Formation of the USAF Thunderbirds at Luke AFB
On 25 May 1953 the 3600th Air Demonstration Team was officially organized and established at Luke AFB, still officially carrying this designation, now known as the United States Air Force Thunderbirds. At Luke, the squadron initially operated F-84G Thunderjets, as the aircraft had to be able to show how good training made a typical aircraft easy to handle. The aircraft had to be stable for maneuvers in formation, reliable enough to meet show schedules, rugged for the demonstration team. In addition, the F-84G was the first fighter in the Air Force with mid-air refueling capability. To convert the aircraft from combat to demonstration, technicians removed the guns and plugged the gun ports.
In 1955, the Air Force selected the swept-wing F-84F Thunderstreak as their second aircraft. The Thunderstreak was modified for the team by adding smoke tanks for the first time, and red, white, and blue drag chutes. In addition, the extreme heat from the lead aircraft, 1,500 °F (820 °C), required moving the slot's radio antenna from the jet's fin. For the first time, a solo was added to the diamond displays, increasing the show time to 19 minutes.
The unit was reassigned to Nellis AFB, Nevada on 23 June 1956.
Brigadier General Todd D. Canterbury
Brigadier General Todd D. Canterbury entered the Air Force in May 1993 after graduating from Arizona State University ROTC in 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. Canterbury the current Commander, 56th Fighter Wing, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona was one of the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team from October 2001 through July 2005 as was his father, Major General Henry Canterbury (Ret.) during the 1965-1966 season.