In May 1953, Dick Catledge formed the first official USAF aerobatic team. He put some of the Air Force's best pilots into the F-84G, and organized a unit known as the " Thunderbirds." Born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, Catledge grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where sports filled his life. He returned to Oklahoma to finish high school and won the state diving championship. Later, while attending Compton Junior College, he won the Southern California junior college diving championship. In March 1942, he entered the Army Air Force and received his pilot wings and commission a year later. In May 1943, Catledge was assigned to the 1st Fighter Group, a P-38 unit in the Mediterranean Theater. On 28 August, while flying his 23d combat mission, he was shot down over Italy and captured. He escaped 2 weeks later and evaded the enemy for 9 months before reaching friendly lines.
Sent home to the States, he served as an instructor pilot in the T-6, P-51, and P-47 aircraft. In mid-1950, he was sent to the 57th Fighter Group in Alaska to fly the P-80. He was promoted to major in 1951 and given command of the 66th Fighter Squadron. After graduating from Air Command and Staff College in 1952, he was assigned to Luke AFB where he formed and led the Thunderbirds. In the fall of 1954, he was sent to Randolph AFB to become Director for Inspections at HQ Crew Training Air Force. In 1956, he was assigned to Japan where he commanded the 9th Fighter Bomber Squadron at Komaki AB before becoming Chief, Tactical Evaluation Branch at HQ Fifth Air Force. In 1959, he entered the Naval War College and upon graduation was stationed at HQ USAF in the Directorate of Operations. As Chief, Counterinsurgency Division, he laid groundwork that became important as America was drawn into the war in Southeast Asia.
He also played a key role in convincing USAF leaders to equip the F-4 Phantom II with a gun. In mid-1964, Colonel Catledge was sent to Hahn AB, Germany, to fly F-100s as Director of Operations in the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing. Later, as Commander, 3d Tactical Fighter Wing at Bien Hoa AB, Republic of Vietnam, he flew 141 combat missions. In 1967, he returned to Luke AFB, this time as Commander of the 4510th Combat Crew Training Wing. Promoted to brigadier general, he was assigned to HQ Tactical Air Command as Inspector General in July 1969. Then, as Deputy Chief of Staff, Requirements, he was promoted to major general and given command of the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB, Florida. After a truly distinguished career in fighter aviation, General Catledge retired in 1973 and now lives in Niceville, Florida, with his wife Linda.
In mid-1953, the 50th Anniversary of Powered Flight, many Americans still viewed jet aircraft and the men who flew them as something strange. The Air Force decided to show the public that jets were just operational aircraft flown by typical career pilots. Dick Catledge, a training squadron commander at Luke AFB, was chosen to lead the USAF's first official aerobatic team. In just 6 weeks, the team was ready for their first official demonstration, which was given at Williams AFB on 16 June 1953. By August 1953, they had given over 50 performances and in September performed for over 300,000 people at the National Aircraft Show in Dayton, Ohio.