Have you ever seen the US Air Force Thunderbirds put on an airshow? They’re pretty good. If you can’t catch a Blue Angels airshow, they make a fine second string team.

At some point during the team’s performance, the narrator will mention that the F-16s of the Thunderbirds are combat capable aircraft, needing only 72 hours to be ready to fight. That’s been a stock phrase they’ve used for decades.

If the Air Force was really hurting for F-16 airframes, the Air Combat Command (back then, known at Tactical Air Command, or TAC) could probably generate plenty of airframes from other sources first, but theoretically, TAC could tap the T-birds to provide a combat ready jet.

And so it was, back in 1988, having heard the T-birds mention the 72 hour thingy, ACC decided to put the claim to the test.

It was 1988; the USAF Thunderbirds were tasked by Gen Robert Russ, who was Tactical Air Commander (TAC) at the time, to put one of our Thunderbird aircraft into combat configuration in the allotted
(mandated) 72 hour period, a task never done before on the team.
To make a long story short, the maintenance boys and girls, worked their backsides off and had the aircraft ready in less than 72 hours with the only exception being that the jet wasn’t painted (in the combat scheme).
The aircraft tail number selected for this event was Thunderbird Number 10 which was 81-0679.

War Bird '880001.JPG

There’s a lot more at the link, but suffice to say, that’s the only armed Thunderbird I’ve ever seen.

9 thoughts on “Thunderbomber!”

  1. That’s a lot of work to put the maintenance troops through without putting the bang on target.

  2. Living near Nellis AFB, I’ve been able to watch them fly for over 30 years and every time they amaze me.

    And yes, the pilots practice at the bombing range to keep sharp. I have no doubt they could go into combat tomorrow and do an awesome job.

    They work hard and are real pros!

  3. Second string?? Did I read that correctly? I’ve been privileged to see also the Red Arrows (Great Britain), and the Snowbirds (Canada). Mute testimony as to what it is like to fly in a military or civilian precision flying team involves picking any DVD of “cockpit” oriented camera shots of close formation flying. You got to be soooooo good to fly that close!!

  4. Nice post. I’d love to see the show modified a bit and watch them drop a load of high drag Mk 82s coming out of the bottom of a loop, while on line.

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