Thunderbird History

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On May 25, 1953, the Air Force’s official air demonstration team, designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit, was activated at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The unit adopted the name “Thunderbirds,” influenced in part by the strong Native American culture and folklore from the southwestern United States where Luke Air Force Base is located.

In 1974, a spreading fuel crisis inspired a new aircraft for the team, the T-38A Talon. Although the Talon did not fulfill the Thunderbirds tradition of flying front-line jet fighters, it did demonstrate the capabilities of a prominent Air Force aircraft.

On June 22, 1982 the latest advancement in America’s fighter technology, the first red, white and blue F-16A assigned to the Thunderbirds was delivered to Nellis AFB. Due to the conversion to the new aircraft, there were no official shows flown in 1982. The team flew the F-16 during the 1983 show season; making it the team’s ninth aircraft and once again returning to flying a front-line fighter.

In 2013, the team flew only 2 demonstrations after leaders throughout the DOD were forced to make several tough, but necessary decisions to accommodate sequestration. The jets did not fly for the rest of that season, but despite flying limitations, the team excelled by interacting with more than 10,000 students and continuing to share the Air Force message.

Today, millions of people come out to witness the Thunderbirds highly discipline flying maneuvers. Their professionalism and expertise in flying thousands of hours and numerous air planes are the memorable experiences that people continue to talk about.

References: N.A. (N.D.) History. Retrieved from http://afthunderbirds.com/site/