The United States Air Force Thunderbirds are the air demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force (USAF), based at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. They tour the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft. The name is taken from the legendary creature that appears in the mythology of several indigenous North American cultures. They are the fastest flying (multiple jet) flight demonstration team in the world.
Officers serve a two-year assignment with the squadron, while enlisted personnel serve three to four years. As the squadron performs no more than 88 air demonstrations each year, replacements must be trained for about half of the team each year, in order to provide a constant mix of experience. In addition to their air demonstration responsibilities, the Thunderbirds are part of the USAF combat force and if required, can be rapidly integrated into an operational fighter unit. Since 15 February 1974 the Thunderbirds have been a component of the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB. Since 1953, they have flown in front of more than 390 million people.
On 1 March 2013 the USAF announced that due to sequestration actions aerial demonstration team performances including that of the Thunderbirds would cease from 1 April 2013.
Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon (Block 52)In the 2009 show season the Thunderbirds transitioned to an updated version of the F-16 fighter. The Block 52s have an upgraded avionics package that brings the Thunderbird fleet into alignment with the rest of the worldwide F-16 fleet. Additionally, the more powerful Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine adds an additional 3,600 lbf of thrust. This in turn increases the maximum allowable gross weight for ground handling, taxi, takeoff and in-flight maneuvers by nearly 5,000 lb.
PHOTO: by Brad Boening