Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Studies Aerial Demonstration Teams - Part Two - Thunderbirds - Dec. 5th, 2003
Posted on 12/05/2003 12:00:48 AM PST by SAMWolf
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In 1947, while the jet age was still in its infancy, military aviation was hurtled into the future with the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service. Just six years later, on May 25, 1953, the Air Forces official air demonstration team, designated the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit, was activated at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
The name Thunderbirds was soon adopted by the unit; influenced in part by the strong Indian culture and folklore of the southwestern United States where Luke is located. Indian legend speaks of the Thunderbird with great fear and respect. To some it was a giant eagle others envisioned a hawk. When it took to the skies, the earth trembled from the thunder of its great wings.
From its eyes shot bolts of lightning. Nothing in nature could challenge the bird of thunder, the story said, and no man could stand against its might. The story of the Thunderbird was repeated, voice-by-voice, across the generations, until at last, it assumed the immortality of legend.
A more appropriate name couldn't have been selected, as it is with the same commanding presence the Thunderbirds took to the skies. Seven officers and 22 enlisted were selected for the first demonstration team, most were handpicked from the cadre at Luke.
Maj. Dick Catledge, a training squadron commander at Luke, was chosen as the teams leader. Twins Bill and Buck Patillo were selected and would fly left and right wing, respectively. The Patillo's, both captains, were ideal choices as both had been with the SkyBlazers, a USAF/Europe demonstration team, for the past 3 years.
For the difficult position of slot, the position sandwiched between both wingmen and behind the leader, Capt. Bob Kanaga was selected, an instructor at Luke. The spare pilot would be Capt. Bob McCormick. Like the Patillo brothers, he also had demonstration team experience, having flown right wing with the Sabre Dancers, a predecessor to the Thunderbirds.
1st Lt. Aubrey Brown would serve as maintenance officer for the team. He, with his senior enlisted man, MSgt. Earl Young, selected 21 enlisted men to help maintain the teams aircraft. Capt. Bill Brock was the final officer selected for the team serving as the information services officer and team narrator.
From these humble beginnings and this group of men, the Air Force Thunderbird legend was born.
The first aircraft selected for the new demonstration team was the straight wing F-84G Thunderjet built by Republic Aviation.
Their straight wing configuration was considered well suited for aerobatic maneuvers, and although the aircraft could not exceed the speed of sound, like some military aircraft, it easily met the needs of a demonstration aircraft.
The original demonstration sequence consisted of a series of formation aerobatics lasting 15 minutes. The spare pilot took-off a few minutes in advance of the Diamond to run a weather check, advise of any encroaching traffic, reiterate the location of obstructions and then landed to be used as a spare aircraft.
As the season progressed, the opportunity was utilized to perform solo maneuvers with the spare aircraft while the Diamond burned off fuel and repositioned out of sight of the crowd.
Mindful of their mission to show the Air Forces best aircraft, the Air Force selected the swept wing F-84F Thunderstreak as their second aircraft in 1955. The Thunderstreak was modified for the team by adding smoke tanks for the first time, and red, white and blue drag chutes.
With the move from the F-84F to the F-100 Super Sabre in 1956, the Thunderbirds became the worlds first supersonic aerial demonstration team. That same year, the Thunderbirds moved to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, simplifying logistics and maintenance for the aircraft.
Although never a routine part of the Thunderbird show in 1956, the solo would fly supersonic at the request of the air show sponsor. Eventually, the Federal Aviation Authority, a precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration, banned all supersonic flight at air shows and consequently, todays sequence is entirely subsonic.
Almost a footnote in the history of Thunderbird aviation, the Republic-built F-105B Thunderchief performed only six shows between April 26 and May 9, 1964. Extensive modifications to the F-105 were necessary, and rather than cancel the rest of the show season to accomplish this, the Thunderbirds quickly transitioned back to the Super Sabre. While the switch back to the F-100D was supposed to be temporary, the F-105 never returned to the Thunderbird hangar. The F-100 ended up staying with the team for nearly 13 years.
The Thunderbirds started the 1969 training season still in the F-100Ds, but in the spring of 1969 the team received the first of the new McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs and began the teams conversion.
