Nike has revolutionized the athletic footwear industry in countless ways over the decades, but perhaps the one Swoosh technology that stands out above all the rest in terms of its lasting imprint in the sneaker world is Nike Air cushioning.
As the story goes, in 1977, aerospace technology specialist Frank Rudy came to Nike with an ingenious idea: to put an air pocket inside the sole of a shoe as a form of more sufficient cushioning. Nike took that idea and ran with it--literally.
Within a year, Nike introduced the first shoe ever to feature its proprietary Air technology in the appropriately named Air Tailwind running shoe. Following just a short stint in Nike’s R&D facilities, the Air Tailwind was released in limited quantities in Hawaii ahead of the 1978 Honolulu Marathon. It didn’t take long for the game-changing shoe to sell out and create an undying buzz in the running world. Thus a legend was born.
Though weary of the idea at first, runners were eager to put the innovative cushioning platform to the test. They got their chance the following year in 1979, when Nike announced a full-fledged distribution effort for the Air Tailwind.
Since the original Air Tailwind made its debut in the late ‘70s, Nike has expanded the iconic series with the addition of newer models that don’t necessarily share much with the OG version in terms of design, but are still anchored with the same Air cushioning concept that put the Air Tailwind on the map.
Nike Air Tailwind
Release date: 1978
Just like the air in your car tires helps reduce shock from impact for a smooth ride, air in your shoes works in a similar fashion by giving runners a platform that provides responsive cushioning, lasting comfort and increased stamina.
The Air Tailwind, with its speed-driven design, breathable construction and durability proved to be the ideal shoe to feature the game-changing Nike Air technology. Loaded with a pouch of air that Nike claimed would never go flat, the Air Tailwind became a bit of obsession for runners looking to go the distance without feeling the hurt. Those who were lucky enough to test out the Tailwind were reluctant to return even the crudest of prototypes. The shoe marked the start of a new generation of athletic footwear. Thus a legend was born.
Nike Air Tailwind 92
Release date: 1992
Retro style and new-age technology came together quite nicely in the Nike Air Tailwind ‘92 running shoe. Though the shoe, with its abstract overlays and ‘90-inspired design, was a far cry from the original Air Tailwind silhouette, it continued the trend started by the OG version of giving runners the most cushioned platform around. The Air Tailwind ‘92 featured the best in both durability and comfort thanks to a breathable mesh/leather upper. Air cushioning in the midsole was complemented by a waffle outsole that was designed for the road, but could take on other types of terrain if needed.
Nike Air Max Tailwind 96
Release date: 1996
Unlike the original Tailwind, whose Air unit was hidden inside the midsole, by the time the Tailwind 96 came to be, Nike had begun making its Air cushioning visible to the eye for everyone to see. Despite its clunky construction, the shoe performed with the best of ‘em. In fact, the Tailwind 96 is regarded by many as one of the best Nike running shoes of the ‘90s era.
Nike Air Max Tailwind II
The Air Max Tailwind II wasn’t much to write home about in terms of design, but it proved to be a no-frills running shoe heavy on the cushioning and versatility. The shoe featured organic wrap-around lines similar to other Nike running shoes from the era, including the Air Max 95.
Nike Air Max Tailwind III
In ‘98, Nike reworked the leather overlays on the Tailwind II the previous year and called the finished product the Tailwind III. The shoe featured the same Air Max platform like the models before it, and paired it with an asymmetrically designed upper for an enhanced fit. With ample room in both the heel and forefoot, the Tailwind III became a shoe of choice for runners with bigger-than-average feet.
Nike Air Tailwind IV
Release date: 1999
In terms of aesthetics, Nike truly hit it out of the park with the Air Max Tailwind IV. Not since the Tailwind 96 had the series taken on such a bold design. The breathable mesh/synthetic upper featured a ribbed design on the sidewalls--a perfect look to compliment the turn of the century. The shoe’s Air Sole units provided unmatched comfort, while a durable BRS 1000 carbon rubber outsole gave runners unparalleled gripping ability.
Nike Air Max Tailwind+
Release date: 2009
While the Air Tailwind series got its start as a road racing shoe, by the time Nike introduced the Plus-enabled version in 2009, the shoe held the capacity of tearing up tough terrain equally as well. A full-length polyurethane midsole embedded by Air pockets in both the heel and forefoot offered cushioning and stability on uneven surfaces, while the same BRS 1000 rubber outsole seen in the previous version stuck around to make sure runners stayed on their feet. Paired with the Nike+ SportsBand, the Air Max Tailwind+ could give users instant feedback on their performance.
Nike Air Max Tailwind+ 2
Release date: 2010
In 2010, Nike released the follow-up iteration to the Plus-enabled Tailwind in the Tailwind+ 2. While the shoe featured a redesigned midsole platform complete with additional windows to really let the Air Max technology shine, the concept was the same here: dual pressure Air units in the forefoot and heel would act as a suspension system for runners. And once again users were given the ability to track their progress by linking the shoe to a Nike+ SportsBand device.
Nike Air Max Tailwind+ 3
Release date: 2011
By the time the Air Max Tailwind+ 3 rolled around, it was no longer just a one-dimensional running shoe. Rather, the Tailwind+ 3 became an instant hit for all-purpose training thanks to its targeted cushioning and sturdy support. It featured the same midsole platform as the Tailwind+ 2, but with a tweaked upper that featured another one of Nike’s marquee running technologies: Flywire. Inside, a molded sockliner conformed to the foot for a custom fit. Outside, a classic Waffle pattern on the outsole featured deeper flex grooves for improved flexibility and an overall smoother ride.
Nike Air Max Tailwind+ 4
Release date: 2012
Given the profound success of the Air Max Tailwind+ 3, Nike didn’t change much on the next installment of the series. In fact, the only noticeable difference was the repositioning of the Swoosh branding from the midfoot to the heel, along with the use of slightly less material on the upper. The Flywire strands were a bit more refined on the Tailwind+ 4, giving it even better midfoot support and a more streamlined look.
Nike Air Max Tailwind+ 5
Release date: 2013
The fifth edition of the Tailwind+ series was all about a smooth ride. Released not to long ago in February 2013, the shoe was designed specifically for runners with a neutral gait. Nike reversed the construction of the Tailwind+ 4 and slapped a thin mesh overlay atop the Flywire to improve the shoe’s breathability and streamline its design even further. For the first time in the history of the series, Nike added a new Cushlon midsole for a smoother stride over longer distances.
Nike Air Max Tailwind+ 6
Release date: 2013
Less than a year after releasing the Tailwind+ 5, Nike gave the series a complete head-to-toe makeover and introduced the new-look Air Max Tailwind+ 6. Nike did away with the Flywire upper on the previous editions in lieu of an engineered foam version that conforms to the shape of the foot for a locked-in fit. Along with an updated upper, the latest Tailwind features larger Air pocket windows for better visual appeal, and Nike even went bold with the initial color offerings of the shoe (see the technicolor Gamma Blue colorway featured above).