Thunderbirds vs Blue Angels: The Return of the Air Shows (2021 Edition)
These two aerobatic teams — literal highlights of air shows and open houses at military installations all across the nation — are ready to soar to new heights in their first season after similar events were cancelled during the COVID pandemic in 2020. Instead, both teams participated in fly-overs of hospitals and other facilities to honor health care professionals and first-responders.
Want to see each team’s schedule for this year and learn some cool facts about them? Fly ahead to the section that interests you most:
- Who are the Thunderbirds?
- Thunderbirds History
- Thunderbirds Air Show Schedule 2021
- Who are the Blue Angels?
- Blue Angels History
- Blue Angels Air Show Schedule 2021
Thunderbirds vs. Blue Angels
So is one flight team better than the other, or is there a Thunderbirds vs. Blue Angels rivalry? Not really. Both teams are incredibly talented and train untold hours year-round to delight fans of flight everywhere.
And as evidenced in this video, the two teams may fly different jets, wear different uniforms and serve in different branches of the military, but their missions are the same: to showcase the professionalism and precision of the men and women in service to our country.
Who are the Thunderbirds?
Officially known as the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds present precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern, high performance aircraft and the high degree of professional skill required to operate those aircraft.
The squadron is an Air Combat Command unit composed of eight pilots (including six demonstration pilots), four support officers, four civilians and more than 100 enlisted personnel performing in almost 30 job specialties.
Flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the pilots perform about 40 maneuvers during special demonstrations that build community relations with the public and strengthen morale among Air Force members. More than 280 million people in all 50 states and 57 foreign countries have seen the red, white and blue Thunderbirds jets in more than 3,500 aerial demonstrations.
Want to know who’s who of the Ambassadors in Blue? Read short biographies of the team’s current officers here.
The Thunderbirds officially activated June 1, 1953, as the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Initially, the team flew the straight-winged F-84G Thunderjet. In 1955, the team transitioned to the swept-winged F-84F Thunderstreak.
Suggested Read: Luke Air Force Base: In-Depth Welcome Center
In June 1956, the team moved to its current home at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and switched to the world’s first supersonic fighter, the F-100 Super Sabre, which served the Thunderbirds for 13 years.
Suggested Read: Nellis Air Force Base: In-Depth Welcome Center
From 1969 to 1973, the squadron flew the Air Force’s front-line fighter, the F-4E Phantom II, then converted to the T-38 Talon in 1974. Early in 1983, the F-16A became the jet of choice, exhibiting manpower and fuel efficiency while demonstrating to spectators the latest in fighter technology.
Thunderbirds Air Show Schedule 2021
Want to see these amazing displays of aerobatics in person? Check this lineup to see when the Thunderbirds will be rolling into a community near you! Check each event’s website for admission policies, extended schedules and more info.
1-2: Sound of Speed Airshow & 139AW Open House, St. Joseph, Missouri
8-9: Defenders of Liberty Air & Space Show, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana
26: USAFA Graduation 2021 Flyover, Colorado Springs, Colorado
29-30: Bethpage Airshow at Jones Beach, Wantagh, New York
10-11: Dayton Air Show, Dayton, Ohio
17-18: Greater Binghamton Air Show, Binghamton, New York
24-25: Milwaukee Air & Water Show, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
28: Cheyenne Frontier Days, F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming
31-Aug. 1: Oregon International Air Show, McMinnville, Oregon
7-8: Thunder Over Michigan Air Show, Ypsilanti, Michigan
18: Thunder Over the Boardwalk Air Show, Atlantic City, New Jersey
21-22: The Great Pocono Raceway Air Show, Pocono, Pennsylvania
28-29: New York International Air Show, New Windsor, New York
4-6: Cleveland National Air Show, Cleveland, Ohio
11-12: Pease Open House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
18-19: National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada
25-26: California Capital Air Show, Mather, California
2-3: 2021 Puerto Rico International Air Show, San Juan, Puerto Rico
9-10: Wings Over Houston Air Show, Houston, Texas
16-17: Central Florida Air & Space Show, Sanford, Florida
23-24: Los Angeles County Air Show, Lancaster, California
30-31: California International Air Show, Salinas, California
6-7: Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona, Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona
Who are the Blue Angels?
