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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.

2021 World War II Weekend – Reading, PA

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum hosted their annual “World War II Weekend on June 4-6, 2021. This is likely the largest event of its kind in the entire United States. In addition to the remarkable airshow, the museum hosts numerous reenactors that set up camps for the weekend as well as hundreds of WWII era antique military vehicles. Every theatre of operations is represented in some fashion, as well as many of the Allied and Axis units. It really is a case of visual sensory overload with so many things to see.

The aircraft lineup is impressive, with some aircraft visiting each year while others rotate. This year had several aircraft that I had not seen in person, so it was a real treat. Weather across the United States prevented several aircraft from attending and maintenance issues claimed several other airframes (a usual problem for most airshows).

This was my first airshow of 2021, so I was very pleased that Mother Nature cooperated by providing beautiful skies and pleasant temperatures. My last experience here was quite the opposite, and the mud on the airfield is legendary for making a mess of everything.

Enough of the warm-up, here are the photos!

Navy Bombers & Torpedo Aircraft

TBM-3E Avenger – “Doris Mae”

Commemorative Air Force Capital Wing flew their TBM-3E Avenger “Doris Mae”. She flies with civil registry N40402.

SBD-5 Dauntless

Commemorative Air Force Air Base Georgia brought their SBD-5 Dauntless.

Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft

Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft were represented by replicas of the B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber and D3A “Val” dive bomber. Both aircraft are movie prop conversions of American aircraft to simulate the Japanese aircraft. The Kate was the Japanese equivalent of the TBF/TBM Avenger, while the Val is similar to the SBD Dauntless.

Commemorative Air Force Air Base Georgia owns the Kate. DUring Saturday’s flight, the right main landing gear would not properly retract. Thankfully, the issue was only a visual problem and did not result in any further problems.

USAAF Medium Bombers

B-25 Mitchell “Rosie’s Reply”

The Yankee Air Museum brought several of their aircraft including their recently repainted B-25D, now named “Rosie’s Reply”. The aircraft was repainted in early 2021 to represent its combat service in Italy in 1944. The nose art is not authentic, but the other markings are accurate to the airframe. Prior to the repainting, the aircraft was polished aluminum and flown as “Yankee Warrior”.

B-25 Mitchell “Take-Off Time”

Tom Duffy/Claire Aviation brought their B-25N. I do not have much other information about this B-25, but it was a pleasant surprise to see her. I had not seen this one out in several years.

B-25 Mitchell “Panchito”

Delaware Aviation Museum brought their beautiful Mitchell named “Panchito”. The aircraft was very active throughout the day with numerous passenger flights. However, on a flight in the early afternoon, it performed an emergency landing with one engine feathered. Thankfully, no injuries were reported. The aircraft remained for several weeks while waiting for an engine replacement.

Fighters

P-51 Mustangs

“Tiger’s Revenge”is a 2018 restoration into a TP-51 configuration. I believe it to be owned by Ron Lauder and flown out of New York. This was my first time seeing this aircraft and it is very sharp looking.

Tom Duffy/Claire Aviation’s spectacular Mustang “Kwitcherbitchin”. This is another Mustang that I had not seen up until this show. This is a really sharp looking aircraft!

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P-63 King Cobra “Miss Betty” – NX191H /42-68941

Commemorative Air Force Air Base Georgia also brought their rare P-63 King Cobra. The aircraft was originally a test bed aircraft, and the markings are authentic to the aircraft.

F4U Corsairs

Commemorative Air Force Air Base Georgia brought their FG-1D Corsair, BuNo 92468 (N9964Z). It is one of the original Commemorative Air Force aircraft, and is painted to in the colors of VMF-312 representing 1st Lt. MO Chance.

Charlie Lynch piloting Mark Murphy’s FG-1 Corsair NX83JC “God Speed” in tribute to John Glenn.

A6M2 Model 21 Zero – NX8280K

Mark Murphy piloted his A6M2

Fighter Formations

Transports

C-46 Commando “The Tinker Belle”

Warriors and Warbirds Museum brought the large C-46.

