Tag Archives: Thunder Over Michigan

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 WWII.

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.