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Thunderbirds History - How It All Began

In 1947, while the jet age was still in its infancy, military aviation was hurtled into the future with the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service. Just six years later, the Air Force wanted an air demonstration team.

The job of forming the team fell to Major Smokey Catledge, the unit's first commander/leader. His immediate task was to find six officers and 22 enlisted to form the first team and get them ready for their first demonstration at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. three weeks later.

The Air Force's official air demonstration team, designated the 3600th USAF Air Demonstration Unit/Flight, was activated on May 25, 1953. The unit adopted the name "Thunderbirds",influenced in part by the strong Native American culture and folklore from the southwestern United States where Luke Air Force Base is located. Three months later the name Thunderbirds" was added to the unit designation.

Last Update: 04/27/2018


Welcome to the Thunderbirds Alumni Association website.

On it you will learn the history of the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, "Thunderbirds,"and the Thunderbird Alumni Association, as well. See the names of the more than 2,000 people who have worn the Thunderbirds patch. Alumni, Associates, Honorary Thunderbirds and Honorary Crew Chiefs can update their own profile by clicking on the "Member Login" button above.

If you have other questions, please contact Dylan Hulbert, the administrator, below.

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  • Krajicek to return as Thunderbird #4; Show Season 2018 Update
    NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. –Maj. Nick “Khan” Krajicek has been named as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron’s Thunderbird 4/Slot Pilot for the remainder of the 2018 show season. Kr...More
  • Thunderbirds Name New Advance Pilot/Narrator (#8)
    According to Thunderbirds website they now have a new Advance Pilot/Narrator (Thunderbird #8). Maj. Branden Felker is the Advance Pilot and Narrator for the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadr...More
  • Functions changing within Thunderbirds Alumni Association
    A number of functions are in the process of changing within the Thunderbirds Alumni Association and the business office is moving beginning May 1. Al Eakle current Administrative/Communications Ass...More
  • Statement from Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, Thunderbirds Commander/Leader: Thunderbird Flight Operations Resume
    NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, Thunderbirds Commander/Leader provided the following update today regarding the resumption of Thunderbirds flight operations: Hello everybody. To...More
  • Alumni, honoraries gather for ThunderFun 2018 mini reunion Sept 6-8
    While the room reservation deadline is still more than three months away, there are only three traditional and five beachside rooms available in our block at the Four Points by Sheraton Ft Walton Beac...More
  • Alumnus Attends Service for Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno
    By Steve “Jethro” Chealander Narrator/Left Wing 1981-85 I attended the funeral service for Thunderbird #4, Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, Cajun, Big Cat. The service was held at Sunday, A...More
  • Painting Auction Benefits Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno Memorial Fund
    Ariel Audet (Swing Shift/Crew Chief/#3DCC/Support Flight 2013-16) is offering a Thunderbirds painting for auction on eBay. She painted the original piece last year with acrylic paint on canvas. One ...More
  • Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno’s Memorial Service & Funeral Information
    The Thunderbirds, family, colleagues, friends and team alumni commemorated the life of Maj. Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno at a memorial service Wednesday (April 11) in the Thunderbirds hangar on Nelli...More
  • Memorial Fund Established for Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno
    The Thunderbird Alumni Association (TBAA) has established a fund for Major Stephen “Cajun” Del Bagno, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Slot Pilot (Thunderbird 4) killed when his F-16 ...More
  • Thunderbirds Aircraft Mishap
    NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - A U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot was killed when his F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed over the Nevada Test and Training Range today at approximately 10:30 a.m. during a ro...More
  • Challenge Coins Still Available
    There are still several sets of the 60th anniversary challenge coin sets. Cost is $107.20, which included 3-day Priority Mail shipping....More
  • New challenge coin recognizes two Thunderbirds anniversaries
    The Thunderbirds Alumni Association (TBAA) will be launching a new fundraising effort to recognize two Thunderbirds anniversaries in 2018....More
  • New APPs available for Android, Apple mobile devices Those
    Those people with either an Android or Apple mobile device (phone, tablet or iPad) might want to download and check out TBAA’s new APP. The free downloads located in the Google Play store and Apple...More
  • Challenge Coin Bottle Openers
    This dog tag-shaped bottle opener salutes both the current Thunderbirds team and Thunderbirds alumni who came before them. The Dog Tag Bottle Opener features the Thunderbirds Patch on one side, and th...More
  • Thunderbirds Posters
    The Thunderbirds Alumni Association is offering two different posters printed on photo paper measuring 16 x 20 inches. Posters are $30 each with an additional $5 for shipping, whether you buy one or m...More
  • 60th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Sets
    The Thunderbirds Alumni Association still has limited quantities of 60th anniversary commemorative coin sets. Each set features the 60th anniversary logo on one side and one of the eight different air...More
  • Thunderbirds Alumni Association offering new posters
    The Thunderbirds Alumni Association is offering two new posters through their website ( in the General Sales sub-tab under the Merchandise tab on the home page....More