C-47D Skytrain “Hairless Joe” – N8704/44-76716

Yankee Air Museum also brought their C-47 Skytrain “Hairless Joe”. The museum recently repainted the aircraft in the livery of Captain Richard Cole. If the name sounds familiar, it should be. Cole was the co-pilot of aircraft #1 of the famous Doolittle Raid of B-25s of April, 1942. Afterwards, Cole was reassigned to stay and fly the “hump” over Burma. Cole was recruited by the 1st Air Commando and participated in the invasion of Burma. “Hairless Joe” was the name of his aircraft.

Heavy Bombers

B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady” N3193G/44-85829

Yankee Air Museum brought their flagship aircraft, their B-17G “Yankee Lady”. The aircraft is painted to represent an aircraft serving in the 8th Air Force, 381st Bomb Group located at Ridgewell, England.

B-29 Super Fortress “FiFi” – N529B

Commemorative Air Force brought their marque aircraft the famous B-29 “FiFi”. For many years, it was the lone flying B-29 in the world. While no longer the only flying example, it is remarkable to see one of the most iconic aircraft of WWII up close and personal, as well as in the air flying.

Around the field

Mid-Atlantic Air Museums current project is restoring the ultra-rare P-61 Black Widow to flyable condition.

Antique Military Vehicle Parade

Trainers and L-Birds

The show featured a wide variety of WWII trainers and Liaison (L-Bird) aircraft.

My Ride In Yankee Air Museum’s B-25D Mitchell “Yankee Warrior”

In August, 2018 I had the opportunity to take a ride on the Yankee Air Museum’s B-25D Mitchell. This ride was special in several ways, and it was something I had been dreaming about doing since I was a kid. This specific aircraft was likely the first flying “warbird” I ever encountered. I first saw “Yankee Warrior” back in the mid-1980s at the local Muskegon Air Fair, the main airshow near my home town. Although at the time it was known as “Gallant Warrior”. Every year it seemed to be there, and it was always one I snapped a quick photo of the nose art using my Kodak 110 camera.  As my knowledge of WWII history and the B-25’s importance to the war effort increased, so did my desire to fly in one. The dream has finally come true.

B-25D Mitchell “Yankee Warrior” at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s WWII Weekend Airshow

Aircraft History

Unlike many of the other flying B-25s, this is an early D model. The difference between the early and late models is easily distinguished. On the earlier models, like “Yankee Warrior”, the top turret is located in the rear third of the fuselage, and the tail gun station is merely an observation bubble with a single machine gun. On later models, the turret was moved to just behind the cockpit to allow for waist gunners, and a formal tail gunner’s position was created.

The B-25 was made famous by the “Doolittle Raid” of April, 1942. Sixteen B-25s took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and made the first strikes against mainland Japan. Although the strikes did minimal damage, the impact to the Japanese defense strategy was immense. Additionally, the raid provided a much-needed boost to the morale of the American public.

Yankee Warrior was produced by the North American plant on December 15, 1943 as serial number 43-3634 and was originally destined to be a part of the Royal Air Force (RAF) lend-lease program. Instead the USAAF took possession and assigned it to the 12th Air Force in Corsica, Italy. The aircraft was assigned to the 57th Bomber Wing, 340th Bomber Group, and flew eight combat missions between April and May 1944. The journey to the RAF began on May 12, 1944 when the aircraft was flown back to the United States. The RAF took possession of the aircraft in October 1944 and assigned the airframe to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Vancouver, British Columbia as a multi-engine trainer. The airframe remained in RCAF service until 1962, and was sold as surplus. After briefly flying in Canadian civil registry, the aircraft was sold to an American and brought to Ohio. Glen Lamont purchased the aircraft from the owner in Ohio in July of 1968 and the registered the aircraft as N3774 with the FAA, the code which remains today. Mr. Gallant had the nose art painted and the aircraft became known as “Gallant Warrior”. In 1988, the fledgling Yankee Air Force (now known as the Yankee Air Museum) purchased the B-25 to add to the museum’s flying collection. The aircraft was later renamed to “Yankee Warrior”.

Flight

The day of my flight was warm with minimal overcast skies. My partner for the ride was my daughter, Samantha, along with three other passengers. We were shuttled out to the active side of the airport and given a planeside safety briefing. The briefing was short yet provided all of the safety needs for the aircraft. Me, Samantha and one other passenger were assigned to start the flight in the aft section of the aircraft. Sammy and I took position near the waist windows while the other fella took the tail gunners seat in the very aft of the aircraft behind the top turret.  The other two riders started out in the radio operator and bombardier positions in the front of the aircraft.

