The 15th annual Thunder Over Michigan (TOM) airshow took place at Willow Run Airport, Ypsilanti, Michigan, between 9 and 11 August 2013. The fact this airshow was staged at all is a testament to the tenacity of the show’s organisers and army of volunteers, who worked extremely hard in times of adversity. David F. Brown reports for GAR.
TOM 2013 suffered a major blow earlier in the year, with budget cuts brought about via sequestration resulting in the cancellation of the USAF Thunderbirds, as well as the cancellation of many other Department of Defence (DOD) assets scheduled to perform and appear in the static park. This led to the organisers postponing the event from its original date of 14 to 16 June, to 9 to 11 August, to give them time to regroup and instigate a number of changes to the participation.
The original theme, the Vietnam War, was retained, but the “theme aircraft”, the UH-1 Huey, was changed to the Douglas A-1 Skyraider. Approximately 40 aircraft were on display, with many of them taking flight and participating in two re-enactments each day of the show. Somewhere in the region of 40,000 people attended TOM – a very good figure when taking into account the withdrawal of all DOD assets and no participation by the Thunderbirds.
Photography at TOM starts at sunrise. Hours before the gates open to the public, enthusiasts and photographers can gain access to the flightline by purchasing a ramp pass. This UH-1H (above), 66-16624/N624HF, flown by the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation Inc, took part in the Vietnam War re-enactments and rides could be purchased on both days of the show.
The Yankee Air Museum (YAM), the venue for TOM, maintains an impressive display of static and airworthy aircraft. This PB4Y-2, Bureau Number 59876, was scrapped and laid derelict in eleven pieces in Canada. YAM saved it from the smelter in 1986 and painstakingly restored it to static display condition. Nose and tail turrets have since been acquired and the aircraft was on display at the show.
The Opening Ceremony and Presentation of Colors was performed by the Misty Blues All Woman Skydiving Team.
B-17G Flying Fortress Yankee Lady is possibly the best known aircraft in the YAM fleet. It began life as a B-17G-110-VE, 44-85829 and saw service with the USCG as PB-1G, BuNo 77255. After gaining its current civil registration, N3193G, in 1959, it was flown by a number of agencies, serving as an air tanker/firebomber and later appeared in the movie, Tora, Tora, Tora. It was acquired by YAM in 1986 and restored to military configuration. Yankee Lady flew both days of the show, offering seats for hire.
Each time she departed or returned, she taxied right past the TOM photo pit, an area set aside for photographers and strategically placed next to the main taxiway and adjacent to the duty runway.
Re-enactors are nothing new at TOM, but 2013 brought out a new group, The Rosie Riveters. These beautiful ladies recently organised to help save a part of the Willow Run Bomber Plant situated on the opposite side of the field. Unless saved, the entire plant will be demolished. The goal of SaveTheBomberPlant.org is to retain a portion of this huge facility and utilise it as the new headquarters for the Yankee Air Museum. Every $50.00 donation saves one square foot of bomber plant.
There were lots of photo opportunities to be had with the Riveters whilst utilising the time before the gates opened to the public. Rosie The Riveter was the cultural icon of female World War Two workers employed in the Arsenal Of Democracy, producing tens of thousands of warplanes during the World War Two.
This Rosie is Alison Beatty, a University of Michigan graduate student. Looking very much like the original Rosie the Riveter, she joined the effort to ‘Save The Bomber Plant’ for a number of reasons including the fact her grandfather was a tail gunner in a B-24 Liberator, a type built at Willow Run. She stated she was doing her part to save the plant to honour him and others who fought in World War Two.
Each TOM strongly features a particular aircraft and strives to have as many of the type present on the ramp and in flight. Initially, the UH-1 Huey was selected as the featured aircraft type for TOM 2013. This was changed to the Douglas Skyraider and six were scheduled to appear. Four were in attendance and all flew during the Vietnam War re-enactments. This example (above), delivered to the US NAVY as BuNo 09257, is owned and flown by the Warbird Heritage Foundation. The tailcode and paint scheme represent an A-1 nicknamed Bad News and assigned to the 6th Special Operations Squadron, based at Pleilu, during 1969. Armament consists of replica ordnance, making this SPAD look like the true bomb-truck it was.
