The USAF Sky Blazers History

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The USAF Sky Blazers History

Post  VS_#1_Razor on Sun Oct 05, 2008 3:38 pm

The USAFE Skyblazers at Bitburg
-- An Informal History


The Beginning: The USAFE Skyblazers acrobatic team was formed in early 1949 when a group of 22nd Fighter Squadron pilots from the 36th Fighter Wing at Fürstenfeldbruck AB in Germany's Bavaria (a few miles west of Munich) began doing coordinated formation stunts with their new Lockheed F-80B "Shooting Stars." As Bitburg AB's "Skyblazer" base newspaper described it ten years later:

"..Three daring young .. pilots, then-members of the 36th Fighter Wing (now the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing here), decided to try some aerobatics while returning to their home base, Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany, from a routine training mission over Malta. These pilots -- Lt Col (then a Major) Harry K. Evans and Majors (then Lieutenants) C. A. "Bill" and Charles C. "Buck" Patillo, identical twins -- did some aerial stunting and liked it. They repeated these maneuvers the following day and decided to form a team. Later, they added two more flyers [probably then-Lieutenants Dwight Beckham and Vincent Gordon] and quietly practiced until approval was given for them to perform as an official group. Beginning with basic maneuvers, and progressing to synchronized Cuban eight's, Chandelles, Immelmanns and rolls, the group practiced five months before its first official appearance..." (From summer 1959 "Skyblazer" newspaper article, courtesy of Skyblazers 1961 team member Leo VanOverschelde)
In May 1949, HQ USAFE formally tasked the 36th Wing to form an F-80B team to conduct formation acrobatic demonstrations throughout Europe and Northern Africa -- USAFE's area of operations under the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The USAFE Skyblazers team made its first-ever performance in October 1949 at RAF Gütersloh in the British zone of then-occupied Germany, becoming the second USAF formation acrobatic demo team to use jet aircraft. (Side Note #1: The first USAF jet-powered acrobatic demo team was the "Acrojets," performing earlier in 1949 with F-80Cs at the USAF Fighter School at Williams AFB, near Higley, Arizona. This team remained active until August 1950, when it was deactivated because of the outbreak of the Korean War. And there was also a later USAFE "Acrojets" team in Germany, formed by USAF T-33 instructor pilots at "Fursty" after it became a Luftwaffe training base in the mid-1950's!)
The initial members of that first USAFE Skyblazers team in October 1949 were Captain Harry Evans (lead), Lt. Vince Gordon (slot), Lt. "Bill" Patillo (right wing), and Lt. "Buck" Patillo (left wing and alternate lead). (Side Note #2: The Pattillo brothers had entered the USAAF as privates in World War II for flight training, and became experienced P-51 Mustang pilots with the Eighth Air Force's 352nd Fighter Group in the ETO. Bill was shot down over Germany on the last of his 135 combat missions and kept a POW until 1945. Buck earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters with his fighter prowess. Both Bill and Buck Patillo went on to finish their distinguished Air Force careers as general officers.)

The Thunderjets Arrive... The 36th Fighter Wing at "Fursty" was redesignated a Fighter Bomber Wing (FBW) on 20 January 1950, and in September of that year began flying the new Republic Aircraft Corporation F-84 Thunderjet. The straight wing configuration of the Thunderjet was considered well suited for team aerobatic maneuvers, and although the aircraft could not exceed the speed of sound, its performance could meet the needs of any acrobatic demonstation team. To convert the aircraft from combat-ready to demo-capable, technicians removed the six .50 caliber machine guns in the nose and plugged the gun ports. The Fürstenfeldbruck Skyblazer pilots were initially restricted to only normal flight operations, but the restrictions were lifted in about 60 days for Skyblazer F-84 demonstrations.

By the summer of 1952, the 36th FBW Skyblazer had flown over 260 shows in 12 countries before an estimated 10 million spectators. At Fürstenfeldbruck, the Skyblazer team pilots from October 1949 to July 1952 were:

