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Images show the US Air Force Thunderbirds fly over several bases and landmarks in preparation for the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo being held at RAF Fairford.

The USAF Air Demonstration Squadron ‘Thunderbirds’ are assigned to the 57th Wing, and are based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Created 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.

In March 2013, the USAF announced that due to budget cuts, aerial demonstration team performances would cease indefinitely, effective 1 April 2013. In December 2013 the Thunderbirds announced their 2014 schedule and the resumption of their appearances.

The team continues to fly the F-16, having switched from the F-16A to the F-16C in 1992. 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. Other than those modifications, the aircraft are taken from the standard USAF inventory as production fighters, and can be returned to an operational squadron in short order without any major modification.

 

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