Current as of December 7, 2018
Recruit, Retain and Inspire
Building Air Force interest and positive awareness in every corner of society.
- Support Air Force recruiting and retention programs
- Reinforce public confidence in the US Air Force and demonstrate to the public the professional competence of Air Force personnel
- Strengthen morale and esprit de corps among Air Force personnel
- Support US Air Force-community relations and people-to-people programs
- Represent the United States and its armed forces to foreign nations and project international goodwill
America’s Ambassadors in Blue
The Thunderbirds squadron is an Air Combat Command unit composed of eight pilots (including six demonstration pilots), four support officers, three civilians and more than 130 enlisted personnel performing in 28 career fields who are tasked with representing the finest qualities of the United States Air Force at home and abroad. Officers serve a two-year assignment with the squadron, while enlisted personnel serve three to four.
The demonstration season lasts from March to November, with the winter months used to train new members. A Thunderbirds air demonstration is a mix of formation flying and solo routines. The four-aircraft diamond formation demonstrates the training and precision of Air Force pilots, while the solo pilots highlight the maximum capabilities of modern jet fighter aircraft. The pilots perform approximately 30 maneuvers in a demonstration. The team has performed more than 4,700 of these precision aerial demonstrations in 62 countries.
Since 1953, the Thunderbirds have showcased the pride and precision of the United States Air Force. Originally based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, the squadron moved to its current home at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in June 1956. The Thunderbirds history has reflected the development of American air power from the team’s first aircraft, the Republic Aviation F-84G “Thunderjet,” to its current use of the Lockheed Martin F-16 “Fighting Falcon”. The squadron’s 1982 show season was the team’s grand debut of the red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The missions, objectives and goals of the Thunderbirds can be summarized in one word: ambassadors. The team is a group of traveling spokespersons for the Air Force. Performing at public venues tells the Air Force story, often to people in communities that have little interaction with America’s military. There will always be those who have yet to experience what American Airmen can do; the Thunderbirds are the ambassadors who show them.
The team’s interaction extends beyond the flight line. Part of a Thunderbirds’ responsibility is to share his or her experience with others. When not performing at airshows, team members often support community relations activities like speaking at high schools or sharing a laugh with children in need.
In addition to their responsibilities as the official U.S. Air Force aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds are part of our combat force. If required, the team's personnel and aircraft can be rapidly integrated into a fighter unit at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Since the aircraft are only slightly modified, they can be made combat-ready in less than 72 hours.
Fans of the team include people of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. That’s because the Thunderbirds message is universal. Whether the message is received by a five-year-old child or the leader of a foreign country, the Ambassadors in Blue demonstrate a clear example of America’s air power.
Every Airman who wears the Thunderbirds’ uniform is a military member first and foremost, who is highly trained in a professional Air Force skill.
Twenty-eight Air Force career fields are represented on the Thunderbirds team. Each of those job skills directly correspond with core functions in the Air Force which supports homeland defense and contingency operations. These skills give a critical edge to today’s joint warfighting and coalition teams.
As Airmen first, the Thunderbirds proudly embrace that attitude and represent 660,000 active duty, guard, reserve and civilian Airmen including more than 60,000 Air Force members who are fighting our nation’s air, space and cyberspace battles overseas.
Our communications Airmen’s capabilities range from building shared computer networks in remote environments to setting up sound systems for airshow narrations.
Air Force photographers use images to tell the stories of brave Airmen under fire in deployed locations as well as to capture the reaction of awe-struck show-goers.
Aircraft maintainers’ responsibilities range from launching jets in a deployed environment to ensuring the Thunderbirds’ show goes on. In fact, the Thunderbirds have never canceled a show due to maintenance difficulties in its 65-year history.
Wherever they have been before and wherever they go after their time on the team, the Thunderbirds are Airmen first and Airmen always, faithfully and professionally representing their brothers and sisters in arms around the world.
The pilots perform approximately 30 maneuvers in a demonstration. The entire show, including ground and air, runs about an hour and fifteen minutes. The season lasts from March to November, with the winter months used to train new members.
Officers serve a two-year assignment with the squadron, while enlisted personnel serve three to four. Replacements must be trained for about half of the team each year, providing a constant mix of experience.
The squadron performs no more than 88 air demonstrations each year and has never canceled a demonstration due to maintenance difficulty. More than 280 million people in all 50 states and 57 foreign countries have seen the red, white and blue jets in more than 3,500 aerial demonstrations.