United States Air Force Thunderbirds – America’s Ambassadors in Blue

Fargo, North Dakota.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story about the USAF Thunderbirds Meet and Greet with Civil Air Patrol cadets. As far as I know their exhibition would be the first time that they appeared during our Fargo Airsho (spelled correctly). As you might imagine, their two-day show features some of the best pilots the Air Force has at their disposal. Their precision flight demonstration is something to be seen.

The precision team’s beginnings go back to only six years after the Air Force itself was created. In 1953, Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Arizona became the home of the precision Air Demonstration Unit as it was called then. Their name, “Thunderbirds”, drawn from the culture and Native American folklore of the greater southwestern United States. Their first demonstration flights were only about 15 minutes in length completing a series of formation aerobatics using the venerable F-84G aircraft. In 1956, the team moved from Arizona to Nellis Air Force Base at Las Vegas, Nevada where the team of pilots and mechanics still call home today.

Over the years, the team has flown the best aircraft that the Air Force has available. In 1982, they transitioned to the venerable F-16A. There were no demonstration shows that year as they became accustomed to their new equipment and since their 1983 show season, the F-16 remains their showcase aircraft.

The team consists of twelve officers, eight pilots fly the eight aircraft and the other four are support officers for medical, administrative, maintenance, and public affairs. Since the beginning in 1953 when there was seven officers and twenty-two enlisted staff, the team of support enlisted personnel now fills over 120 support positions in close to 30 career fields. On the show line itself, there are 24 professionals including two crew chief positions for each aircraft responsible for keeping each aircraft mission ready.

In 2019, their schedule consists of 35 shows, as of publication here, the team has only six more performances remaining in Puerto Rico, Georgia, Texas, Florida, and a final show on November 16-17 at Nellis AFB. A full schedule of 35 air shows is already on their calendar for 2020. Their 2019-2020 show calendar is here. From that link, you can navigate to the entire Thunderbirds web site. I would be remiss in not submitting a gallery of images captured the two days of the show in Fargo. As usual, if your browser supports the function, you can click on an image to enlarge it and scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner


  1. I love the Thunderbirds and really enjoyed seeing your wonderful photos of them! I enjoyed reading about their history. My dad was in the Air Force and I remember seeing them perform when I was growing up. Thanks for the memories.

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