The F-4s conversion was the most extensive in the teams history. Among other modifications, paints that had worked on the F-100 made the F-4 look patchy because of multicolored alloys used in the F-4 to resist heat and friction at Mach II speeds.
As a result, a polyurethane paint base was developed and used to cover the problem. The white paint base remains a part of todays Thunderbird aircraft.
Compared with its predecessors, the F-4 was immense. It was big. It was heavy. It was powerful. With the earth-shaking roar of eight J-79 engines from the four diamond aircraft, no demonstration aircraft accomplished the mission of representing American airpower more impressively than the Phantom.
1974 brought with it a fuel crisis and as a result a new aircraft for the team, the sleek, swift and highly maneuverable Northrop T-38A Talon, the Air Forces first supersonic trainer. Economically, the T-38 was unmatched. Five T-38s used the same amount of fuel needed for one F-4 Phantom, and fewer people and less equipment were required to maintain the aircraft.
Although the Talon did not fulfill the Thunderbird tradition of flying front-line jet fighters, it did meet the criteria of demonstrating the capabilities of a prominent Air Force aircraft.
The T-38A was used throughout the Air Force during this time period in a variety of roles because of its design, economy of operation, ease of maintenance, high performance and exceptional safety record. In fact, Air Force fighter pilots still use this aircraft during undergraduate pilot training today.
In honor of the nations 200th birthday in 1976, the Thunderbirds were designated as the official United States Bicentennial Organization. For the Bicentennial year only, the aircraft numbers were moved to the fuselage and the Bicentennial symbol replaced the numbers on the tail.
In 1983, the team returned to the tradition of flying a premier fighter aircraft; transitioning to the General Dynamics, later Lockheed Martins, F-16A Fighting Falcon. To ready the F-16 involved removing the radar and internally mounted 20mm cannon and installing a smoke-generating system.
Remaining true to its character to showcase the latest advancement in Americas fighter technology, in 1992 the team transitioned to Lockheed Martins advanced F-16C, the teams ninth aircraft. With the teams last demonstration in the F-16A, the Thunderbirds were the last active duty unit to use the A model.
The C model looks similar to its predecessor, but has upgraded avionics and radar systems, making it superior to the A model. A true multi-role fighter, the F-16C has an unequaled record in actual air-to-air combat. Additionally, it is the only fighter to win both of the Air Forces premier competitions - Gunsmoke, air-to-ground and William Tell, air superiority.
The F-16 has remained the choice of the Thunderbirds for the last 20 years, the longest performance era of any one aircraft. It is a stellar performer for the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force and the 24 other nations whose boundaries it patrols and defends.
| USAF Aerial Demonstration Teams
|"Thunderbird" pilots in F-84s perform the spectacular "bomb burst" maneuver (1956). Organized in 1953 at Luke AFB, Arizona, the "Thunderbirds" team today is the official USAF aerial demonstration team.|
|Soot from the lead F-100's engine and smoke pipe blackens the vertical stabilizer on the "slot" aircraft, showing how close the "Thunderbird" team's intricate maneuvers bring aircraft to each other (circa 1967).|
|A "Thunderbird" F-4E makes a low altitude inverted pass over the flight line at Indian Springs AB, Nevada (1972).|
|"Thunderbird" T-38As photographed with a wide angle lens from the cockpit of another T-38 over Hamilton AFB, California (1974).|
|"Thunderbird" F-16s in a delta formation during a practice flight. The team began flying F-16s in public appearances in 1983.|
Today's classical warship, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38)
Pennsylvania class battleship
displacement. 31,400 t.
speed. 21 k.
armament. 12 14", 14 5", 4 3", 4 3-pdrs., 2 21" tt.
The USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) was laid down 27 October 1913 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va.; launched 16 March 1915; sponsored by Miss Elizabeth Kolb; and commissioned 12 June 1916, Capt. H. B. Wilson in command.
Pennsylvania was attached to the Atlantic Fleet. On 12 October 1916 she became flagship of Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, when Admiral Henry T. Mayo shifted his flag from Wyoming to Pennsylvania. In January 1917, Pennsylv ania steamed for Fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean. She returned to her base at Yorktown, Va., 6 April 1917, the day of declaration of war against Germany. She did not sail to join the British Grand Fleet since she burned fuel oil and tankers could not be spared to carry additional fuel to the British Isles. In the light of this circumstance, only coal burning battleships were selected for this mission. Based at Yorktown, she kept in battle trim with Fleet maneuvers, tactics, and training in the areas of the Chesapeake Bay, intervened by overhaul at Norfolk and New York, with brief maneuvers. in Long Island Sound. Pennsylvania briefly cruised to France in December 1918.
