Seven things you never knew about the USAF Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds pilots fly over New York City, New York, Sept. 2, 2016. The Thunderbirds are performing at the 2016 New York Air Show in New Windsor, N.Y. Sept. 3-4.(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz)
The Thunderbirds pilots fly over New York City, New York, Sept. 2, 2016. The Thunderbirds are performing at the 2016 New York Air Show in New Windsor, N.Y. Sept. 3-4.(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz)
The Thunderbirds pilots fly over New York City, New York, Sept. 2, 2016. The Thunderbirds are performing at the 2016 New York Air Show in New Windsor, N.Y. Sept. 3-4.(U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Boitz)

If you ask someone about seeing the military at an airshow, there is a higher chance you’ll hear the words “Blue Angels” over “Thunderbirds.” While there is a healthy rivalry between the two (even though ), the USAF’s Thunderbirds have (technically) had a longer (and often, more tragic) history, with some pretty interesting twists and turns along the way.

So strap in, tighten your oxygen mask and hang on, because here are seven facts you may not have known about the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.

7: They’re (technically) older than the Blue Angels

While the Blues have been taking to the sky as an aerobatics team since 1946, the Thunderbirds take their origins from a combat squadron that goes back almost as far as the history of military aviation itself.

Due to squadron consolidation, the Thunderbirds’ unit origins date back to 1917, when the 30th Aero/Bombardment Squadron was formed at Kelly Field in Texas.

The 30th took to the skies over France in World War I and were nearly wiped out during the 1941 Japanese takeover of the Philippines. At one point, many of the squadron members were forced to fight as infantry units until their capture and subsequent (forced) participation in the Bataan Death March. The squadron’s remnants receded to Australia, and eventually took revenge upon the Japanese mainland as a B-29 squadron near the end of the war.

30-bomb
With a great unit insignia, no less.

While the 30th is indeed one of the first American air combat units, the Thunderbirds as an aerobatic team are younger than their navy counterparts, having been activated in 1953. Of course, the consolidation was not official until the 1980s.

Either which way you look at it, the Thunderbirds are the only squadron who can claim to have (kinda) been there from the beginning of American military aviation.

Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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