United States Army Aerial Demonstration Teams

U.S. Army soldiers in a Black Hawk helicopter.

Alec Dionne / U.S. Army via Getty Images

In the early 1970s, the United States Army wished to demonstrate the capabilities of Army Aviation (in a similar manner as the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels), using the 1972 U.S. International Transportation Exposition at Dulles International Airport - better known as Transpo ’72 - as a springboard for the team. 

Since the Army had no fixed-wing fighter aircraft (refer to Function of the Armed Forces and the Joint Chiefs of Staff [1948]), their option was to either to use the fixed-wing aircraft they had—such as those used for cargo transport or reconnaissance—or use their rotary-wing aircraft.

In 1972, the Silver Eagles were organized. The mission of the team was to assist US Army personnel procurement and retention efforts and to contribute to the public understanding of the role of Army aircraft by demonstrating proficiency and versatility in the performance of precision helicopter flight.

Early Days

When first organized, the Silver Eagles were the only helicopter demonstration team in America. Based at Fort Rucker, Alabama, the Silver Eagles consisted of 25 enlisted volunteers and 12 officer aviators. The team was assigned two helicopter models - nine OH-6A Cayuse helicopters that had been completely overhauled after seeing combat service in Viet Nam, and 9 factory-fresh OH-58 Kiowa helicopters. Shortly after their organization, though, the OH-58 helicopters were transferred to other units and the Silver Eagles retained the nine OH-6A's painted in olive drab and white colors. 

Though an aerial demonstration team, their routines did not consist of aerobatics – rather, the routines consisted of flying techniques Army aviators were required to master. Speeds and altitudes of precision maneuvers ranged from zero miles per hour at ground level to 140 miles per hour at one thousand feet. 

Seven helicopters were used during each demonstration, with specific names and positions: Lead, Left Wing, Right Wing, Slot, Lead Solo, Opposing Solo…and Bozo the Clown. The Bozo unit wore the face of a clown—a red nose, big eyes, and floppy ears and a straw hat—and performed antics to entertain the audience while the other aircraft were positioning for the next maneuver – such as playing with barrels along the ground or playing with its yo-yo. Due to the use of Bozo, there was almost always at least one helicopter performing in front of the crowd at all times during their normal 35-minute presentation. 

Public Appearances

The team’s first public appearance was at the Aviation Center's Armed Forces Day Celebration in 1972 at Cairns Army Airfield, Fort Rucker, AL. Their first “official” performance was for Transpo ‘72, where the team performed two shows daily. The team’s success at Transpo ‘72 convinced the Army brass on the desirability of having a permanent demonstration team.   

In early 1973, the "Silver Eagles" received official status as the United States Army Aviation Precision Demonstration Team (USAAPDT).

In 1974, the Silver Eagles were composed of seven demonstration pilots and 30 ground staff, with the addition of a De Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou support cargo aircraft painted in the new blue and white color scheme.

In February 1975, the Silver Eagles made their international debut in Ottawa, Canada and were recognized by the Army Aviation Association of America (Quad-A) as the most outstanding aviation unit in the Army.

Sadly, the team’s final performance was in 1976—on 21 November, the Silver Eagles flew at the "Blue Angels" Homecoming air show in Pensacola, Florida, and then performed its final show at its home field of Knox Field, Ft. Rucker, AL, on November 23, 1976.

Final Thoughts

During the four years of its existence, the Silver Eagles shared the stage with the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and the Golden Knights parachute team. A more comprehensive source of information/history on the team would be Dancing Rotors: A History of US Military Helicopter Precision Flight Demonstration Teams. Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but perhaps a used copy can be found in a used bookstore or someplace like eBay if one is willing to pay the price (at the time of writing, a copy on eBay was listed for $95.00 or best offer).