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The USAF Thunderbirds Were The World’s First Supersonic Flight Demonstration Team

When the Team Began Flying F-100Cs in 1958 They Also Started Bringing The Boom

Official US Air Force Photograph

Between the 1956 and 1963 show seasons the United States Air Force Precision Flight Demonstration Team, otherwise known as The Thuderbirds, flew North American F-100C Super Sabres. Their F-100Cs made them the world’s first supersonic flight demonstration team. The Air Force, with an eye toward positive publicity for the service, made a film about the team and their first supersonic mounts in 1958. The Thunderbirds even produced a sonic boom or two (just for demonstration purposes of course) during their performances until the FAA banned supersonic flight over the continental United States. Thanks a bunch FAA! The film is awesome in that late-1950s kind of cool way.

The Thunderbirds flew the Republic F-105B Thunderchief beginning in 1964, but after only six performances the Thud was deemed unsafe due to an accident that occurred at Hamilton Air Force Base (AFB) in California. Captain Eugene Devlin was killed when his Thud broke up in midair during a pitch-up maneuver prior to landing on May 9th 1964. The Thunderbirds went back to flying the F-100, albeit the D variant, for another four years until they began flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II in 1969. Thanks to YouTuber Classic Airliners & Vintage Pop Culture for uploading this period film about the Team and their aircraft.

Official US Air Force Photograph

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Written by Bill Walton

Bill Walton

Bill Walton is a life-long aviation enthusiast and expert in aircraft recognition. As a teenager Bill helped his engineer father build an award-winning T-18 homebuilt airplane in their Wisconsin basement. Bill is a freelance writer, an avid sailor, engineer, announcer, husband, father, uncle, mentor, coach, and Navy veteran. Bill lives north of Houston TX with his wife and son under the approach path to KDWH runway 17R, which means they get to look up at a lot of airplanes. A very good thing.