Photo of USAF Thunderbirds Fairford 2007
Republic F-84G Thunderjet 1953-1954 Mindful of their mission to show the Air Force’s best aircraft, the Air Force selected the swept wing F-84F Thunderstreak as their second aircraft in 1955. The Thunderstreak was modified for the team by adding smoke tanks for the first time, and red, white and blue drag chutes.
Republic F-84F Thunderstreak 1954-1956
North American F-100C Super Sabre 1956-1963 The USAF's first operational supersonic aircraft. With the move from the F-84F to the F-100 Super Sabre in 1956, the Thunderbirds became the world’s first supersonic aerial demonstration team. That same year, the Thunderbirds moved to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, simplifying logistics and maintenance for the aircraft.
Republic F-105B Thunderchief 1964 (only 6 shows flown in type) Largest and heaviest single engine fighter ever produced.
North American F-100D Super Sabre 1964-1968
McDonnell F-4E Phantom II 1969-1973 The F-4’s conversion was the most extensive in the team’s history. Among other modifications, paints that had worked on the F-100 made the F-4 look patchy because of multicolored alloys used in the F-4 to resist heat and friction at Mach 2 speeds. As a result, a polyurethane paint base was developed and used to cover the problem. The white paint base remains a part of today’s Thunderbird aircraft.
Northrop T-38 Talon 1974-1981 1974 brought with it a fuel crisis and as a result a new aircraft for the team, the sleek, swift and highly maneuverable Northrop T-38A Talon, the Air Force’s first supersonic trainer. Economically, the T-38 was unmatched. Five T-38s used the same amount of fuel needed for one F-4 Phantom, and fewer people and less equipment were required to maintain the aircraft.
Although the Talon did not fulfill the Thunderbird tradition of flying front-line jet fighters, it did meet the criteria of demonstrating the capabilities of a prominent Air Force aircraft.
General Dynamics F-16A/B Fighting Falcon 1983-1991 During the switch to the F-16A the Thunderbirds acquired new block 15 aircraft which they operated for about 10 years making the team one of the last USAF units flying the older F-16A's before transitioning into new C's. They also operated the two-seat F-16B during this time for training new pilots and for VIP flights, these being replaced by the F-16D when the rest of the squadron transitioned to the F-16C.
Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon 1992-Current The block 32H/J aircraft currently assigned to the Thunderbirds were built in 1986 & 1987 and are some of the oldest operational F-16s in the Air Force. (Lockheed purchased the General Dynamics division which makes the F-16 (Fort Worth, TX) in 1993.)gene
Picture added on 31 July 2007