T-38 and Thunderbirds


By Dario Leone
May 4 2017
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The aircraft was the original Slot Machine, the last operational unmodified T-38A Cooke flew with the Thunderbirds

The beautiful video in this post shows retired Lt. Col. Dale Cooke experiencing the flight of a life time at Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB).

Cooke in fact flew for the Thunderbirds from 1979 to 1982 and recently he went to the 2nd Fighter Training Squadron (FTS) and flew on T-38A , #68-177, again.

According to Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, article Flight of the Thunderbirds, the aircraft was the original Slot Machine, the last operational unmodified T-38A Cooke flew with the Thunderbirds.

“Col. McCurdy [2nd FTS commander] contacted me and said there was some interest in getting me to fly,” Cooke said. “It was not even believable to me because the only place you can fly a fighter airplane is the military and when you step out of your plane for the last time you think, ‘I’ll never get to do this again.’”

Still used for the slot position on the team, the name Slot Machine originally came from the home of the Thunderbirds at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas.

Noteworthy Cooke not only flew in Slot Machine again, but the pair were joined by the current Thunderbirds in F-16 Fighting Falcons over the Gulf of Mexico.

“To get in Slot Machine one more time is an unbelievable experience,” he said. “It’s a dream you don’t ever expect to do again.”

Cooke and Slot Machine logged over 800 flight hours during their tenure with the Thunderbirds at over 200 performances nationwide.

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A modest red, white and blue Thunderbirds sticker on the student pilot control panel is the only reminder of the days the team flew aircraft #177.

Today aircraft #177 fulfills a vital role at the 2nd FTS, where Slot Machine plays the role of aggressor for new F-22 Raptor student pilots consistently providing a highly maneuverable adversary paired with veteran fighter pilots.

Gloss black with a golden tip, the motto “2nd To None,” reads clear as Slot Machine slips in and out of view through the clouds. Something it will continue to do at Tyndall AFB until it too is retired and preserved for future generations to come.

Photo credit: Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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