Safety Briefing under the wing. Photo by Kerry J. Newstead

Once everyone was seated and the safety belts were inspected, the all clear signal was given and the two large R-2600 Double Cyclone radial engines coughed to life. As the engines warmed up, the loud backfires could be heard and felt. The B-25 has a reputation as being a very loud aircraft inside, and it is one I can confirm! The engines are mounted close to the fuselage and have a “short stack” exhaust system. The minimal sound muffling of the engine exhaust lead to many of the aircrews having some degree of hearing loss after numerous flights on the aircraft.  Although loud, I loved it. Reluctantly, we placed the ear protection over our ears and waited to taxi for takeoff. After a brief taxi, we were ready to go. The engines were run up to full power and the brakes were released. The Mitchell began to climb as the wheels retracted into the gear nacelles behind the engines. We leveled off and were cleared to explore the other aircrew positions. The fuselage in the Mitchell is narrow, with little room to move easily about.

Samantha is ready to go!

The real challenge was to move into the forward compartments or stay put. Between the forward cabin and the rear is the bomb bay. The only way between is a small rectangular tunnel that can only be traversed while on your back. I am a big guy, so there was no way I was going to risk getting stuck. However, Sammy swallowed deep and decided to go for it. She climbed up and a few seconds later was into the forward crew compartments. She climbed down into the cockpit area and between the pilot and co-pilot into the bombardier’s position in the glass nose. Also known as the best seat in the house! Meanwhile, I checked out the top turret and went as far as I could to check out the tail gunner area. The other passenger from the front came back and checked out the gunners’ positions while Sammy was up front.

The B-25’s fuselage is very narrow, and is obstructed inside by the Top Turret gunner’s position.
The bomb bay tunnel. The pull bars are on the ceiling and the narrow size is obvious. The tunnel looks short, but is actually about 10 feet long.

After a few amazing minutes, I got the signal that Sammy was coming back. She arrived fine and had an enormous smile on her face. “Dad is was awesome” she exclaimed with an equally satisfying smile. We tried to talk about her experience, but the interior noise just did not allow for easy conversation.

View from the Bombardier’s position in the B-25. Photo by Samantha Yost

The signal was sent to get back into our seats and buckle in for landing. A few brief moments later, we touched back down at Willow Run Airport. We pulled back into our parking position and the engines were shut down. A brief calm encapsulated the aircraft. The crew door was opened and we climbed down. There was no doubt that all five passengers were in awe of our experience. Handshakes were exchanged between passengers and crew. Our time with a living piece of history was nearly over.

We took a quick walk around the aircraft for an up-close final inspection. The engines pinged and popped as they cooled. Traces of oil were evident on the engine cowlings, a normal event with radial style engines. We got back on the golf cart and were driven to the inactive area of the airport.

I was quiet. I wanted to listen to Samantha as she told me all about her experience up front. This was her first time in a warbird. It was our first time doing something like this together. It was a special occurrence we shared. We had different experiences. She was awed by the flight and the view. I was transported in time to the 1940s, imagining myself being flown on an important mission. Did I have the guts to do my job, or was this my final flight? Would I get back okay or would I be hurt by enemy gunfire or flak? It is surreal for me to think that these were daily occurrences during the Second World War.

Our ride was arranged by our dear friend and colleague, Kerry J. Newstead, the Canadian Editor of World Airshow News. Although he was originally supposed to be my ride companion, he sacrificed his spot to allow Samantha to experience it with me. Her ride experience ultimately resulted in a published article in World Airshow News. A huge debt of gratitude must also go out to Kevin Walsh, the Executive Director of the Yankee Air Museum, for the amazing support and generous opportunity. I had to wait a number of years to live my dream in a B-25. It was an experience that I will cherish my entire life, and it thrills me that I shared it with my daughter. It was drastically different than I envisioned as a kid, but it was such a fantastic experience. Of the approximately 10,000 B-25s produced, there are only about 100 airframes left, and of those remaining, about 45 are capable of flying. If you’d like to experience a flight in the Yankee Warrior (or one of their other aircraft), check out the Yankee Air Museum’s website for details on how to book a ride for yourself. Take the opportunity if you can, it is an experience that does not disappoint.

Author with daughter, Samantha. Photo by Kerry J. Newstead