AD-4NA, BuNo, 126959 (above), displaying a Vietnam War-era paint scheme and 602nd Special Operations Squadron markings, photographed returning from the Vietnam War re-enactment. The impressive bomb load consists of replica ordnance.
TOM caters to photographers. This image of an AD-4NA Skyraider (above) was captured from the photo pit, an area set aside only for those dedicated aviation photographers willing to pay an additional fee for a shooting spot along the runway and adjacent to the main taxiway.
Two family model versions of the venerable Douglas Skyraider made an appearance at TOM 2013. This example (above) is a former AD-5W and currently displays the markings of an EA-1E assigned to VMA-332, the Moonlighters. The Moonlighters flew the Skyraider from 1953 to 1957.
Legacy and Heritage flights have become a mainstay at airshows across the USA. Due to 2013 budget cuts, no DOD assets were made available for the 2013 season. The organisers of TOM overcame this obstacle by putting up their own US Navy Legacy Flight consisting of three warbirds: A-4 Skyhawk, AE-1E Skyraider and an F4U-5N Corsair.
A pair of fast jets were in attendance at TOM 2013: this A-4B, BuNo 142112, painted up to represent A-4C 148609 and displaying a single MiG ‘kill’ on the nose, and an F-100F Super Sabre. Both flew awesome flight demonstrations with lots of jet noise and a number of photo passes.
A-4B, BuNo 142112 (above) landing on Runway 27 at Willow Run following the A-4 Skyhawk flight demonstration. Flown by the Warbird Heritage Foundation, this Skyhawk is painted to depict ‘Sunglass 685,’ an A-4C responsible for downing a MiG-17 on 1 May 1967. Not only was it rare for a Skyhawk to down a MiG, but the method, via a Zuni rocket, was equally unusual. During that hisoric flight, the real 148609 was flown by LCDR Ted Swartz.
The major draw for TOM 2013 was no doubt the F-100F Supersabre 56-3948. What a sight, not to mention sound of a HUN in the air again. Those of us in attendance on Friday, arrivals day, were treated to more than 30 minutes of low passes, some of which included the lighting of the afterburner just prior to reaching the Photo-Pit.
A North American family portrait on the TOM ramp (above) shows the NAA F-100F Super Sabre in the foreground, next to NAA F-86 Sabre. Beside that is NAA P-51D Mustang Baby Duck. On Saturday, 10 August, they all flew in formation. A USAF Heritage Flight without participation by the USAF!
F-100F 56-3948 (above) photographed about to cross the threshold for Runway 27 at Williow Run Airport (YIP/KYIP) following a very impressive flight demonstration.
One advantage of being in the TOM photo pit, is that it was situated at the edge of the air show box. Every act entered or exited the box right in front of you and when the sun was shining, it was over your shoulder, behind you.
Those in attendance at TOM 2013 were treated to a number of slow and high speed passes by the F-100F. The HUN approached from the left, from the right and from behind, each time lighting the burner when reaching airshow centre.
Hard to believe this beautifully restored Super Sabre (above) is the same one I photographed on the Mojave Ramp way back in October 1991. Yes, they are one and the same. Fortunately, following delivery from Turkey, this F-100F never received the QF-100 treatment and lived to fly another day, much to our viewing and listening pleasure.
The theme aircraft for TOM 2012 was the Mustang. One year later, there were five P-51s present in the static park and on the hot ramp. Two Mustangs participated in the World War Two re-enactment. This example (above) is P-51B N551E, painted to represent Old Crow as flown by Capt. Clarence E. “Bud” Anderson while assigned to the 357th Fighter Group during World War Two.
Another fine warbird from the Warbird Heritage Foundation is P-51D Baby Duck (above). It was put through its paces at TOM 2013 by expert Mustang driver, Vlado Lenoch.
Yes, there were two “Old Crow” P-51 Mustangs at TOM 2013. This “D” model (two images above) mixed it up in a Dissimilar Air Combat Maneuvering (DACM) flight demonstration against the F-4U Corsair. It was a very interesting comparison between two of the best single-seat fighters of World War Two.
