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In addition to their responsibilities as the official U.S. Air Force aerial demonstration team, the Thunderbirds are part of our combat force. If required, the team's personnel and aircraft can be rapidly integrated into a fighter unit at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Since the aircraft are only slightly modified, they can be made combat-ready in less than 72 hours.
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The Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics) F-16 Fighting Falcon represents the full range of capabilities possessed by the Air Force's tactical fighters. 
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This highly maneuverable multi-role fighter has proven to be one of the world's best precision tactical bombers and air-to-air combat aircraft. 
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The only modifications needed to prepare the aircraft for its air demonstration role are installing a smoke-generating system in the space normally reserved for the 20mm cannon, and the painting of the aircraft in Thunderbird colors.
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The Thunderbirds were officially activated June 1, 1953, as the 3600th Air Demonstration Team at Luke AFB, Ariz. Their first aircraft was the straight-winged F-84G Thunderjet, a combat fighter-bomber that had seen action in Korea. Early in 1955 the team transitioned to the swept-winged F-84F Thunderstreak.
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In June 1956, the team moved to its current home at Nellis. At the same time theThunderbirds traded the veteran F-84 for the world's first supersonic fighter, the F-100 Super Sabre -- an aerial platform that would serve the Thunderbirds for 13 years. More than 1,000 demonstrations were flown in the Super Sabre, thrilling spectators around the world.
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The team changed briefly to the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. After only six shows, in 1964, due to an extensive modification that became necessary on all Thunderchiefs, the Thunderbirds returned to the F-100.
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From 1969 to 1973, the Thunderbirds flew the Air Force's front-line fighter, the F-4E Phantom. In 1974, the Thunderbirds converted to the T-38 Talon, the world's first supersonic trainer. The T-38 was more fuel-efficient and less costly to maintain than the larger F-4.
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Early in 1983, the Thunderbirds reinstituted their traditional role of demonstrating the Air Force's front-line fighter capabilities. Transition to the F-16A allowed the team to retain manpower and fuel efficiency while demonstrating to spectators the latest in fighter technology.
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The Thunderbirds returned to Europe for the first time in 13 years in 1984. More than 3.2 million people viewed the aerial demonstrations in 11 countries.
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