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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: 04/24/2017


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 Al Eakle, the administrator, below.

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