The newly restored Miss Belle, C-1A Trader 146044, made one of its first post-restoration appearances at TOM 2013. Too bad it did not fly in the show. We did manage to photograph it with props spinning on arrivals day. This aircraft was nearly written off in a forced landing in an Illinois cornfield in August 2002.
Compare the post restoration photo with the way she appeared while flying operational missions from NAS Willow Grove in 1988 (above).
Another fine example of a YAM restoration, this TB-47B Skytrain (above), officially listed as a DC-3C, was one of the first aircraft acquired by YAM. This image certainly shows off the beautiful, clean lines of the DC-3/C-47 design. The type was put into the air as part of the parade of transports.
One of the most interesting warbirds to make an appearance at TOM 2013 was this 1943 Beech AT-11, Kansan (above), serial 42-37601. During World War Two, Kansans were used to train approximately 90% of USAAF bombardiers.
A pair of T-6s took to the air each day for the parade of trainer. They made several nice ‘banana passes’ past the photo pit and down the airshow line.
One of the earliest trainers in attendance was this Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-3 Canary (above). Although it did not fly in the show, it was displayed on the ground with a full set of floats indicating it could be converted to floatplane configuration without much difficulty.
This Vultee SNV-1 (BT13A) Valiant (above), also known as the “Vibrator”, is a regular at TOM and aside from putting out a lot of smoke, it does make several nice photo passes each year down the airshow line. In the air or up close, this World War Two trainer is a beautiful restoration.
With the Vietnam War as the theme, TOM 2013 made an attempt to gather as many aircraft from the era to fly in the show. This UC-123K Provider (above), nicknamed Thunder Pig, is flown by the Air Heritage Museum, Beaver County Airport, Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Its last operational missions involved the spraying of insecticide used to control mosquito populations. It was last based at Rickenbacker ANGB, Ohio.
You cannot have a Vietnam War themed air show without the venerable and iconic UH-1 Huey. Two examples were scheduled to make an appearance but unfortunately, only one was in attendance. This Huey offered rides – for a fee – and all seats were filled for every flight. During the Vietnam re-enactment, it transported troops to the battle and then flew a spirited flight demonstration that I am certain brought a smile to all the Vietnam veterans in the crowd. This example (above) is UH-1H 66-16624 and is operated by the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation Inc.
The Cessna O-2A Skymaster was an unsung hero of the Vietnam War. First flown in 1967, the type entered service the same year. The O-2A and O-2B were used in Vietnam for Forward Air Control (FAC) and Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS) when fitted with loudspeakers and leaflet dispensers. The example flown in the Vietnam War re-enactment is owned and flown by Robert Shafer of Grosse Ile, MI. Mr. Shafer informed me that his Skymaster is a combat veteran having flown combat missions during the Vietnam War.
The American Flight Museum brought its AC-47 replica to TOM 2013. This meant the Vietnam War re-enactment was rather one sided!
Hardware gathering for the Vietnam War re-enactment (above); this image includes a UH-1H Huey as its centerpiece, surrounded by a Deuce and a Half, several M-151 Mutts and an M-37 three-quarter ton truck.
Although YAM’s own B-25, Yankee Warrior was not present at the show due to a prior commitment, there were two other B-25 Mitchell bombers present. Both George’s Gal and Briefing Time flew in the show and made numerous photo passes and simulated bomb runs.
Other displays included high performance aerobatics. Two world class aerobatic pilots, Sean D. Tucker and Michael Goulian, also flew awesome performances on both days. This image (above) depicts Sean D. Tucker’s Oracle Challenger III.
A relatively new addition to the TOM photo pit is the addition of this sturdy maintenance stand offering photographers a different perspective of aircraft entering and exiting the air show box, landing on Runway 27 and taxying back to the hot ramp.
Unfortunately I could not manage to capture the North American Aviation F-100, F-86 and P-51 in formation. This was the best I could do given the circumstances. With each pass of the trio, the F-100 was always out of the frame… Despite that, it was an excellent sight and one of the highlights of TOM 2013.
The 2013 version of Thunder Over Michigan did not quite match up to past TOMs. However, when you consider the obstacles the Yankee Air Museum had to overcome, the loss of DOD assets including the Thunderbirds, major runway reconstruction and the rescheduling of the event, I would say it was a resounding success.