Stardusters to Thunderbirds

The History of the Air Force Acrobatic Flight Team.

The Air Force created a flight team for air shows in 1953 with the formation of the 3600th Air Demonstration Team. The unit was operational in June and was named the Stardusters. The Team was formed and stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

Some in the Air Force felt that a different name was needed. “Stardusters” was considered OK, but some felt that the team needed a name with real appeal. The name “Thunderbirds” was conceived by Lieutenant General Robert Harper. The new name is of Native Indian origin. It also fit the name of the new jet aircraft that the team was flying, the “Thunderjet”.

The Indian legend and folklore of the Thunderbird is based on the thunderous storms experienced in the west. The Indians would watch these thunderstorms as they rolled across the plains and deserts. The Indians related their life experiences with the earth and all the animals. The grandeur of the storm and the strength of the eagle were easy to relate to each other. The eagles’ mighty wings created the thunder and the lighting was from the eyes of the mighty bird of prey.

The first aircraft that the flight team flew was the Republic F-84G “Thunderjet”. This jet had straight wings and was flown from 1953 to 1954. For 1955 the unit changed to the F-84F “Thunderstreak”, which was the same jet with swept-back wings. The F-84G version that served under the name “Stardusters” had the unit emblem painted under the cockpit of the pilot on the side of the fuselage. When the unit changed to the Thunderbirds the emblem was painted on the right side of the fuselage only and on the left side the group decided to add the flags of all the countries that the demonstration team preformed in. The flags added up after a few years of performing from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Cuba, Canada, and Israel to name just a few.

From June to September 1953 the team flew the aircraft illustrated below.

Republic F-84G “Thunderjet”


The squadron emblem was the Star, Wings, and Flame displayed under the cockpit.


The Thunderbirds display the flags of every country they perform in under the cockpit.

The Star, Wings, & Flame was replaced with the Indian Eagle emblem as the new squadron insignia.

Republic F-84F “Thunderstreak”


Year 1955

North American F-100 “Super Saber”

The next aircraft the team flew was the F-100C Super Saber in 1956. The team enjoyed this aircraft for many years. The F-84, the F-100 and the F-105B was painted with the red, white, and blue on the nose, wingtips, and tail. The fuselage and wings were left in the natural metal finish.


F-105 “Thunderchief”


In 1963 the team transitioned to the F-105B Thunderchief, which was a larger aircraft and did not have the same maneuverability as the previous jets. The metal fuselage and wing area of the F-105 was painted white, which would be the overall color of all future aircraft to be flown by the team.

After an accident with the team flying the F-105 in May 1964 the Thunderchief was grounded. The team stood down for an evaluation. The F-105 could have been modified for the team’s use but they had a worldwide schedule ahead of them and they switched to the new F-100D. The F-100D was flown until 1969 when the team then switched to the new F-4E Phantom.

McDonald Douglas F-4 “Phantom”

This aircraft was a stable jet to fly but just like the F-105 it proved to be not very maneuverable. The Phantom was also a gas-guzzler and was expensive to operate.


T-38 Talon

The next aircraft flown by the Thunderbirds in 1974 was a very nimble new jet that the team would fly until 1982.

The T-38 Talon was a delight for the team to fly and was very economical to operate and service.



F-16A “Falcon”

In 1982 the Thunderbirds switched to the new F-16A Falcon which is considered to be the best aircraft the team has flown. The Thunderbirds have flown in all of the 50 States here in America plus they have preformed in 60 different countries entertaining 300 million people. The flight team performs 60 air shows per year between March and November. If you ever have the opportunity to watch the talented Air Force Team please do so and enjoy! The group now has over 40 years of aviation acrobatic history.


F-16 Falcon

Let me know if you would like an original painting of one of these beautiful aircraft for your home or office.


This is a great artwork sent to me by another Artist, Giovannetti.

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