Thunderbirds: America's Air Force during War, Crisis, and Reconciliation

Ken Callahan, Purdue University


“Thunderbirds: America’s Air Force During War, Crisis, and Reconciliation” explores the significance of airpower during the Vietnam War and the period of crisis that followed from 1973 to 1982, through an era of rebuilding and reconciliation, ending with Desert Storm. During this period, American airpower was directly tied to social upheaval, domestic politics, and foreign policy in controversial ways, but also transformed to produce the most powerful Air Force in the world. This study focuses on the United States Air Force Thunderbird aerial demonstration team which the Air Force established with the specific intention of presenting military aviation to the American public. The Thunderbirds provide a gateway from war stories to understanding the role of airpower in American life. To illustrate the significance of airpower to the nation during this time period, this story focuses on the careers of four Air Force Thunderbird commanders who were each Vietnam combat veterans, rising stars in the Air Force, and Thunderbird team leaders under the Tactical Air Command (TAC) tenure of General Bill Creech. Their personal stories provide insight into why Americans are captivated by flight, how airpower is intimately connected with American foreign policy, and why the Air Force is so important in American society and culture.




Roberts, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American history|Military history

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