Since 1953, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have performed for more than 300 million fans around the globe. This June, we partnered with the Columbus Air Show to bring members of the team to the Museum for an exclusive Meet and Greet. Get to know their story of aviation excellence.

History of the Thunderbirds

The Thunderbirds are the third-oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world, after the French Air Force Patrouille de France formed in 1931 and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels formed in 1946.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

On May 25, 1953, just six years after the U.S. Air Force became its own branch of service, the Thunderbirds were born as the Air Force’s official air demonstration team. The team, designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit, was activated at Luke Air Force Base. Over the years and with many different aircraft, the Thunderbirds have continued to represent those who deserve the most credit: the hardworking Airmen who serve our country every day.

Thunderbirds Aircraft

Starting with the F-84 Thunderjet in 1953, the Thunderbirds have demonstrated the incredible capabilities of the Air Force’s fighter jets throughout the years.

Today their demonstration is a mix of six aircraft performing formation flying and solo routines. The four-ship Diamond formation showcases the precision and training of U.S. Air Force Pilots, as well as the gracefulness of the F-16. The two solos display the power and maximum capabilities of the mighty F-16 Fighting Falcon, a frontline fighter.

History in the Making: Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

In 2005, Malachowski broke the glass ceiling when she was chosen to be in the Air Force’s elite flight demonstration team, the Thunderbirds. She would remain a member of team for the next two years. 

“Women have been an integral part of the Thunderbird team for decades…The women of yesterday and today’s Air Force maintain a tradition of excellence, and it is that heritage that has given me this exciting responsibility of being the first female Thunderbird pilot.”

Inside the Cockpit

Check out an up close and personal view into what it’s like to fly with this precision flight team.

Through air shows and flyovers, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds display the pride, precision and professionalism of our nation’s Airmen.

TUES-SUN 10 A.M. - 5 P.M.
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