If you’re an American and you enjoy going to air shows, then the name Thunderbirds might speak volumes. We’re talking about the world’s third oldest flying aerobatic team, one that has enchanted aircraft enthusiasts with insane maneuvers for the past 68 years.
The Thunderbirds were born in 1953, shortly after the Patrouille de France and the mighty Blue Angels. Like many units of their kind, they burned through a number of different aircraft (F-84G Thunderjet, F-100C Super Sabre, F-4E Phantom, T-38 Talon, and presently F-16 Fighting Falcons) and crews, and were not spared tragedy.
As impressive as they are in the sky, the member of the Thunderbirds are forever linked to one of the biggest tragedies of flying aerobatic teams. Back in 1982, during a training mission, the lead plane in a formation of four suffered a stabilizer malfunction while trying to recover from a steep dive at 400 mph (644 kph).
The issue caused the plane to slam into the ground, followed shortly after by the other three planes coming right behind it: it is said that, as per their training, the pilots of the other three planes never questioned the actions of their leader, and followed him into the ground.
As with most things in life, the Thunderbirds recovered from that tragic loss and were soon back in the sky, enchanting people. Those attending air shows though only get to experience the team and the F-16s it’s now flying from afar, and from the ground.
This is why for a while now the Air Force has been busy releasing images of the team in action from angles not available to the general public. This weekend, we’ve seen how the city of Cleveland looks from inside the cockpit of one of these planes, and the reflection of the teammates’ planes in a Thunderbirds pilot’s visor.
Now, we’re witnessing one of these F-16s from an impossible angle, captured through undisclosed means by an airman, a photo so good that it both makes you gasp in awe and question the reality of what you’re seeing.