Tag Archives: Thunder Over Michigan

2021 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow

The 2021 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow took place on August 6-8 at the historic Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The theme for the event was a gathering of B-25 Mitchells, with the headlining performance of the USAF Thunderbirds. This was also a year for firsts for the show.

Many airshows cancelled due to Covid-19. However, the crew at Thunder Over Michigan elected to try a 2-show per day, drive-in style format show to be socially responsible yet provide an airshow to the airplane fanatics that craved the rumble of round engines and jet noise. The show morphed into one of the largest in the country when the US Navy’s Blue Angels announced that they would also appear at the show. Thunder Over Michigan was one of only several shows that would host both US jet teams at the same show. The lineup of warbird aircraft, military demos and the TWO jet teams made this one of the best airshows I have ever attended.

Jim Tobul – F4U Corsair “Korean War Hero” Aerobatics

The F4U-4 Corsair “Korean War Hero” (BuNo. 97143/N713JT) owned by Jim Tobul has a combat history aboard two aircraft carriers and two squadrons. The aircraft flew with VF-884 aboard the USS Boxer, and then later with VF-653 aboard the USS Valley Forge. In total the aircraft flew 200 sorties during the Korean War. In 1960, the aircraft was sold to and used by the Honduran Air Force until approximately 1970. In 1981, the Tobul family purchased the aircraft and began a 10-year restoration of the aircraft.

German Luftwaffe A400M Atlas Demo

Thunder Over Michigan has had a fantastic relationship with the German Luftwaffe over the past several years, hosting several different types of aircraft. The A400M demo at Thunder Over Michigan was the first in North America for the type. The Atlas is roughly the equivalent to the USAF C-17 Globemaster III. Although the Atlas is a turboprop, it has very good performance and handling for an aircraft of its size. Very impressive demo!

B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady” and the Little Friends

The Yankee Air Museum’s flagship aircraft, “Yankee Lady” performed in the show making several passes with P-51 Mustangs. Arguably, the B-17 and P-51 are the two most iconic aircraft associated with the USAAF 8th Air Force and the Americans participation in the ETO.

USAF F-35A Lightning II Demo Team

The most impressive single-ship demonstration of the event in my opinion was the USAF F-35 demo. Major Kristen “Beo” Wolfe absolutely shredded the skies in the F-35A Lightning II, the USAF’s newest “lightweight” strike-fighter. The F-35 Demo Team comes from the 388th Fighter Wing, based at Hill AFB, Utah. The skies were challenging, but the crowd was rewarded with amazing photo opportunities of this amazing aircraft and pilot. The aircraft and demo profile bring everything airshow fans want…lots of jet noise, vapes and burner!

USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team

Maj. Hayden “Gator” Fullam piloted the USAF A-10 Warthog Demo. The team is based at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. The aircraft continues to be the premier close air support aircraft in the world. Although I have seen this demo many times, it is still one of my favorites! HOOOGGG!!

USAF Heritage Flight

The USAF Heritage Flight was 3-ship performance, consisting of a P-51D Mustang “Moonbeam McSwine”, and the A-10 and F-35 demo teams.

US Navy Blue Angels

As I said in the intro, this was a solid airshow. With the announcement that the Blues would be in attendance as well propelled this show into the stratosphere. This was the 75th Anniversary of the team, as well as, the team’s first year in the F/A-18 Super Hornets. The team was the morning headliner, and for Sunday’s performance, the team wore yellow flightsuits. Yellow flightsuits are now seen very often and are reserved for special occasions.

Gathering of B-25 Mitchells

The warbird headlining act was the gathering of B-25 Mitchells. In attendance were 14 of the medium bombers. On static display was another, “Sandbar Mitchell”, which is currently being restored. There were several others scheduled to attend, but mechanical issues, Covid-19 travel restrictions or weather prevented the aircraft from attended. Regardless, this was a very impressive collection of B-25s.

The only one I was unable to photograph in the air was “Georgia Mae.” She did not participate in Sunday’s performance.

“Champaign Gal”

Champaign Aviation Museum’s B-25 is “J” model with USAAF serial number 44-28866, and wears civilian registration of N744CG. The airframe was used by the Air Force until 1957. It was retired to the boneyard, and then sold for use as an aerial firefighter until the late 1980s. She was acquired by the museum in 2008, and regularly takes her to airshows around the Midwest.

“Devil Dog”

Devil Dog is part of the Commemorative Air Force, and is the lone aircraft of the “Devil Dog” Squadron. The Devil Dog represents a PBJ-1J in the markings of VMB 612 squadron. The airframe is a B-25J-30-NC and has the serial number is 44-86758. Civilian registration is N9643C.

“Georgie’s Gal”

Liberty Aviation Museum’s B-25 is also a “J” model, with USAAF serial number 44-86777, and wears civilian registration N345BG. She continued with USAF service until 1958. After that she was bought and sold several times and used for various task including executive transport and cargo. Liberty Aviation Museum acquired the aircraft in 2011 and underwent an extensive restoration.

