The image above is the US Navy’s Legacy Flight from the 2017 Cleveland National Air Show. CAF Dixie Wing’s FG-1D Corsair leads a F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators. Traditionally, this is always a highlight of an airshow for me when a warbird flies formation with a current military aircraft. I was exhilarated at the time since the combination of a Corsair and Super Hornet was something I rarely witnessed – along with the fact that two of my favorite aircraft were together. What I failed to recognize when I took this image is the history it captures. At the time, this photo represented the US Navy’s first strike-fighter, the Corsair, and their current strike-fighter, the Super Hornet.
What is a strike-fighter? Some official definition may exist, but the general idea is that a strike-fighter is an aircraft primarily designed for fighting other aircraft in air-to-air combat but also has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance such as bombs, rockets or other munitions when needed.
The genesis of the strike-fighter idea was born out of boredom and necessity. The VF-17 “Jolly Rogers” were a land based F4U Corsair unit deployed to the Solomon Islands. The Jolly Rogers led by Lt. Commander Tom Blackburn along with sister USMC F4U squadrons, RNZAF P-40s and USAAF P-38s eliminated the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy aircraft. The Japanese realized the Solomon Islands were lost and pulled what remained of the air fleet back to defend mainland Japan. With no aerial opposition, the fighter sweeps became hours of boredom for the fighter pilots. However, the ground battle still was long from over. Since a fighter plane escort of bomber aircraft was no longer required, Blackburn along with other members of VF-17 came up with a plan…carry a bomb and help the guys on the ground.
At the time, this was a radical idea. Aircraft were designed for a specific purpose – fighter, dive-bomber, torpedo and bomber. The aircraft did not have wiring for wing or fuselage mounted ordinance. Work was initiated and a rough bomb rack and cockpit wiring were installed. After a few modifications, a bomb rack that could safely carry and deliver a bomb was complete. Blackburn sold the idea to his superiors and the idea was tested out operationally.
This innovation and idea was eventually approved for all Corsair units. Engineering from the original VF-17 design was modified and incorporated into manufacturing at Chance-Vought and Goodyear. These modifications included permanent wing and fuselage wiring to allow external ordinance.
Ultimately, that decision to allow a fighter to carry bombs has permanently changed Naval Aviation. In the immediate future, F6F Hellcats were modified to carry bombs and rockets similar to the F4U-1/FG-1 Corsairs. Nearly every Navy/USMC fighter aircraft since has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance.
The fleet is now beginning to deploy the F-35C along with the USMC F-35B, the next generation of strike-fighters. The F/A-18 and F-35 will continue the strike-fighter duties for the next several decades.
Only about 45 years separate the Corsair and Super Hornet.
The 2019 Planes of Fame airshow was held on May 3 – 5 at the Chino Airport. This annual gathering of Warbird aircraft is always impressive and brings out the fighter aircraft heavy iron!
Prior to the show starting, the crowd is allowed to get up close and personal with the aircraft participating in the flying portion of the show on the hot ramp area. This year there were four hot ramp areas to walk. An impressive variety of aircraft were present from the early 1930’s to present day aircraft from the USAF and local police units. It is so neat to walk by these aerial titans and get to see them up close and personal. You get to see the variety of designs, the different paint schemes and the overall size of these airframes. It is a virtual history lesson with each and every aircraft practically since no one model is alike in this day and age. It is amazing to think that in just a short span of time, all of these aircraft will be flying and providing visual and audible bliss to those that enjoy aviation.
