America’s Ambassador in Blue

Thunderbirds are the Air Demonstration Squadron of the United States Air force. The squadron is known for aerobatic formation and solo flying. The squadron has acquired its name from a legendary creature that appears in several indigenous North American cultures’ mythologies.

Thunderbirds Emblem

History of Thunderbirds

The history of Thunderbirds dates back to the time when the jet age was still in its infancy. Soon after World War II, military aviation was segregated from the other arms. The concept came with the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service.  Just down the time lane, on May 25, 1953, the USAF came up with its first official air demonstration team. The team was designated as the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit. It was stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The unit was named “Thunderbirds.”

To date, more then 360 million people in 63 countries around the world have seen the Thunderbirds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)

The Show Stopper (F-16 Fighting Falcon)

Some of the prominent fighter aircraft that have remained as part of the Thunderbird Demonstration Team include F-84 (Thunderstreak), F-100 (Super Sabre), F-4 (Phantom), and T-38 (Talon). The last fighter that joined the team is F-16 Fighting Falcon. It is the “Show Stopper” because of all the aircraft to date; it is the most beautiful aircraft designed in aviation history (both in terms of its design and characteristics). The aircraft actively participates in the demos to date.

US Airforce F16
F-16C Fighting Falcon

Present Aircraft Formation

The present formation of Thunderbirds consists of eight F-16 Fighter Aircraft. There are two variants of the aircraft being used in the demo team; F-16C (Single Seater) and F-16D (Dual Seater).

Read more: F-16 Fighting Falcon Multirole Fighter

The Thunderbird Team

The present team comprises eight officers. One of the officers among them is a female fighter pilot. Major Michelle Curran, call the sign “Mace,” is the only female fighter pilot on the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s demonstration team. She is the Lead Solo of the demo team.

United States Airforce Pilot
Major Michelle Curran (Lead Solo)

Thunderbird Airshows

The Thunderbirds is a unique demo team. It has the privilege to perform for people all around the world. The crowds at the air shows feel extremely excited and jubilated by the display of pride, precision, and professionalism of American Airmen. The duration of these air shows is one hour. During this one hour, the aerobatic team displays years of training and experience with an attitude of excellence.

Major J.R. Williams, Thunderbird 5, Lead Solo pilot, and Captain Blaine Jones, Thunderbird 6, Opposing Solo pilot, perform the Reflection Pass during the Arctic Thunder Air show at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 28, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr)
Read more: Women in Aviation Making Wonders

The Fun Part!

The sharply choreographed, drill-style ground ceremony by the ground crew kicks off the demonstration. As soon as the fighter jets take to the skies and fly only a few feet from wingtip to wingtip, the crowd gets a glimpse of the pilots’ remarkable skills and capabilities flying this sophisticated machine. Interestingly, the Thunderbird Team and its aerial demonstrations are a regular feature in the Air Force calendars. The team plans air shows in different states within the USA. For the year 2021, the squadron has marked 26 locations across the USA. Similarly, the squadron has also dished out its plan for the year 2022. Admission to air shows at military installations is generally free and open to the public.

Thunderbirds flying over New York City

Featured Image Credits: TVL1970 at Flicker

Written by guest writer, Faisal Bashir