Transiting the Panama Canal to the Pacific early in 1921, she became flagship of the newly-organized Battle Fleet. During the next eight years, she led the Navy's battleships in maneuvers in the Atlantic, Caribbean and in the Pacific, including a cruise to Australia and New Zealand in mid-1925.
From June 1929 to May 1931, Pennsylvania received an extensive modernization at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania. She emerged with new "tripod" masts, improved combat systems, and an enlarged armored conning tower to better support her mission as fleet flagship. Through the following decade, Pennsylvania continued her pattern of drills, at-sea exercises and periodic major "Fleet Problems" conducted to refine the Navy's war plans.
At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, Pennsylvania was in drydock in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. She was one of the first ships in the harbor to open fire as enemy dive bombers and torpedo planes roared out of the high overcast. They did not succeed in repeated attempts to torpedo the caisson of the drydock but Pennsylvania and the surrounding dock areas were severely strafed. The crew of one 5-inch gun mount was wiped out when a bomb struck the starboard side of her boat deck and exploded inside casemate 9. Destroyers Cassin and Downes, just forward of Pennsylvania in drydock were seriously damaged by bomb hits. Pennsylvania was pockmarked by flying fragments. A part of a torpedo tube from destroyer Downes, about 1000 pounds in weight, was blown onto the forecastle of Pennsylvania. Shed had 15 men killed, 14 missing in action, and 38 men wounded.
Her relatively light damage was repaired over the next few months, and she operated along the U.S. west coast and off Hawaii until October 1942. Following an overhaul that significantly updated her secondary battery of 5" guns and added many anti-aircraft machine guns, Pennsylvania went to Alaskan waters, where she participated in the recapture of Attu in May 1943 and Kiska in August.
In November 1943, Pennsylvania bombarded Makin during the amphibious assault on the Gilbert Islands. She repeated this role a few months later at Kwajalein and Eniwetok, and in June and July 1944 at Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Her guns supported landings in the Palaus in September 1944 and at Leyte in October. When the Japanese Navy responded vigorously to the latter operation, Pennsylvania helped to destroy part of the enemy fleet in the Battle of Surigao Strait.
On 25 October 1944 Pennsylvania and five other battleships (5 of the 6 battleships were veterans of Pearl Harbor), with cruisers and destroyers of Rear Admiral Oldendorf's Force, were steaming slowly back and forth across the northern entrance of Surigao Strait, awaiting the approach of the enemy. That night, American motor torpedo boats stationed well down in Surigao Strait made the first encounter with torpedo attacks. Destroyers of the Force, on either flank of the enemy's line of approach, followed with torpedo and gun attacks. At 0353, 25 October, USS West Virginia opened fire, joined shortly thereafter by other battleships and cruisers. The Japanese had run head on into a perfect trap. Rear Admiral Oldendorf had executed the dream of every naval tactician by crossing the enemy's "T". The Japanese lost two battleships and three destroyers in the Battle of Surigao Strait. Cruiser Mogami in company with a destroyer, all that remained of the enemy force, managed to escape. Rear Admiral Oldendorf's Force did not suffer the loss of a single vessel. (The age of the Battleship ended here, as this was the last battleship vs. battleship battle in history.)
In January 1945, Pennsylvania took part in the Lingayen Gulf invasion. Freshly returned to the combat zone after another overhaul, she was seriously damaged by a Japanese aerial torpedo off Okinawa on 12 August 1945, the last major Navy ship to be hit during the Second World War. Twenty men were killed and ten injured. Too old for retention in the post-war fleet, Pennsylvania was repaired only enough to fit her for target duty. She served in that capacity during the July 1946 Bikini atomic bomb tests. Subsequently moored at Kwajalein for studies of residual radioactivity, USS Pennsylvania was scuttled at sea on 19 February 1948. She was struck from the Navy List 19 February 1948.
Pennsylvania received eight battle stars for World War II service.
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