Two of the U.S. Air Force’s founding Thunderbirds members received a grand send off this week when the twin brothers, along with their spouses, were given a double inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery.
Lt. Gen. Charles “Buck” Pattillo and his wife Bobbie, and Maj. Gen. Cuthbert “Bill” Pattillo and his wife Joyce, were laid to rest Wednesday in ceremony attended by the service’s top brass, including Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown. The Thunderbirds flight team also added to the spectacle, honoring the Nevada-based team’s founders with a rare flyover during the ceremony.
Both Bill and Buck, who died in 2014 and 2019, respectively, started out in 1949 on the earlier iteration of the Thunderbirds, which were known as the Skyblazers — an outfit the duo also founded. The brothers were known for flying low over airfields to motivate ground crews, Buck son’s Scott told the Washington Examiner.
“Pretty soon, everybody started to expect it,” he said.
The Pattillo twins flew in the formation’s left and right wing positions between 1953-54. During that time, the duo aided in the development of select maneuvers the Thunderbirds remain famous for today, including the iconic “Bomb Burst,” a move in which the group of jets fly together in close formation before each plane splits off in different directions at the exact same time. The resulting contrails of each jet gives the appearance of the multi-directional bomb explosion.
The twins also flew with record-breaking pilot and retired Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager in 1954 during the flight team’s first international trip.
Beyond the cockpit, Buck and Bill spent their entire military careers — and lives — together, even retiring near one another in Virginia. So, it came as no surprise when the pair opted to be laid to rest next to one another.
“It was always their dream to be buried side by side,” Scott Pattillo said.
Plans to make that dream at Arlington a reality were made once Bobbie Pattillo, Buck’s wife and the last of the four to pass away, died in 2020.
And while the ceremony was marked by full military honors and one last flyover, the legacy of the twins will live on well beyond their status as Thunderbirds. Not only is Buck’s son Scott a retired Air Force pilot, two of the twins’ granddaughters are currently serving in the Air Force — as pilots.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.