“Killer B”

Tom Reilly owns Killer B, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-86697, and wears civilian registration N62163. The aircraft was basically surplus upon completion at the factory. She was shipped for storage and then eventually transferred to the RCAF. After RCAF duties, she was owned by serval civilians and subsequently used by several Latin American air forces. Reilly restored the aircraft and made the first flight as Killer B in 1995. The aircraft is now home in Titusville, Florida.

“Lady Luck”

C&P Aviation services brought Lady Luck, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number45-8884, and wears civilian registration N5833B. She served with the USAF until 1958, wherein she was sold to numerous civilian owners, including the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. She was acquired by C&P in 1993, and the aircraft is located in Minnesota.

“Maid in the Shade”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Maid in the Shade” a “J” model, with USAAF serial number43-35972, and wears civilian registration N125AZ. She is part of the Air Base Arizona squadron. The airframe has combat history in the Mediterranean Theatre of operations based in Corsica. She ended service with the USAF in 1950. After that she was used as an aerial sprayer. She was obtained by the CAF in 1981.

“Miss Mitchell”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Miss Mitchell” a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-29869, and wears civilian registration N27493. She is part of the Minnesota Wing of the CAF. The aircraft pays tribute to the original aircraft that served with the 310th Bomb Group, 380th Bomb Squadron during 1944-45 in the Mediterranean. The current nose art was painted by the same artist that painted the original “Miss Mitchell” nose art on the original aircraft in 1944.

“Rosie’s Reply”

Yankee Air Museum owns Rosie’s Reply. Unlike most other Mitchells in attendance, she is an early “D” model, with USAAF serial number43-3634, and wears civilian registration N3774. Like “Maid in the Shade”, Rosie has combat history in the Mediterranean, having flown at least eight combat missions. The airframe was initially meant for the RAF, but was forced into USAAF service temporarily. She did return to North America in 1944 and was transferred to the RCAF for use as a training aircraft. She left RCAF service in 1968 and was eventually purchased by Glen Lamont and flown as “Gallant Warrior”. In 1988 she was acquired by the Yankee Air Museum and renamed “Yankee Warrior.” In early 2021, she was repainted into the current scheme, and is representative of the original look during her combat service in the MTO.

“Semper Fi”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Semper Fi”, a  PBJ-1J (the only known flying example). The PBJ is the Navy variant of the B-25 and is manufactured as a B-25J-30-NC. Her serial number is 44-30988 and wears civilian registration N5865V. Semper Fi is part of the Southern California Wing of the CAF. Semper Fi was produced too late in the war to see service, was eventually sold as surplus in 1947. CAF acquired her after numerous civilian owners in 1988 and began a lengthy restoration that was completed in 2016.

“Show Me”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Show Me”, a a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-31385, and wears civilian registration N345TH. She is part of the Missouri Wing of the CAF. The airframe served as a trainer with the USAF until 1959. She was subsequently sold as surplus. After several private owners, she was purchased by the CAF in 1982.

“Take-Off Time”

Tom Duffy owns Take-Off Time, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-30832, and wears civilian registration N3155G. The aircraft is frequently seen at many Mid West. Little other details appear to be available about the aircraft.

“Wild Cargo”

The Military Air Museum owns Wild Cargo, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-30129, and wears civilian registration N7947C. The airframe served with the USAF as a trainer until 1958. It was subsequently sold as surplus. After a handful of other owners, the Military Air Museum acquired the airframe in 1997 and was restored to flight status in 2005. In addition to the B-25, the Military Air Museum has a large number of flyable WWI and WWII aircraft. It is well worth the trip to Virginia Beach, VA to check this collection out!

“Yankee Doodle” aka “Axis Nightmare”

The Tri-State Warbird Museum owns “Yankee Doodle”, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number45-8898, and wears civilian registration N898BW. The airframe was produced too late in the war to see service. She was immediately placed into storage. Eventually, she served as a trainer with the USAF until 1959. After being purchased as surplus, the aircraft was only flown for a handful of years before sitting derelict. She was recovered in 1983 and began flight again after a restoration in 1985. Tri-State Warbird Museum acquired the aircraft in 2004 and was flown in the markings of the RAF with nose art of “Axis Nightmare.” The aircraft is now a “star”, having been one of the two B-25s used to Hulu remake of the film “Catch-22.” It currently wears the nose art of “Yankee Doodle.” It is uncertain if the current scheme will remain or if the museum will revert it back to “Axis Nightmare.”

“Georgia Mae”

Wiley Sanders from Alabama owns Georgia Mae, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-86785, and wears civilian registration N5262V. Like several others in attendance, this airframe was produced too late in the war to see service and was immediately placed into storage. It was eventually used by the USAF as a trainer and sold as surplus in 1958. The current owner purchased it in 1983 and completed restoration in 1985. Little else is known about the aircraft.

US Navy EA-18G Growler Demo Team

The USN Growler team made their first Michigan appearance. The EA-18G Growler is the Navy’s electronic warfare and countermeasures aircraft. The Growler is a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, with modifications to the aircraft for the specifics of electronics warfare. The most notable difference from the Super Hornet is the addition of the electronic pods on the wingtips instead of the usual missile rails.

