This year the “Yankee Air Museum” of Willow Run, MI again produced a top drawer airshow that lived up to its name “Thunder over Michigan: 2014” as it showcased some of the unique warbirds on the North American continent. For two afternoons, the transports, bombers, fighters and trainers of WW II vintage thundered over the skies of southwest Detroit in a variety of flight combinations that gave the enthusiastic crowds some huge doses of nostalgia.
Texan Showdown: The Air Show Begins
What could have been more appropriate than to have one of the most iconic advanced trainers of that era, the venerable North American T-6 Texan, lead off the show? This aircraft has been flying for over 75 years, trained several hundred thousand pilots in 34 countries over a period of 25 years, and had a monumental influence on military aviation.
The mass launch of seventeen distinctively painted Texans immediately set the tone for the afternoon as the combined thunderous roars of their massive radial engines and nine foot propellers engines resonated along the flight line.
After their launch, the Texans formed up into a high speed, tail chase, racetrack formation which led into a number of low show-line passes that emphasized their speed and maneuverability. Then they broke off and formed into three four-ship formations, made several fly-byes and concluded a wonderful performance with a mass flypast. What an auspicious and thunderous start to “Thunder over Michigan: 2014”!
TEXAN FLYPAST: A tribute to the venerable North American T-6 Texan @ Thunder over Michigan, Detroit Willow Run Airport (KYIP), MI
The Yankee Air Museum pulled off a coup this year by bringing together some extremely rare warbirds from the WW II European and Pacific Theatres of Operation for their airshow. A number of these aviation jewels, which included the B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady”, the P-38 Lightning “Ruff Stuff”, P-47 Thunderbolt “Jacky’s Revenge”, and the P-51D Mustangs “Hell-er Bust” and “Petie the 2nd”, were then organized into a crowd-pleasing Victory Flight. This flight made several close formation passes along the show line to the delight of the crowd, and judging by their cheers and shout-outs, was an inspirational moment for many.
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady”, Lockheed P-38L Lightning “Ruff Stuff”, North American P-51D Mustang “HELL-ER-BUST” @ Thunder over Michigan, Detroit Willow Run Airport (KYIP), MI
Mass Warbird Flight
After the Victory Flight was over, the five aircraft orbited over the airfield until a number of WW II bombers, fighters and transports were launched and joined up with them. This impressive mass flight of warbirds then formed into two counter-revolving racetrack patterns and continued to thrill the crowd during their many passes and individual fly-byes. One of the pleasant surprises of the afternoon was the arrival of beautifully restored Douglas C-54E Skymaster “Spirit of Freedom”, a veteran of the Berlin airlift, which joined the pattern and proved to be surprisingly quick and agile.
As happens every year at “Thunder over Michigan”, a limited number of photographers were able to descend on the flight line at dawn to photograph the warbirds on the hot ramp and also the statics that had flown in the previous day. I have been there in previous years when it was cloudy or rainy and the resulting images were less than overwhelming. However, this year’s dawn photoshoot proved that if one perseveres long enough, then good things do happen. Like clear skies and a golden-orange sunrise that graced the ramps and provided a dawn glow to many of the aircraft sitting silently on the apron.
Aircraft on Static Display
We were also fortunate in being able to photograph many interesting aircraft, not scheduled to appear in the aerial performances, as they arrived at Willow Run Airport to share spaces on the static ramp. Among them were warbirds of various vintages and many post war military aircraft, plus a number of Czech L-29 and L-39’s and even a German Luftwaffe C-160D Transall.
This was the 16th air show mounted by the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run and, blessed with good weather and an impressive mix of vintage warbirds, it provided a feast of spectacular displays and aerial action for the large and appreciative audience. The museum`s coordinators are already well into planning for next year`s Thunder over Michigan, which will be held on 29-30 August, 2015, and we can be sure that based on past performances this will surely be another outstanding display of vintage and classic warbirds.
The Yankee Air Museum
Since the “Yankee Air Museum”, based at the Detroit Willow Run Airport, MI, was founded in 1981 it has acquired five World War II aircraft and returned them to flying status. This exceptional group of beautifully restored warbirds is the backbone of the Yankee Air Museum and they are flown regularly at aviation events around the USA and Canada where they provide the crowds with some wonderful WW II memories and nostalgic aviation moments.
The first plane acquired by the Yankee Air Museum, was a Douglas C-47 Skytrain , the military version of the famous DC-3 airliner, and a World War II transport built in 1945. Named the “Yankee Doodle Dandy” this C-47 is the museum`s world class award-winning flagship.
Douglas TC-47B Skytrain s/n 33048 (1944) “Yankee Doodle Dandy” Yankee Air Museum N8704 @ Detroit Willow Run Airport (KYIP), MI
The Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady”, was built in 1945, and purchased by the Yankee Air Museum in 1986. After undergoing an extensive restoration and repair/rebuild program she was returned to flying status in 1995. Since then, as one of a little more than a dozen surviving airworthy Flying Fortresses around the world, “Yankee Lady” continues to be flown for flight experience rides and air show appearances.
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress s/n 77255 (1944) “Yankee Lady” Yankee Air Museum N3193G @ Thunder over Michigan, Detroit Willow Run Airport (KYIP), MI
The North American B-25D Mitchell, nicknamed “Yankee Warrior”, is a medium bomber similar to the type used in Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo. The “Yankee Warrior”, acquired by the Yankee Air Museum in 1987, saw combat in World War II and is one of only two B-25Ds still flying today.
North American B-25D Mitchell 43-3634 (1943) “Yankee Warrior” Yankee Air Museum N3774 @ Thunder over Michigan, Willow Run Airport (KYIP), MI
Barry Griffiths is a published author, wildlife photographer and naturalist. After a successful career as an educator, he became founder and President of Quest Nature Tours, a company specializing in worldwide nature tours and expedition cruising. On his retirement from these endeavors, he continues to photograph wildlife and pursue his lifelong interest in all aspects of aviation.