Capt Harry K. Evans (LEAD)
Lt. Culthbert A. "Bill" Pattillo (RIGHT WING)
Lt. Charles C. "Buck" Pattillo (LEFT WING)
Capt. Vincent P. Gordon (SLOT/LEAD/SOLO)
Lt. Lawrence D. Damewood (SLOT)
Capt. John P. O'Brien (ALT/SOLO) (Lost 21 May 1952 at RAF Manston, Great Britain, CWT after engine explosion during a low altitude pass)
The "Show" Moves To Neubiberg: Because of the RAF Manston crash, USAFE Skyblazer operations were terminated in August 1952. To avoid impacting the 36th FBW's planned move from "Fursty" to Bitburg im der Eifel (the move would be completed in October 1952) -- USAFE passed responsibility for the Skyblazer team to the 86th FBW, flying F-84E Thunderjets at Neubiberg AB, Germany. (Side Note #3: As part of the 36th Wing's relocation, now-Majors Bill and Buck Patillo PCSed to Luke AFB, near Phoenix, Arizona, where they were instrumental in forming the Air Training Command (ATC) aerobatic team, which would evolve into today's world-famous US Air Force Thunderbirds based at Nellis AFB, near Las Vegas, Nevada. Bill Pattillo flew right wing and Buck Patillo flew left wing in the initial Thunderbirds team, officially organized and established as the 3600th Air Demo Flight at Luke on June 1, 1953. For the first few weeks of its existence, the new USAF demo team was called the "Stardusters" -- 25 percent of the entries in a contest held at Luke to pick a name for the new team suggested "Thunderbirds" as a clear winner, but that name was considered too common around the Phoenix area. So SSgt Fred Sesena won a $50 savings bond and a trip to Las Vegas (how appropriate!) for his suggestion for the second most popular name, "Stardusters." Then-ATC Commander Lt Gen Robert Harper eventually ordered the name changed back to the "Thunderbirds.")
At Neubiberg, USAFE Skyblazer pilots from August 1952 to July 1953 were:

Maj. Robert Tomlinson (LEAD)
Capt. Alexander P. Butterfield (RIGHT WING)
Lt. Milton M. Byron (LEFT WING)
Lt. Martin O. Detlie (SLOT)
Lt. Halstead Cross (SLOT)
Lt. Sanford Weiss (ALT)

To The 48th, Then Sabrejets! In October 1953, the 48th FBW with F-84Gs at Chaumont AB, France, assumed responsibility from the 86th FBW at Neubiberg AB, Germany, for USAFE's premier aerial demonstration team. Then during 1954, the 48th traded its Thunderjets for new North American Aviation F-86F Sabrejets and the USAFE Skyblazers re-equipped as well, flying the new Sabrejet for the 1955 and 1956 airshow seasons. At Chaumont, the Skyblazer pilots from July 1953 to October 1956 were:

Maj. William N. Dillard (LEAD)
Capt. John H. Bennett (LEFT WING)
Lt. Harold A. Homan (LEFT WING)
Capt. Robert S. Fitzgerald (RIGHT WING)
Lt. James L. Foster (RIGHT WING)
Capt. William R. Gilmore (RIGHT WING)
Capt. James S. Reynolds (SLOT/LEAD)
Lt. Walter Myers (SLOT)
Lt. Warren L. Efting (SLOT)
Lt. Victor Wirta (SOLO)
Lt. Harold J. Bourgeois (SOLO)
Lt. Harry L. Brewer (ALT)
Lt. Fred W. Wright (ALT)
Lt. Alvin C. Yonally (ALT)

The Return To Bitburg: Die "Skyblazers" Fliege wieder in der festen anordnung Formation! Responsibility for USAFE acrobatic demonstrations officially returned to Bitburg AB and the 36th Fighter Day Wing in October 1956, at the end of the 1956 airshow season (the 36th FBW had been redesignated on August 9th, 1954, as a Fighter Day Wing after completing its transition from the F-84G to F-86F Sabrejets). As part of the Wing's transition to North American's supersonic F-100 Super Sabre ("Hun") in mid-1956, the Skyblazers team had already started using seven specially marked and modified F-100Cs in September 1956. Skyblazer pilots had informally tested the Wing's F-100Ds earlier that summer to see if the "D" was more suitable for them than the C-model. But the Skyblazer F-100Cs had been modified with leading edge slats for low speed maneuverability and in this respect were better than the D-models for "close-in" maneuvering at air shows. All 36th Wing Skyblazer air shows were thus flown using the modified F-100Cs, while the rest of the Wing flew the newer D- and two-place F-models. (Side Note #4: YGTBSM! The two Skyblazer "slot" F-100s were delivered by North American with heat-resistant stainless steel tails for their air show duties -- painted in Thunderbird colors! They were soon repainted in the distinctive Skyblazers' paint scheme of solid blue with white stars and red/white rudder stripes.) For the 1960 airshow season, the Skyblazers added red, white, and blue smoke to their act -- they were the first USAF aerobatic team to do so.