The team does not perform a full aerobatic demonstration of the aircraft, but does provide several nice high-performance passes and climbs.

“Mad Max” P-51 Mustang Aerobatics

Lou Horschel performed an aerobatic routine in his TP-51D Mustang. The airframe is USAAF serial number 45-11559 and wears civilian registration of N51MX.

US Navy Legacy Flight

The Legacy flight returned to the Michigan skies in the form of the EA-18 Growler along with Jim Tobul’s F4U-4 Corsair. The formation was done fantastically.

USAF Thunderbirds

The featured jet team for the afternoon performance was the USAF Thunderbirds. The ceiling for Sunday’s performance was not ideal, but the team still pulled off a fantastic show and capped a memorable airshow.

Closing

The 2021 show certainly set the bar high for future Thunder Over Michigan airshows. Whether this is a blessing or a curse is yet to be determined. Regardless, the event was a huge success, and it was wonderful to see all of the aircraft in the sky above Michigan. I wish to thank Yankee Air Museum’s Executive Director, Kevin Walsh, for his continued support of my airshow photography.

Remembering My Time With An Aviation Icon: Chuck Yeager

On December 7, 2020 the aviation community lost a legend of the industry. Chuck Yeager was an Ace fighter pilot in World War II, a historic test pilot, author and even had some acting experience in movies and TV commercials. When I was growing up, I idolized Mr. Yeager. He was larger than life and was the hero type for an airplane obsessed kid like me growing up in the 1970s and 80s. I read his two autobiography books, I clipped out his advertisements for AC Delco and the F-20 that were in the magazines. He had done it all in the aviation world and was the coolest pilot in the world in my eyes.

I always said if I ever had the chance to meet him, I would do so. I finally had the opportunity to meet him on August 9, 2003. At the time, the Thunder Over Michigan airshow was in its infancy. It was primarily a warbird airshow and would bring in a number of special guests to attract visitors. In 2003, amongst the special guests was Charles “Chuck” Yeager. It was announced that Mr. Yeager would be signing autographs during the Sunday show. I got in line to wait for my turn to meet my childhood hero.

Up to this point, I had never met any of my person celebrity icons. I had mixed feelings about doing so. I was always afraid that I would make a fool of myself, fumbling for something to say or that the celebrity would be rude or different than I expected. My brush with Mr. Yeager confirmed my fears!

In short, Mr. Yeager was rude to me and his personality was not what I had hoped for in meeting my aviation icon. However, I believe that there is an explanation for his actions. While in line, the guy in front of me had a HUGE bag of items. He clearly was at the show for the autographs. As we drew closer to our turn, he started grabbing out his items. A photo, a couple magazine ads, a X-1 die cast plane, etc. Meanwhile, I was in awe seeing the legend in front of me smiling and speaking with the people in front of him. Fast forward a few minutes and I was next in line. I get my item to be signed ready, confirm my camera is working and anxiously wait my turn.

Then the trouble started. I was watching the guy that was in front of me at the table. He started talking to Mr. Yeager and pointing for him to sign this and that. Also do not sign here or put his hand there while signing. Finally, Mr. Yeager yelled at him “stop barking orders and this is the last thing I am signing for you!” The guy packed his items and Mr. Yeager’s assistant asked me to step up. Mr. Yeager was now visually upset.

I handed over my photo and Mr. Yeager asked my name to personalize the photo. “It is an honor to meet you Mr. Yeager” I said. “You are my childhood hero.” Mr. Yeager grunted as a response and personalized my photo. He shook my hand and brushed my photo to the side quickly to move onto the next person. I was terribly disappointed with the experience. Crap…that was not how I wanted my time to go with him. I was in shock at that point. Excited to have met a historical figure, but disappointed.

Chuck Yeager signing my photograph
Photo after I gathered my belongings…

After time has passed, my feelings have changed about the matter. Many of my aviation friends and colleagues have met Mr. Yeager and expressed their opinion about him. Some positive, some have been negative. I chose to think that the guy in front of me tarnished the experience. He upset Mr. Yeager with his demands and bossy demeanor. Mr. Yeager did not have time to “shake it off” and get back to his normal self. Like I mentioned, most of the people before me were treated friendly and given some time with him. I wish my interaction with him was different, but I consider myself fortunate to have had the experience.

Although my time with Mr. Yeager was brief, I accomplished my goal of meeting him and shook the man’s hand. I still believe him to be an icon of the modern aviation era, and he is still one of my heroes!

My personalized photo signed by Chuck Yeager!

2019 Thunder Over Michigan

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…

10 of the 11 Corsairs in attendance run up prior to the aerial display on Sunday

Corsair photo passes…

Corsair flat passes…

Corsair landing passes…

Pinups

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!

P-51 Mustangs

A handful of P-51 Mustangs attended and several flew over the weekend. Merlin music to the ears!

B-25 Mitchells

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.