When the United States Air Force (USAF) Precision Flight Demonstration Team transitioned from the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II to the Northrop T-38 Talon in 1974, they did so in large part because the entire formation of T-38s used only slightly more fuel than a single F-4E. Anyone who saw the Thunderbirds perform their show in the Phantom II and then again in the T-38 had to feel the difference between the two aircraft. Here’s a film promoting the Thunderbirds and their T-38 Talons uploaded by Jeff Quitney. Enjoy!
The transition to the Talon also resulted in changes to the performance routines flown by the Thunderbirds. The shows flown in the T-38 showcased the aircraft’s comparatively high maneuverability and tight turning radius. The switch to the Talon also brought to an end the days of the slot aircraft (number 4 in your programs) flying with the sooty vertical tail surfaces. Thunderbird 4’s vertical stabilizer retained the same polished tail colors as the other aircraft from that point forward.
The Thunderbirds’ United States Navy (USN) counterparts, The Blue Angels, switched from the F-4J model Phantom II to the Douglas A-4F Skyhawk in the same timeframe and for the same reasons as the Thunderbirds switched to the T-38. Their entire formation of A-4Fs used about the same amount of fuel as a single F-4J. And their performance routines too were modified to showcase the Skyhawk’s strengths.