The Blue Angels squadron showcases the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service through flight demonstrations and community outreach.
Each year, 17 total officers voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels; among them are three tactical (fighter or fighter/attack) jet pilots, two support officers and one Marine Corps C-130 pilot to relieve departing members. Officers typically serve two years with the team then return to the fleet after their tours of duty.
The Chief of Naval Air Training selects the Blue Angels Commanding Officer. Known as the “Boss,” the officer must have at least 3,000 tactical jet flight-hours and have commanded a tactical jet squadron. The Boss flies the team’s Number 1 jet.
Navy and Marine Corps jet pilots with an aircraft carrier qualification and a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet flight-hours are eligible for positions flying jets Number 2 through 7. The Events Coordinator, Number 8, is a Naval Flight Officer or a Weapons Systems Officer who meets the same criteria as Numbers 2 through 7. The Marine Corps pilots flying the C-130T Hercules aircraft, affectionately known as “Fat Albert,” must be aircraft-commander qualified and have at least 1,200 flight hours.
Suggested Read: Naval Air Station Pensacola: In-Depth Welcome Center
Suggested Read: Naval Air Facility El Centro: In-Depth Welcome Center
Blue Angels History
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Chester Nimitz established the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron in 1946 to raise the public’s interest in naval aviation and boost Navy morale. The flight exhibition team, whose name became the Blue Angels (possibly after visiting a New York supper club of the same name), thrilled audiences throughout the 1940s with precision maneuvers in the F6 Hellcat, the F8 Bearcat and the F9 Panther.
Throughout the 1950s, the team evolved its aerobatic maneuvers in the F9 Cougar and F-11 Tiger and introduced the first six-plane delta formation, still flown today. By the end of the Blue Angels were flying the F-4 Phantom, the only two-seat aircraft flown by the delta formation.
In 1974, the team transitioned to the A-4 Skyhawk, a smaller and lighter aircraft that allowed for a more dynamic flight demonstration. In 1986, the Blue Angels celebrated their 40th anniversary by debuting the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, which the squadron still flies today.
Read more about the history of the Angels and see a gallery of their vintage aircraft here.
Blue Angels Air Show Schedule 2021
Eager to see the Blue Angels soar toward the heavens in person? Take a look at this schedule to find their amazing flight shows near you! Check each event’s website for admission policies, extended schedules and more info.
1-2: Wings Over South Texas, Corpus Christi, Texas
8-9: Fort Lauderdale Air Show, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
15-16: Great Florida Air Show, Melbourne, Florida
26: U.S. Naval Academy Air Show; Annapolis, Maryland
28: U.S. Naval Academy Commissioning Flyover; Annapolis, Maryland
29-30: Westmoreland County Air Show, Latrobe, Pennsylvania
5-6: Chennault International Air Show, Lake Charles, Louisiana
12-13: Deke Slayton Airfest, La Crosse, Wisconsin
19-20: Thunder of Niagara @ Buffalo, Niagara Falls, New York
26-27: Duluth Air and Aviation Expo, Duluth, Minnesota
1: Arctic Lightning Air Show, Eielson AFB, Alaska
7-8: Boeing Seafair Air Show, Seattle, Washington
14-15: Owensboro Air Show, Owensboro, Kentucky
21-22: Chicago Air and Water Show, Chicago, Illinois
28-29: Air Show London, London, Ontario, Canada
There’s no denying both the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels put on a super show wherever they go. Count yourself lucky if you’re able to catch the loops, rolls, inverted passes, fleur de lis and more that are part of their typically 30- to 40-minute performances at each special event. Have no fear, though — both teams already have 2022 schedules in the works if you can’t see them in the skies this season.
Want to keep track of these amazing teams as they train and travel the nation? Follow the Thunderbirds social media pages on Facebook and Twitter and the Blue Angels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can also check the schedule pages for Thunderbirds and Blue Angels for any updates for this year’s shows.
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.