A USAF Thunderbirds Mystery Solved!

M Colner Tbird1 A1

Story and photo by Mike Colaner


If you have ever attended a performance by United States Air Force Thunderbirds you have seen their F-16’s and comm cart adorned in the unique Thunderbird paint. Their pilots and crews in their distinctive Thunderbird flight suits and uniforms. However, chances are you have never seen this Thunderbird emblem that appears at each air show. Last summer while covering the Thunderbirds arrival at Dover Air Force Base, I stumbled upon a small red Thunderbird emblem spray painted upon the tarmac. I thought perhaps it’s a tag that is a part of some long standing unit tradition. Nobody I had spoken to had ever seen it before or knew what it was. I decided to contact SSGT Tabatha McCarthy, the Thunderbirds Community Relations NCO for the answer.

SSGT McCarthy explained that the answer is quite simple. A small Thunderbird emblem is spray painted onto the tarmac for each of the six show jets to park their nose wheel on. Upon arrival at a show site the emblem is spray painted to mark where each of the jets are to be parked so they are aligned at a safe distance from wing tip to wing tip. Since I had the privilege to be at arrival day, the crowd line had not yet been established and I was standing in an area where the Thunderbird jets were about to be parked and well beyond the where the crowd stands. And sure enough when I reviewed some photos of the parked jets the red Thunderbird emblem can be seen, just barely extending out from under the nose gear wheel. And now you know.

Mike Colaner

Mike Colaner is a native of Central New Jersey and still resides there today with his family. I always had a fascination with aviation with both NAS Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base nearby to my boyhood home. Upon graduating High School, I went to work for Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at NAEC Lakehurst. I worked in the engineering department on the PA-97 Helistat project as a draftsman. I soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served four years active duty with both the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After completing my enlistment, I went to college and became a New Jersey State Trooper. I recently retired after serving 25 years and I am looking for my next adventure. I am very glad that I have been able to join this team and to share my passion with all of you.

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