The Opening: Thunderbolts and Lightnings
This year, four Jugs participated in the flying, although on Sunday it was reduced to three due to a mechanical problem on “Snafu”. For many years, the P-47 was a rare aircraft. However, there are numerous examples now, with several more currently in restoration. The P-47s included:
PoF’s unnamed Razorback
P-47D Thunderbolt “Dottie Mae”
Two P-38s were in the air at this event. Planes of Fame’s “23 Skidoo” and Allied Fighter‘s “Honey Bunny”
The demonstration included several C-47s full of paratroopers from the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team that jumped to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of 1944. Several P-40s and numerous P-51 Mustangs participated. Several notable oddities were witnessed (with explanation). PoF’s Pilatus P2-06 was painted in a German Luftwaffe camouflage scheme. Also the rare P-51A Mustang normally marked as “Mrs. Virginia” was painted in RCAF markings to commemorate Hollis Hills, an American serving in the RCAF, and credited with the first aerial victory in a P-51. Both aircraft were temporarily painted for movie use.
Intermisssion: Veteran Panel Discussion
Intermission is a special time at the show. Although traditionally a time that allows for food and restroom breaks or even a stop to a vendor table, this show is different. Every year, PoF brings in a group of veterans to speak about their experiences. The group is a diverse blend of veterans that varies from both sides.
This year, the highlight for me was Colonel Clarence “Bud” Anderson. During WW II, he flew P-51 Mustangs in the 357th Fighter Group and was a triple ace. After the war, he became a test pilot and later commanded a fighter squadron and eventually became a wing commander in Vietnam . Mr. Anderson is also known for being a close friend of Chuck Yeager. Bud Anderson also wrote a memoir of his aviation days, To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace.
Early Afternoon: PTO WWII Aircraft
Flying resumed with the aircraft of the Pacific Theatre of Operations, including PoF’s original A6M5 “Zeke” and GossHawk Unlimited‘s PB4Y-2 Privateer. Fans of the radial engine growl were not disappointed. With numerous passes high and low, the audience got a fantastic view of the various types represented: fighters, dive bomber, medium bomber, torpedo bomber and heavy bomber.
Korean War Era
The Korean War era was well represented this year with a variety of aircraft. Korea occured at a time when the various services were transitioning from piston powered aircraft to jets. “Old” types like the P-51 and F4U were still operational and saw service early in the conflict. The US Navy had two newer aircraft on their decks, the AD-4 Skyraider and F7F Tigercat, while the Brits had the Sea Fury. The USAF used the F-80/T-33 Shooting Star and F-86. The Communist forces were also transitioning from piston power to turbines, moving from types like the YAK-3 to MIG-15.
This year, an A-26C Invader “Sweet Eloise” (44-34313/N4313) owned by Black Crow Aviation LLC represented the USAF medium bomber presence. Sadly, PoF’s F-86 was unable to participate due to mechanical issues.
Late Afternoon: Warbird Aerobatics
Stew Dawson F7F Tigercat Aerobatics
Stew Dawson put the F7F Tigercat “Here Kitty Kitty” owned by Lewis Air Legends thru an amazing aerobatic demonstration. The power and sound of the Tigercat is incredible.
Greg Coyler: Ace Makers Airshows T-33 Shooting Star
Greg “Wired” Colyer performed jet warbird acrobatics in his newly restored T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker III”. Greg is well known around the airshow industry and puts on a high energy demonstration in the Shooting Star. While not performing, Greg founded the nonprofit (501c-3) T-33 Heritage Foundation to help in the preservation of the type. Look for Greg at an airshow near you at the Ace Maker website.
Sanders Sea Fury Aerobatics
Frand Sanders performed a fantastic acro routine in the Sea Fury. The Sea Fury has smoke generators on each wing which provide beautiful vortice smoke trails. The climax of the routine is the down low and in close photo pass with the smoke on.
Reno Air Racing Demonstration
Returning in 2019, the Reno Air Racing Unlimited Division demo increased in size and included P-51s included “Voodoo”, “Strega” and “Goldfinger”. The lone Sea Fury was “Dreadnaught”. The demo included several hot laps and even included the opening by the PoF T-33.
