The USAF Air Demonstration Squadron (“Thunderbirds”) is the air demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force (USAF). The Thunderbirds are assigned to the 57th Wing, and are based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Created in 1953, the USAF Thunderbirds are the third oldest formal flying aerobatic team (under the same name) in the world, after the United States Navy Blue Angels formed in 1946 and the prestigious French Air Force Patrouille de France formed in 1931.
The Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft. The squadron’s name is taken from the legendary creature that appears in the mythologies of several indigenous North American cultures.
On 1 March 2013, the USAF announced that due to budget cuts, aerial demonstration team performances would cease indefinitely, effective 1 April 2013. On 6 December 2013 the Thunderbirds announced their 2014 schedule and the resumption of their appearances.
The Thunderbirds Squadron is a named USAF squadron, meaning it does not carry a numerical designation. It is also one of the oldest squadrons in the Air Force, its origins dating to the organization of the 30th Aero Squadron, formed at Kelly Field, Texas on 13 June 1917.
Officers serve a two-year assignment with the squadron, while enlisted personnel serve three to four years. As the squadron performs no more than 88 air demonstrations each year, replacements must be trained for about half of the team each year, in order to provide a constant mix of experience.
In addition to their air demonstration responsibilities, the Thunderbirds are part of the USAF combat force and if required, can be rapidly integrated into an operational fighter unit.
Since 15 February 1974 the Thunderbirds have been a component of the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB. Since 1953, they have flown in front of more than 300 million people.