Only the best pilots and ground crewmen were selected for Bitburg's F-100 Skyblazer team, and they were "on the road" for six to eight months each year. The team and its hand-picked members provided invaluable public relations with the German people and the populations of other European countries. Richard J. Caruana aptly described the impact of the team on its ground spectators:

"Being the first 'supersonic' team in Europe, the Skyblazers quickly gained a much-vaunted reputation with their spectacular and 'brutal' displays -- very low, noisy passes in full afterburner. During the 1957 season, there are reports that they used well- timed sonic bangs before officialdom banned them! Together with formation loops, whifferdills, 360° vertical turns, and the individually rolling 'Fleur-de-lis', the stunning vertical bomburst and four-way cross-over soon became a crowd pleaser.
In 1960,] ...a new manoeuvre was added to the team's programme, this being a slow, gear-down diamond pass that suddenly climbed about 45° in full afterburner. Neat fuel was then injected into the exhausts resulting in massive bright flames some 8-10m long trailing behind each aircraft. As the diamond climbed away, the solo F-100, when conditions allowed, zipped through under the smoke and flames from the opposite direction, trailing his own long flame. With this stunt, the team lived up to its name."
-- R. J. Caruana, "Hun -- The Showman," Scale Aviation Modeller International, September 2000, pp. 793-799 (with Caruana's spectacular drawings of the Skyblazer F-100 markings for the 1956-1961 show seasons)

The USAFE Skyblazers "auf Bitburg flugplatz" demonstrated their F-100s with distinction and considerable élan throughout Europe and North Africa from 1957 through 1961, performing at 10 to 15 airshows each season before an estimated 20 million spectators. The team was even featured on the CONUS CBS television network and in a Fox "Movietone" short subject film! But there were always occasional occupational hazards... such as losing an occasional F-100C during Skyblazer acrobatic practice sessions.

The Final Months: By the end of 1960 air show season, the USAFE Skyblazers' days were numbered. The host 36th Tactical Fighter Wing (designated a TFW on May 15, 1958) had started transitioning to the massive Republic F-105 Thunderchief. And USAF's Nellis-based Thunderbirds now flew F-100Ds with in-flight refueling capability to reach those once-remote European, African, and Far East airshows. The first five 36th TFW F-100Ds departed Bitburg for CONUS on January 30, 1961 -- their crews traveled to Nellis for F-105 conversion training, then on to Mobile AMA, Brookley AFB, Alabama, to ferry factory-fresh "Thuds" back to Bitburg. By mid-1961, only enough F-100 AGE remained on the Bitburg flight line to support the Skyblazer and transient Super Sabres visiting from Hahn AB and the USAFE F-100 units in England. The last F-100s to leave Bitburg under the transition to the "Thud" were those of the USAFE Skyblazers team -- it was allowed to complete its 1961 air show taskings while the three Bitburg tactical fighter squadrons completed conversion to the mighty Thunderchief.

While at Bitburg, the USAFE Skyblazer pilots from October 1956 to January 1962 were:

Capt. Wilbur L. Creech (LEAD)
Capt. John W. Armstrong (LEAD)
Lt. Don R. Emigholz (RIGHT WING)
Capt. Gordon L. Eells (RIGHT WING)
Lt. Kermit L. Haderlie (RIGHT WING)
Lt. James N. Portis (LEFT WING)
Capt. Carl F. Funk (LEFT WING)
Lt. Gordon L. Scharnhorst (LEFT WING)
Capt. Will Gideon (SOLO)
Capt. Francis Kramer, Jr. (SOLO/LEAD)
Capt. Clair McCombs (SLOT)
Capt. William S. Gordon (SLOT)
Capt. John F. Clayton (SLOT)
Capt. Nevin G. Christensen (SLOT)
Capt. John Lowery (ALT)
Lt. Gary Barnhill (ALT)
Lt. Jack Cummings (ALT)
Lt. Charles R. Carney (ALT)
The End Of The Show: In January 1962, USAFE officially inactivated the Skyblazers acrobatic team -- an exciting era of USAFE jet-powered, close-formation, four-ship flying prowess came to an end. The roars of F-100 J-57s in afterburner over the Eifel were soon replaced with the louder noise of Thunderchief J-75s at 106.5% "max military thrust" setting...


Last edited by VS_#1_Razor on Mon Oct 20, 2008 1:06 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The USAF Sky Blazers History

Post  VS_#4_Bambi on Sun Oct 05, 2008 8:37 pm

I found of a skyblazers jet at an 06 airshow http://homepage.mac.com/dave_rogers/iMovieTheater14.html


Last edited by VS_#1_Razor on Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:34 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Forum Violation Reasoning)

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