Yankee Air Museum "Thunder Over Michigan" Airshow 2007

For some years the Yankee Air Museum "Thunder Over Michigan" airshow at Ypsilanti has been one of America's best warbirds events, and 2007 saw a continuation of this tradition, with no fewer than five world war two era P-51 Mustang fighters, "Excalibur", "Moonbeam McSwine", "Petie 2nd", "Shangrila" and this immaculate bird called "Glamorous Gal".

There were also three P-47 Thunderbolts flying at the show, including "No Guts, No Glory" and "Jacky's Revenge", complete with D-Day "invasion stripes" and underwing mounts for 500 pound bombs, which were used to great effect during the war when the Thunderbolt was used in the ground attack role.

Here's another of the P-47s flying at the show, named after the Lil' Abner cartoon character "Hairless Joe".   I wasn't able to get any decent formation shots of the Thunderbolts this year, but the 2005 show featured a beautiful formation flight with "Hairless Joe", "Hun Hunter XVI" and "Wicked Wabbit".

This year the show organizers tried out several innovations, including relocating the audience areas onto the huge grassed area in the center of the airfield.   The new layout suits photographers even better than the old one, since it puts the sun at their backs throughout the day, and this layout still provides plenty of potential for pilots to fly curved photo passes around the crowd area, which was one of the best features of the old layout.   Unfortunately it seems that flight instructions were expressed in a way which lead most of the pilots to fly much further from the crowdline than usual, and Bob Baranaskas was one of the few pilots who made the most of the possibilities, flying this P-40N Curtiss Warhawk.

There were a couple of navy fighters to go along with the army air corps birds, including Ray Dieckman's F8F Bearcat, which unfortunately didn't fly during the show.   Coincidentally the Bearcat also didn't fly during another big show called world war two, entering service a bit too late to see combat.

There were two Corsairs at the show, the Collings Foundation's radar-equipped F4U-5NL, and this F4U-5 flown by Dale "Snort" Snodgrass.   He's a highly admired pilot on the airshow circuit and not at all shy of putting on a spectacular performance, but even he showed more restraint than usual, making only one close-in pass near the crowd, the others being disappointingly distant.

The Yankee Air Museum's own B-17 Flying Fortress "Yankee Lady" flew during the show, though this year she was on her own, unlike the 2005 event, where she flew with seven of the nine airworthy Flying Fortresses in America.   Bringing large numbers of a particular type together has always been a trademark of Thunder Over Michigan, and one which is likely to continue in future years.

This year, though, it was the turn of the B-25 Mitchell bomber, and the airshow organizers were able to achieve the near-impossible task of bringing no fewer than 15 Mitchells to the event, the largest gathering since the making of the "Catch 22" movie.

Here you can see about half of them lined up on the apron.   Maintenance of these old aircraft is always an issue, but the luck of the Irish was shining as brightly as the weather, and all fifteen of them flew during the show.

Even the most ardent fan got to see plenty of Mitchells in action, though the usual Michigan heat and haze made it difficult to get decent formation shots, since the aircraft mostly lined up only at the far end of their circuits.

This B-25 Mitchell is called "Special Delivery" in commemoration of the "Doolittle" Raid against Japan not long after America entered world war two.   There were many variants of the B-25 among the aircraft at the show, this one is really a late model B-25N now configured as a B-25J, but it was actually the early model B-25B which was used in the raid.

Panchito is a more typical B-25J, equipped with a glass nose for bombing and bristling with 50 caliber machine guns in the nose, turrets and along the sides below the cockpit - an installation first pioneered in the field, then refined and made officially during manufacture.   Here you can see all of those guns together with Panchito's open bomb bay during a simulated bombing run.

Betty's Dream is another variant, with nose art that vividly highlights its eight gun solid "strafing" nose.   This was by no means the heaviest armed variant of the Mitchell; the B-25H had only four guns in its solid nose but also had a 75mm cannon which was used against ground targets and shipping.   About a thousand of this variant was produced, it's not often seen on the airshow circuit, however you can see the B-25H "Barbie III" in action at the 2006 Prescott Air Show.

This beautiful F-86 Sabre is from the Warbird Heritage Foundation based in Waukegan, Illinois.   Like the Corsair, it was flown by Dale Snodgrass, an ex-navy pilot who amassed more hours in the F-14 Tomcat than anyone else.   You can see some spectacular shots of "Snort" flying a Sabre in formation with another Sabre flown by Ed Shipley; a formation he flew at the 2005 Oceana airshow, which happened to be the final curtain call for the Tomcat.

