USAF Thunderbirds F-84G Thunderjet


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Thunderbirds logo from Thunderbirds publicity poster.
Poster courtesy of Ted Theoe.


The USAF Thunderbirds flight demonstration team's first mount was the Republic F-84G. The Thunderbirds team was formed in May 1953 at Luke AFB, and made their first appearance at Nellis AFB, Nevada, on 1 June. Their first public appearance was at Cheyenne, Wyoming the weekend of 23 June, and by the end of 1953, they had performed fifty demonstrations. During 1954, in addition to the programs performed in the states, they visited a number of other countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The Thunderbirds last used the G-model on 7 February, 1955, at Webb AFB in Texas.

The following information is from the Airway Graphics International Thunderbirds F-84G decals instruction sheet, and is used by permission.

The Thunderbirds were formed on 1 June 1953 as the 3600th Air Demonstration Flight at Luke AFB, Arizona. The Republic F-84G was chosen as the team's first mount due to its ruggedness, forgiving handling, and first-line status with the USAF at the time. The team flew its last F-84G show in May of 1955, after which they switched over to the F-84F Thunderstreak.
The F-84Gs used by the team were stripped of almost all maintenance markings and stencils. The were polished up, but not to a mirror finish as you might think. Paintwork was allowed in some cases to weather (the red intake lip became quite chipped up), but overall the aircraft were in good shape.
Cockpits and wheel wells were painted the same as standard F-84Gs ... Various tones of natural metal were evident, but there is no evidence of aluminum lacquer paint as is seen on areas of some other Thunderjets. ... These aircraft had the early style open spoke nose wheel. ... The inside of the intake lip was red back about 3" on the [aircraft]. ...
For the '53 season, the aircraft had the stencil style pilot and crew chief blocks painted directly on the canopy rail. They were only on the left side. Photos are not conclusive, so we can't provide a definite tie-up of serials with crew names other than 51-16720 with Capt. C.A. Patillo. It is likely that 51-16719 was flown in '53 by the team leader, Capt. Jack Broughton, as this was his mount in '54, but again, no guarantees. In '54 he was promoted to Major, so both ranks [were used] in the later style [with gothic lettering on white background]. ... During the '53 season, the forward nose landing gear door was red. In '54, the aircraft's position number was painted it white on this door. Serial no. 51-16719 (Capt. Broughton's) was #1 in '54. ...
When the flag panel (and Thunderbird logo opposite) were applied for the '54 season, the flags were initially painted on a natural metal background. By October of '54, the red outlined white background had been applied. The person who painted the flags was obviously vexilogically challenged (ie: flag ignorant), as most of them are totally incorrect. ... In the early part of the '53 season, the fuel vent pipes were unpainted. Later in '53 the pipes themselves were painted red, and finally in '54 there was a red panel around the pipes. ... The lower wing USAF titles were angled slightly toward the leading edge of the wing. Jennings Heilig


Webmaster's Note: There are discrepancies in personnel lists for the years the F-84G was used. Following is the list from the recent research by Earl Watkins which is likely the most accurate. My thanks to Earl for sharing this information.

This is the list of Thunderbird Pilots, as I have been able to assemble it, and I believe the following list to be complete and correct for the F-84G years. The original name for the team was "Stardusters," and their first six shows were flown under that name. Lt General Harper "requested" the name change. The Patch and Paint pattern was designed by Robert McCormick. One of the reasons for the records being so incomplete is that the team's first years were almost "coffee break" casual. For many years George Kevil, and Bob McCutchen were not on the Thunderbird's roll.

The Thunderbirds had A.D. Brown staying till 10/55, when he actually left the team in 10/54; I assume it is a typo. I added the names of all officers who served on the team in those years. There was a lot of turn around, and it seems they switched narrators in mid season. My sources are the Thunderbirds team, the second edition of Diamond In the Sky, and most importantly a book called Thunderbirds by Jack Williams and published by the department of the Air Force in 1956. By cross referencing these, I came up with the following list. Also, according to my sources, Bob McCutchen was asked to leave the team because he was a bit of a "hot dog" and his name was left off the rolls for years, as were the first two fatalities the team suffered as they never flew in a show. They are now on the offical list.

Personnel of the Thunderbirds during use of the F-84G were:
1953 Generally
Maj. Richard Catledge, Leader
Capt. Cuthbert Pattillo, Right Wing
Capt. Charles Pattillo, Left Wing
Capt. Robert Kanaga, Slot
1st Lt. Robert McCormick, Alternate/Solo
Lt. A.D. Brown, Alternate/Solo
Capt. Bill Brock, Narrator
1954 Generally
Maj. Richard Catledge, Leader
Capt. Bill Creech, Right Wing
Capt. Burt Spaulding, Left Wing
1st Lt. Robert McCormick, Slot
Lt. A.D. Brown, Solo
1st Lt. Leon Hoyle, Solo/Slot
Capt. Bill Brock, Narrator
Capt. H. A. Davis, Narrator
10 Oct. 1954 (leadership change) to 7 Feb. 1955 (Last show in F-84G's)
Capt. Jack Broughton, Leader
Capt. Bill Creech, Right Wing
Capt. Burt Spaulding, Left Wing
Capt. Edward Palmgren, Slot
Capt. George Kevil, Solo -- killed in a practice in December
Lt. Bob McCutchen, Solo
1st Lt. Leon Hoyle, Solo/Slot
Capt. H. A. Davis, Narrator

The reason for all the Solos, is that Spare and Solo were interchangeable terms.

Earl Watkins


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F-84G Thunderbirds aircraft. Photo courtesy of E.J. Boss.

Thunderbirds F-84G photo from Thunderbirds publicity poster. Poster courtesy of Ted Theoe.


Links to photos at other sites

Nellis AFB Thunderbirds F-84G Photo

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