The Thunderbirds are the air demonstration squadron of the U.S. Air Force (USAF), based at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. The squadron tours the United Statesand much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked USAF jet aircraft. The name is taken from the legendary creature that appears in the mythology of several indigenous North American cultures.
In 2005, the Thunderbirds temporarily grounded themselves pending an investigation into a minor mid-air incident during the Chicago Air & Water Show on August 20. During the diamond pass in review, the tip of the missile rail on the right wing of the slot (#4) aircraft contacted the leftstabilator of the right (#3) aircraft. A four-foot section of the missile rail snapped off, while the #3 aircraft sustained damage described by one of the Thunderbirds pilots as a “medium deep scratch” to the red paint of the stabilator. Amateur video showed the missile rail falling into the “safety box” on Lake Michigan away from boaters
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.
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 February 15, 1974 the Thunderbirds have been a component of the 57th Wing at Nellis AFB