Information credit: Bitburg AB Thunderchiefs 1961-1966, website:

For the 1964 air show season, the Thunderbirds flew specially modified F-105B Thunderchiefs, F-105B-15-RE:


These Thunderchiefs were modified for air show duty with an added oil smoke system; the AN/APN-131 Doppler nav equipment was removed to allow carrying Thunderbird crew apparel in a built-in suitcase; the liquid oxygen (LOX) system for the pilot was modified to also allow the use of high pressure gaseous oxygen; aircraft communications gear was modified for better operations in overseas locations; the fuel system was modified to allow extended inverted flight; and the J75's afterburner was set for immediate light-up (vice a 5-second delay on the line Thuds).  On April 26th at Norfolk, Virginia, the opening show of the season treated the crowd to the first-ever Thunderbird five- and six-ship diamond formations.  The 1964 Thunderbird flight crew were:

Maj Paul Kauttu     LEAD
Capt. Gene Devlin    LEFT WING
Capt Charles Hamm   LEFT WING
Capt Bill Higgonbotham   RIGHT WING
Capt Jerry Shockley    SLOT
Capt Ron Catton    SOLO
Capt Clarence Langerud   SOLO
Capt Russell Goodman   NA
Capt Loyd Reder   Maintenance Officer


But 1964 would turn out to be a tragic, accident-shortened season for the Thunderbirds:


" 6:41 PM on May 9, 1964, the Thunderbird diamond approached the runway at Hamilton Air Force Base, California.  They had just presented their sixth show at McChord AFB, Washington.  The seventh was scheduled for the following day at Hamilton's Armed Forces Day open house.  Major Paul Kauttu in Thunderbird One made his tactical pitchup for the landing.  He would be followed immediately by Captain Eugene Devlin, left wingman, in Thunderbird Two.  As Captain Devlin made his pitchup, something happened.  With shocking suddenness, his F-105B [F-105B-15RE 57-5801] disintegrated in the air."
-- Star-Spangled Jets - The USAF Thunderbirds, by P. L. Penney, Meredith Press, New York, 1968, pp 84-85.


Captain Matt Mattingley served at Nellis AFB with the Thunderbirds:

"Major Paul Kauttu was Commander/Leader of the 1964 team with the F-105Bs, having previously served as the Slot Pilot on the 1962 and 1963 teams with F-100Cs.  During my tour with the Team, Paul had made Brigadier General and was serving as Deputy Commander of the Tactical Fighter Weapons Center at Nellis.  I was fortunate to get to know him and share experiences about the way things were done in our respective eras.  His recollections of the F-105 days were an eye-opener for a young Captain.

"For the aerobatic role, the Thunderchief F-105Bs had the M-61 Gatling and the Doppler nav system removed and replaced by ballast.  A spare drag chute was also carried in the gun bay to expedite "fast turnarounds," always a necessity in the Thunderbird lifestyle.  The landing gear was modified to F-105D standard.  The rudder limiter was modified to allow full rudder authority during certain parts of the flight envelope, primarily to enhance performance of the knife-edge pass maneuver.  This is the wings-vertical, canopy-to-the-crowd pass down show center by the solo which, in the case of most jets, is primarily a ballistic trajectory down the line of flight (in prop aircraft, this maneuver is less trajectory and more controlled flight, hanging on the prop and standing on the rudder).  The fuel system was modified to allow extended inverted flight.  Plumbing for two separate smoke systems was installed which allowed use of both red and blue smoke for shows.  This system proved to be highly unpopular with the maintenance crew: the dyes used to color the lightweight oil that was vaporized (not burned) by injection into the jet exhaust to generate smoke was toxic and required special handling procedures and clothing.  Had the F-105 survived as a demonstration aircraft into the 1965 and later seasons, this dual system would almost certainly have been dropped in favor of the single white smoke system that requires no dyes.  Today, it is doubtful that the colored smoke system would pass environmental standards.

