United States Air Force Aerial Demonstration Teams

When one thinks of a United States Air Force (USAF) demonstration team, the first that pops to mind is likely the Thunderbirds - which has been an air demonstration squadron since 1953, making them the third-oldest formal flying acrobatic team under the same name in the world and second oldest in the United States. 

In addition to the Thunderbirds, the USAF Air Combat Command also fields Single-Ship Demonstration Teams that perform precision aerial maneuvers in order to demonstrate to the public the unique capabilities of Air Force's high-performance aircraft.

   There are six single-ship demonstration teams within ACC, consisting of two A-10 Thunderbolt teams, two F-15 Eagle teams, and two F-16 Fighting Falcon teams.

And then there is the USAF Heritage Flight program. Established in 1997 in support of the Air Force's 50th anniversary, it involves today's state-of-the-art fighters flying in close formation with World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War vintage fighters - such as the P-51 Mustang and the F-86 Sabre. The mission of Heritage Flight is to safely and proudly display the evolution of United States Air Force Airpower.

And speaking of vintage fighter craft… since the USAF was formed in 1947, there have been several aerial demonstration teams. 

A short-lived team formed in 1949 was the USAF “Red Devils”, flying four P-51 Mustangs.

The first official USAF jet-powered aerobatic demo team was the "Acrojets", formed in 1948 and performing early in 1949 with F-80A Shooting Stars, later transitioning to the F-80C, and ending with the T-33 Shooting Star.

  The Acrojets were inactivated in 1950, when the US became involved in the Korean War.

In 1949, the "Skyblazers" were formed, representing the United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE), flying F-80B Shooting Stars.  This squadron was active until it was disbanded in 1962, seldom appearing outside of the jurisdiction of USAFE operations in Europe, and transitioned from the F-80 to the F-84E Thunderjet in 1950, the F-86F Sabre in 1955, and the F-100C Super Sabre in 1956.

  The team disbanded becase their home squadron (22nd Fighter Squadron from the 36th Fighter Wing) was rotated back to the United States and their assigned aircraft transitioned to the F-105 Thunderchief.

In 1950, the "Sabre Dancers" aerobatic demonstration team was formed.  This team of 4 flew the F-86A Sabre, and was disbanded in 1953 when the Thunderbirds team was established so the official aerial demonstration team of the USAF.

In 1954, several aerial demonstration teams were formed:

The “Black Knights” - an aerial demonstration team organized formed with pilots of the 38th Tactical Bombardment Wing in France.  This team was unique for its use of the B-57 Canberra and was disbanded in 1958.

The "Sabre Knights" – an aerobatic display team organized by pilots of the United States Air Defense Command's 325th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (325 FIS), starting with the F-86F Sabres and shortly thereafter using the F-86D Saber.  This team was never officially recognized as a demonstration team, and the Sabre Knights came to an end when the 325 FIS was deactivated.

The USAF “Comet” – an aerobatic display team organized by pilots of the USAF's 5th Air Force no Osan Air Base, Korea and flew four T-33 Shooting Star trainers.

  The team was discontinued in 1955.

The "Arctic Gladiators" - an aerobatic display team organized by pilots of the 720th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, flying four F-86F Sabres. The team's demonstrations were limited to just the state of Alaska and was ended in 1955 when the 720th FBS was re-designated as the 455th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

In the mid-1950s, there was an "Acrojets" team under the command of USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe) in Germany, this one made up of USAF T-33 Shooting Star instructor pilots.  This team was disbanded in 1957.

Another aerial demonstration team established in the mid-1950s was the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"  – only this was a group of four C-130 pilots (and their planes, of course) - officially recognized as an aerial demonstration team by the USAF's Tactical Air Command in 1957.

 They flew as an aerial demonstration team until 1960.

The "Minute Men" were the Air National Guard's official demonstration team.  The team began in 1947 from the 120th Fighter Squadron of the Colorado Air National Guard and performed with the P-51 until the pilots were needed for combat missions in Korea.  After the pilots had returned, the 120th had received the F-80C Shooting Stars, and the team was re-formed in 1953.  However, it wasn’t until 1957 that the "Minute Men" were designated as the official Jet Precision Demonstration Team for the Air National Guard of the United States – and soon afterward the team received a C-47 support cargo plane and permanent mechanics as the official aerobatic display team and in 1958 converted to the F-86F Sabre in 1958.  In 1959 the team was disbanded, for budgetary reasons.

In 1952, the "Guardian Angels" demonstration team was formed from pilots of 104th Fighter Squadron from the Maryland Air National Guard. This team performed using the P-51H Mustang and was disbanded in 1953.

Predating the USAF, but still part of the legacy of its aerial demonstration teams:

“Three Musketeers” – the first US aerobatic team, formed in late 1927.  The team flew the Boeing PW-9 fighter craft.  In 1928, the team was disbanded.

“Three Men on the Flying Trapeze” – an aerobatic display team was organized at the US Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama in 1932, flying P-12 pursuit planes.  In essence, this team was the Three Musketeers re-constituted.  The team was disbanded in 1936.

The "Skylarks" - a demonstration team from US Army Air Corps at Maxwell Field, Alabama, created in 1935.  The team flew Boeing P-12E pursuit fighters and was disbanded in 1937.