For 65 years, the Thunderbirds have defined aircraft precision excellence. For 35 years, the F-16 has helped define the legacy of the premiere flight demonstration team. Without a doubt, the Thunderbirds will continue to demonstrate the pride, precision, and professionalism of the Air Force, soaring through the skies, pulling high Gs, and showing the world what the F-16 can truly do. Flying strong for 35-years, the Fighting Falcon will continue to serve as a symbol of air superiority for years to come. The Thunderbirds perform aerial demonstrations in the F-16C Fighting Falcon, and they also fly two F-16D twin-seat trainers. The F-16 has been the demonstration aircraft for the Thunderbirds since the 1983 season.
In rebuilding the Thunderbird Team, the Air Force recruited previous Thunderbird pilots, qualified each in the F-16A, and had them begin by flying “two-ship” maneuvers, then expanded the program one airplane at a time up to the full six airplanes. Only a few minor modifications differentiate a Thunderbird from an operational F-16C. These include the replacement of the 20 mm cannon and ammunition drum with a smoke-generating system, including its plumbing and control switches, the removal of the jet fuel starter exhaust door, and the application of the Thunderbirds’ glossy red, white, and blue polyurethane paint scheme. All of the modification work is performed at the maintenance depot at Hill AFB near Ogden, Utah.
The USAF Air Demonstration Squadron (“Thunderbirds”) is the air demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force (USAF). The Thunderbirds are assigned to the 57th Wing, and are based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Created 65 years ago in 1953, the USAF Thunderbirds are the third-oldest formal flying aerobatic team (under the same name) in the world, after the United States Navy Blue Angels formed in 1946 and the French Air Force Patrouille de France formed in 1931.
The Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft. The squadron’s name is taken from the legendary creature that appears in the mythologies of several indigenous North American cultures. The Thunderbirds Squadron is a named USAF squadron, meaning it does not carry a numerical designation. It is also one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force, its origins dating to the organization of the 30th Aero Squadron, formed at Kelly Field, Texas on 13 June 1917.