Show Closing: USAF Heritage Flight
The close of the show includes the flight display by the USAF’s F-16 Viper demo team. Officially known as the “Fighting Falcon”, the F-16 is perhaps the most successful modern fighter aircraft and is also the aircraft used by the USAF Thunderbirds demonstration team.
After the high energy demo, the pace slows down to pay tribute to the heritage of the USAF. This show included a flight of arguably the service’s two most successful multirole aircraft, the P-47 Thunderbolt and the F-16 Viper.
Views around the field…
The Planes of Fame Airshow is a world class event, and certainly one of the best warbird shows in the United States. Sure, some aircraft are there each year, but you just never know what surprises may unfold. Besides the aircraft, it is always welcome to see friends that have become like family that you may only see once or twice a year.
It was refreshing to see politics set aside with the entire airport working together to make an incredible event possible. Cheers to an amazing show and I cannot wait till the next one.
The 2019 National Warplane Museum Airshow took place on July 12 – 14th and brought in a nice selection of warbird aircraft . Featured performers included the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II demo, Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team and the Alabama Boys comedy routine by the talented Greg Koontz.
B-17 Flying Fortress “Movie Memphis Belle”
The National Warplane Museum leased the B-17 Flying Fortress “Movie Memphis Belle” to take to events and for riders to purchase flight experiences. She is a replica copy of the first 8th AF Bomber crew to complete their tour of 25 missions. The aircraft starred in the movie “The Memphis Belle” and has been a huge hit on the airshow scene for a number of years. She looks “rough” but that is part of her appeal. She looks like a B-17 used almost daily during the 8th AF bombing campaign. The Movie Belle is nearly a visual replica of the original, but there are two main differences. Can you spot the differences? If so, drop me a note…I know ’em!
Canadian Harvard Formation Team
The Canadian Harvard Formation Team performed their routine. Looking as sharp as ever, the yellow Harvard aircraft put on a routine that is impressive considering how demanding the aircraft is to fly. Pilots always said that if you can handle a Harvard (Texan in America), you can handle any of the fighter aircraft of the era.
C-47 Skytrains / C-53 Skytrooper
The National Warplane Museum’s own C-47 “Whiskey 7” led a handful of C-47s and a C-53 in a tribute to the 75th Anniversary of the D-day Invasion. Several of the aircraft were on the return leg of their trip back from recent festivities at Normandy Beach in France. Several on display were nice to see and a total surprise to see them.
B-25 Mitchells “Champaign Gal” and “Miss Hap”
Two B-25s were in attendance, “Champaign Gal” from the Champaign Aviation Museum and “Miss Hap” from the American Airpower Museum. Miss Hap was the fourth B-25 off of the assembly line and is the oldest surviving B-25. Another notable is that the airframe was the personal transport of General Hap Arnold.
P-40 Warhawk “American Dream”
The TP-40N Warhawk “American Dream” from Warbird Adventures was the lone P-40 present. The P-40 has a strong history in the western New York area since they were designed and built by Curtiss-Wright, with the factory located in Buffalo, NY. “American Dream” has been modified with dual controls, which allows for a passenger and the ability for the passenger to pilot the aircraft. This configuration is extremely rare and is the only commercially available P-40 for dual instruction.
F4U/FG-1D Corsair “GodSpeed”
Goodyear built Corsair “GodSpeed” is painted in tribute to Marine Aviator, John Glenn. Charlie Lynch was at the controls both days and performed an excellent aerobatic demonstration of the Corsair’s abilities.
P-40 & Corsair Formation
Charlie Lynch and Thom Richards joined up for several fantastic photo passes in the P-40 & Corsair.
P-51 Mustangs “Swamp Fox” and “Mad Max”
Two P-51 Mustangs were on hand for Geneseo 2019. P-51D “Swamp Fox” owned and operated by RT Dickson and TF-51D “Mad Max” owned and operated by Louis Horschel.
