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Air Force Academy cadets toss their hats in the air as the Thunderbirds fly overhead. About 980 cadets graduated from the United States Air Force Academy on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke at the ceremony. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

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The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will fly at its 58th Air Force Academy graduation Thursday, dazzling graduates and their families with the expert aerial acrobatics.

Their first performance was May 30, 1959 during the academy's inaugural graduation week. Though they did not fly during the ceremony, which was indoors that year, their pilots were in the audience.

Almost every year since, they've taken to the skies as some of the country's most prestigious students celebrate the end to their undergraduate education.

The team did not perform two years of the 60 since the academy was built. In 1984, when President Ronald Reagan spoke at commencement, the Federal Aviation Administration canceled the Thunderbirds' performance because too many people were in the parking lot over which they flew.

In 2013, Pentagon-wide automatic budget cuts prevented their appearance. In their place, volunteers arranged several heritage air crafts to fly over in their place.

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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