supersonic trainer, to replace the fuel-hungry Phantoms. Five T-38s used the same amount of fuel needed for one F-4, and fewer people and equipment were required to maintain the aircraft. The team flew the Talon from 1974–1981. U.S. Air Force photo Thunderbird T-38A Talon aircraft fly in formation bearing the U.S. Bicentennial Organization award symbol on their tails in 1976. For the bicentennial year only, the aircraft numbers were moved to the fuselage and the bicentennial symbol replaced the numbers on the tail. U.S. Air Force photo An air-to-air underside view of a four-ship diamond formation of the Thunderbirds Flight Demonstration Team's F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft during flight maneuver training, Jan. 1, 1982. After a training crash of four Thunderbird T-38s during a diamond formation loop killed four pilots, the team sat out the 1982 season, and instead converted to the F-16A and retrained on the new aircraft. U.S. Air Force photo Maj. J.R. Williams and Capt. Blaine Jones perform the inverted opposing knife-edge pass during an air show at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., April 8, 2007. Williams was the Thunderbird five, lead solo pilot, and Jones the Thunderbird six, opposing solo pilot. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the Shelby 427 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, March 1, 2009. Located at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the Thunderbirds began their 2014 air demonstration season in February and will perform 66 shows throughout the United States. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds execute a maneuver while visitors watch from Falcon Stadium after the graduation ceremonies of the U.S. Air Force Academy class of 2009, Colorado Springs, Colo., May 27, 2009. U.S. Air Force photo by Dennis Rogers The Thunderbirds perform the Delta Loop during a practice show in preparation for Aviation Nation at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Nov. 9, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr. A Thunderbird makes a solo pass in a display of the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft's capabilities during Indian Springs Appreciation Day Mar. 11, 2014, at Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron performs precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern high-performance aircraft to audiences throughout the world. U.S. Air Force photo