United States military air operations have long served as a source of pride and inspiration whether it be daring, dangerous strategic air strikes or jaw dropping feats of aeronautical acrobatics. It was Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders striking Japan that bolstered American morale following the attack on Pearl Harbor. While today the United States Air Force Demonstration Squadron, aka Thunderbirds, has flown before millions of onlookers inspiring generations of Americans young and old.
Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted the United States to provide a morale boosting attack on Japanese territory. Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, military test pilot and aeronautical engineer, was tapped to lead the mission. The plan called for 16 Boeing B-25 aircraft, modified for the mission, to launch from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. Doolittle and his Raiders used evasive flying techniques to avoid detection and all 16 aircraft would deploy their payload on Japanese soil. Fifteen of the aircraft went on to China as planned; one B-25 low on fuel was forced to land in the Soviet Union. Although reaching the China coast all were low on fuel, the aircraft crash landed or the crews bailed out.
Doolittle and his Raiders with the aid of Chinese soldiers and civilians would return to continue serving their country. Doolittle feared his mission a failure as all aircraft had been lost and the damage to property and military targets was considered marginal. Quite to the contrary, the raid was considered a major success and was celebrated at the highest levels. Doolittle received a promotion of two ranks to Brigadier General; all Raiders would receive promotions in rank. The Raiders would go on with distinctive service in both theaters.
Precise, disciplined, fearless flying was required by Doolittle and his Raiders. It is exactly this type of flying that America's best pilots demonstrate as members of the Thunderbirds. Since 1953 the Thunderbirds have toured the United States and abroad.
The Thunderbirds are comprised of 6 aircraft. The show begins with the leader's command, "Thunderbirds, let's run em up!". Thunderbirds 1 through 4 takeoff into the characteristic diamond formation. Thunderbirds 5 and 6 then takeoff for individual maneuvers.
The Thunderbirds feature eight formations: Diamond, Delta, Stinger, Arrowhead, Line-Abreast, Trail, Echelon and the Five Card. In formation and solo, the Thunderbirds conduct loops, fast rolls, slow rolls, fast passes, slow passes. Mirror formations include Thunderbird 5 flying inverted. Shows conclude with the diamond in near vertical flight, a solo Thunderbird rises through the diamond soaring three miles above ground. The show concludes with all 6 Thunderbirds in delta formation.
Thunderbirds perform just under the speed of sound (eliminating the sonic booms prevalent during shows of the 1960s and early 70s). The shows though breath taking are nevertheless dangerous; 21 pilots have perished through the 67-year history.
The pilots, the best of the best that the Air Force has to offer, are also goodwill ambassadors meeting with special needs children & adults, saluting first responders and availing themselves to local charities and causes as they travel the United States and abroad.