"Another unique modification to the Thunderbird F-105Bs was the change to the standard wing flap system.  The modification resulted in a "maneuvering flap" capability.  Standard F-105 flap systems incorporated a safety system that precluded use of the flaps at speeds above 280 knots.  If a pilot inadvertently left the flaps down, the aerodynamic load at 280 knots would push the flaps up to prevent damage.  This feature was modified to allow flap operation at up to 500 knots.  At these speeds, full flap operation could have done serious airframe damage, so a limiter was installed to restrict the flap deflection to a maximum 4 degrees.

"Two aircraft were modified with the stainless steel vertical stab leading edge for use in the Slot position.  The Thunderbirds deployed with eight aircraft, six in the demonstration flight, and one each for the narrator and logistics officer.  The second Slot-configured aircraft was usually assigned to the narrator or logistics officer to serve as the spare for the primary Slot aircraft in case substitution was necessary on the road.  In large formations like the 7-ship stinger, this second Slot aircraft could fly slot on the primary Slot, resulting in a double slot.

"For being the Team's demonstration mount such a short time, the F-105 appeared in no less than three different paint schemes.  As originally received, the nose scallops were relatively shallow and the rearmost blue scallop incorporated a curved "dip" under the cockpit, rising to meet the intake.  This offended the aesthetic sensibilities of the Team and the scheme was modified to eliminate the dip, the rear of the blue scallop now following a straight line under the cockpit to the bottom of the intake.  Much better.  However, the white outline of the front of the "Bird" on the fuselage bottom and sides was now chopped off in mid-curve under the cockpit.  In the final scheme, the white outline curved gracefully back to the lower intake edge and the nose scallops were given a more elongated, rakish appearance.

"Six official airshows were flown in 1964 in the F-105Bs before a fatal crash on May 9, 1964 at Hamilton AFB, CA ended the F-105 era.  Captain Gene Devlin, the left wing pilot who had just joined the Team in February, was killed when 57-5801 broke up during a pitch-up maneuver.  A standard Team practice when arriving at the next demonstration site is to fly an abbreviated show sequence.  Flying several maneuvers allows the Team to become acquainted with the "lay of the land" around the show site, to confirm the location of any obstructions, and to verify their sight pictures along the show line.  This short demonstration concludes, as do all Thunderbird flights, with a formation flight down the runway and a sequential pitch-up by each aircraft to enter the landing pattern.  As left wing, Devlin was second to pitch-up that day.  As he started the maneuver, the fuselage of 57-5801 suffered catastrophic failure above the weapons bay.  The wreckage came down on the runway and Devlin was killed.  It was concluded that 57-5801's fuselage spine structure had failed.  The investigation also uncovered another unpleasant fact previously unknown to the Team:  57-5801 had been involved in an air-refueling incident that damaged the fuselage spine when turbulence pounded a drogue basket into the fuselage during an aborted hook-up attempt.  The damage was repaired and no evidence was uncovered that this incident caused a weakening in the fuselage structure, but the suspicion, rightly or wrongly, was there.

"When the F-105s were grounded, it was originally planned to be a temporary measure for the Thunderbirds.  Rather than cancel the show season while modifications were undertaken, the team transitioned to the F-100D to finish out the year while planning to resume flying the F-105s in 1965.  Note that these F-100s were new aircraft, not the Team's old F-100Cs.  Of course, in 1965 the Team retained the F-100Ds and flew it four more years before transitioning to the F-4E Phantom in 1969.  That the F-105 did not return as the Thunderbird mount was attributed to the priorities of the Vietnam build-up.  But we always suspected leadership had lost confidence in the F-105 as an aerobatic performer and did not want to risk another disaster.  Of course, the Thud went on to attain legendary status in SEA where it performed in conditions far more arduous than an airshow."

A note in the Thunderbirds' logbook reads, "All Thunderbird F-105s  flown to Brookley AFB [Alabama] for IRAN."  The team spent June and July 1964 transitioning into the new F-100Ds.  While the return to the F-100 was supposed to be temporary, F-105s never returned to the Thunderbird hangar at Nellis.

The rest of the F-105Bs/Ds/Fs were immediately grounded after the Hamilton incident -- with one of the Thunderbird "B-models" stranded at McConnell AFB, Kansas, for two months after the California tragedy (it had already been en route to the Mobile Air Materiel Area at Brookley for tear-down and inspection).  The structural and aft section venting problems would plague the Thunderchief throughout the Sixties.