RIAT 2007 Index

Part One : The Show

Part Two: Static and Support Stars

Part Three: USAF 60th Anniversary

Part Four: The Thunderbirds

Part Five: The Flying Display




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For the first time, The Royal International Air Tattoo hosted the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of author.

There is no denying the fact the Thunderbirds were a major draw for this years International Air Tattoo. They arrived at Fairford for the final leg of their European Goodwill Tour which had seen the team display in Ireland, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy and France. The itself can trace it's history back to 25th May, 1953 when the 3600th Air Demostration Unit was formed at Luke AFB, 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. The first aircraft adopted by the team was the F-84G Thunderjet which started a strong tradition for the team of using frontline fighter jets. Infact, many legendary aircraft have been used by the team including the F-100 Super Sabre and F-4 Phamtom II. A strange footnote to the story of the team is that in 1965 the team converted onto the F-105B Thundercheif, a truly massive fighter aircraft. The aircraft used by the team were extensively modified but remained unsuitable for use in formation aerobatics. As a result the team went back to their F-100 Super Sabres which were very popular. In 1974, the world energy crisis forced the team away from frontline fighters as they converted to the T-38A Talon before returning to front line fighters with the F-16A in 1983.

Today's unit comprises of eight pilots, four support officers and 120 enlisted airmen. Their tour was a truly massive operation and was supported by two C-17A Globemaster III transport aircraft and eight F-16C/D Fighting Falcons. Each pilot will serve a two year tour with the team as do other officers. The enlisted airmen generally serve with the unit for three years.

The 2007 team consists of:-

Thunderbird #1 - Lt Col Kevin Robbins

In his second season as the leader of the team, Lt Col Robbins has amassed 3,400 hours on the F-15 air superioty fighter and the F-16C. He has 250 hours of combat operations

Thunderbird #2 - Major Chris Austin

Chris is in his first season with the team and has amssed 1900 flying hours, 1700 of which are on the F-16

Thunderbirds #3 - Major Nicole Malachowski

In her second season with the team, Nicole is no stranger to UK skies having been an instructor at RAF Lakenheath. She currently has over 1900 hours, 1700 of which are on the F-15E and F-16C.

Thunderbird #4 - Major Scott Poteet

Scott has more that 1600 hours on the F-16 and has served as a test pilot on the type at Nellis AFB.

Thunderbird #5 - Major Ed Casey

Ed is with the team for a second year and has logges 2400 hours with USAF. 2100 hours are on the F-16

Thunderbird #6 - Major Samantha Weeks

Samantha is in her first season with the Thunderbirds. She has logges 1500 hours as a USAF pilot with 1100 hours on the F-15C. She has been as instructor on the F-15 based in Alaska.

The teams performances at Fairford were the first in the UK for over six years and the first ever at Royal International Air Tattoo. Their display was the finale to the segement of the flying display devoted to the 60th Anniversary of the United States Air Forces. Getting them to display at RIAT did mean there were a number of challenges to overcome. First was how to accommodate the Thudnerbirds' ground show in to the flying display. They usually involves the airfield being quiet which is simply not possible at RIAT. Luckily the new layout of the showground accomodated a viewing area at the eastern end for the crowds to watch the ground show. Secondly, the team had to adjust their display slightly as no overflights of the crowdline are allowed at European displays.

There's no doubt their display was a major highlight of RIAT. They put on a very different show compared to what we've come to expect in Europe and trainer based teams. The Thunderbirds do use the full performance range of the F-16 to great effect and display some really tight formations; something we don't often see done with frontline fighter jets in this country. We also don't often see F-16s quite as clean and polished as the Thunderbird's machines!

We hope it won't be too long before the Thunderbirds return to UK skies at a future RIAT or even other UK shows and that hopefully their appearance may even persuade the Blue Angels to come to the UK too!

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