Around the field
If you have never experienced the Geneseo show, it is a must for Warbird enthusiasts and is an amazing experience. To see aircraft on the grass as they would have been in the 1930s and 1940s is just special. Geneseo also seems to be full of surprises and acts you would not expect at a Warbird show. Pictured below are a Beech Staggerwing, TBM Avenger, Stearman, A-10C from the USAF A-10 Demo Team, and the ever entertaining Greg Koontz.
Thanks for a great time Geneseo, hopefully see you in 2020!
The 2019 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow took place on August 3-4, 2019 at the Willow Run Airport and hosted by the Yankee Air Museum. This year’s theme was “Corsair Crazy” and was billed as the largest gathering of Corsairs since active duty use of the aircraft in Korea.
Many of my colleagues and friends were skeptical of the show. Sadly, several years were disappointing due to poor weather or mechanical issues that prevented attendance of some of the featured aircraft. However, 2019 was NOT that year. The weather was good and the Corsairs showed up to perform! The magic sound of the mighty Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines flooded our ears and the blue “bent wing birds” thrilled our eyes. In total, 11 Corsairs of different varieties appeared. Only several cancelled due to maintenance and/or landing mishaps prior to the event. Still, having eleven machines in one spot was simply amazing and a sight to behold. And that does not include the other “heavy iron” brought in for the show!
Corsairs on the ground…
Corsair photo passes…
Corsair flat passes…
Corsair landing passes…
One of the fun things about Thunder Over Michigan is the abundance of reenactors and pinups that play along and let people to photograph them. Two of my favorites returned for 2019, Miss Blonde Ambition, and Miss Yankee Belle. Check out their Instagram pages for more shots!
A handful of P-51 Mustangs attended and several flew over the weekend. Merlin music to the ears!
Several B-25 Mitchells attended, including Yankee Air Museum’s own B-25, “Yankee Warrior” and “Georgie’s Gal” owned by the Liberty Aviation Museum.
The Class of ’45
The Class of ’45 demo is flown by Scott Yoak and Jim Tobul. Scott flies the P-51D Mustang “Quick Silver” and Jim Tobul flies the F4U-4 Corsair “Korean War Hero”. Arguably, these two aircraft are the most popular American fighter airframes from WWII and are subject to endless debates over which was superior. It is incredible to see these icons in the air and in their element.
Interestingly, the pilots both have a similar experience – restoring their aircraft with their fathers. Jim restored the F4U with his father Joe and the airframe is a combat veteran with over 200 missions over Korea. Scott restored his Mustang with his father Bill, and is an airframe made up of parts from over 200 other Mustangs. Full details of the aircraft are on their website: Class of ’45.
The demo includes solo aerobatics in each aircraft and wonderfully close and low photo passes. Then the two join and make several tight photo passes. The finale includes a show center crossover maneuver that is similar to those of the military jet teams.
Military Heavy Iron
Although primarily a warbird show, Thunder Over Michigan also usually produces an abundance of interest from the military. This year was no exception. The USAF sent the F-16 Viper demo team which tore up the skies. The RCAF brought the CC-130 Hercules for a demo and several F-15E Eagles came from Mountain Home AFB in Montana. The F-15 crews were both all female. Those ladies were enjoying their time in the air and provided some nice burner and vapes! I certainly miss the F-15 and F-15E demo teams. The Air Force also brought four AT-6 Texan IIs and they did several wonderful formation passes. The German Luftwaffe also participated again, sending an A400M Atlas cargo plane to participate in the static display.
Sunday we were treated to the departure of two F/A-18-G Growlers and the CH-47 Chinook from the Michigan Army National Guard.
Thunder Over Michigan was fun and enjoyed by my friends and family. I am eager to see what 2020 brings. Check out the Yankee Air Museum for details about the museum, purchasing rides on one of their aircraft and the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow.
A special thanks goes out to the Thunder Over Michigan team for their hard word on this show, and especially to Yankee Air Museum’s Executive Director, Kevin Walsh, for the hospitality and support of my photojournalism work.