U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

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Thunderbirds The Thunderbirds perform an echelon pass, flying between 18

Thunderbirds The Thunderbirds perform an echelon pass, flying between 18″ and 24″ apart at an average speed of 400 mph.


United States

Aircraft Currently Flown:

12 F-16Cs


United States Air Force

Base Airfield:

Nellis Air Force Base


Red, White and Blue

Date Formed:

June 1, 1953



The Thunderbirds are the Air Demonstration Squadron of the United States Air Force. As such, they tour the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially-marked USAF jet aircraft. The U.S. Navy has its own air demonstration squadron, initiated in 1946 and known as the Blue Angels.


The Squadron was activated, after 6 months training in an unofficial status, on June 1, 1953 as the 3600th Air Demonstration Team at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. They flew their debut exhibition at Luke a week later, and began public exhibitions at the 1953 Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The team had flown 26 shows by that August. The first team leader was Major General Dick Catledge, and the first plane flown by the squadron was the F-84 Thunderjet.

The next year the Thunderbirds performed their first overseas air shows, in a tour of South America. A year later, 1955, they moved to the F-84F Thunderstreak aircraft, in which they performed 91 air shows. The aircraft of the squadron was again changed in June, 1956, this time to the F-100 Super Sabre, which gave the pilots supersonic capability. This switch was accompanied by a move of headquarters to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada on June 1 with their first show after the move being held on June 23. It also signaled a shift in their performance routine