Along with the fighters and bombers, there were also some less menacing aircraft at this year's show.   This is an O-2 Skymaster, which features a very unusual twin engine pusher/puller arrangement, an excellent setup if one of the engines stops working.   The Skymaster earned fame in the Vietnam war as a forward air controller, with pilots flying the unarmored aircraft low over the jungle and deliberately exposing themselves to enemy fire.   Although the O-2 could carry a 7.62mm gatling gun in a pod, or two rocket pods with seven rockets apiece, the actual ground attack was usually left to a fast mover which operated with the Skymaster, which used white phosphorus rockets to mark the target.

This is the air force's current primary trainer, the T-6A Texan II, named in honor of the T-6 Texan which was used to train most world war two pilots.   Like its predecessor, the Texan II is also used by the US navy, and as you might imagine it's a considerably more capable aircraft than the original Texan, with more advanced avionics and a powerful turbo-prop engine.   In spite of the similarity in name, though, the Texan II isn't really an American designed aircraft, instead it's a modification of a Swiss aircraft, the Pilatus PC-9.

It was very good to have the Warbird Heritage Foundation's T-2 Buckeye flying during the show.   The Buckeye isn't a well-known aircraft, but it served as the navy's intermediate level trainer all the way from 1959 to 2004, and almost all navy pilots trained in it at some stage of their career.   It's certainly a great workhorse, but it's by no stretch of the imagination the best looking aircraft in the inventory, and has even been immortalized for its ugliness in a well-known navy song.   The T-2 has now been replaced by the T-45 Goshawk, which is a modified BAE Hawk trainer.

Here's the air force's original jet trainer, the T-33 Shooting Star, which was a lengthened version of the P-80 Shooting Star, the US Army Air Force's first jet fighter.   The P-80 was soon outclassed by swept wing fighters, but the T-33 had a very long career, surviving into the 1980s in American service, and much longer in foreign air forces.

Here's a similar color scheme, but a much different aircraft!   This is an L39 Albatross, an attractive and very effective plane which happens to be the Soviet Union's main military jet trainer.   It was designed by Aero Vodochody of Czechoslovakia, and was the follow-on from their previous generation jet trainer, the much less good looking L29 Delfin.

Will Ward brought his MiG-17 "Fresco" along to the show to make sure that there wasn't only one ex-Soviet type in the air.   Like Snodgrass, Ward is a real showman, and he does a great job of putting this Vietnam era fighter through its paces, as with this ultra low-level afterburner pass just after takeoff.

The MiG-17 took part in a Vietnam demonstration with this H-34 Seahorse helicopter, which did a simulated rescue of a downed pilot.   The T-33 was meant to pretend to be an America jet fighter chasing the MiG, but it was most notable for its absence!

The H-34 was the highlight of the show for me, since there are very few helicopters on the airshow circuit, let alone one as rare as this.   During its days in service this helicopter went by several names, Seahorse being the naval utility version (which originally had the designation HUS-1), the HSS-1 Seabat was the anti-submarine version, and the H-34 Choctaw was the US army version; these three were later redesignated as the SH-34, UH-34 and CH-34.   American aircraft like this one had a radial engine, but the British developed a version called the Wessex with a turbine engine, and some American turbine conversions still operate in the US in civilian roles.

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As well as the warbirds for which it's famous, Thunder Over Michigan always manages to get one or more modern military acts, which generally include a navy "Tailhook Legacy Flight" or air force "Heritage Flight" combining old and new aircraft types in formation.   Usually this is a single modern type with a single world war two type, but this year had an F-16 Fighting Falcon with no fewer than three P-51 Mustangs.

A nice tight photo pass formation from the F-16 and the P-51 "Shangrila".

And a fast solo pass from the F-16 during its tactical demonstration.   We're close enough in this shot to see the maps and notes strapped to the pilot's legs!

The biggest departure from tradition this year was undoubtedly the presence of the navy's Blue Angels jet display team.   Whenever the Blue Angels or their air force equivalent the Thunderbirds are at a show, attendance will skyrocket, since a lot of people turn up who wouldn't normally go to a warbirds display.   The extra income is a very helpful thing for the Yankee Air Museum, which has been working hard to replace their museum buildings since they burned down a few years ago.

In my opinion the Blue Angels are the best national military jet display team in the world, combining exciting high-performance aircraft with close formation flying which is second to none.   They started flying in 1946, making them the oldest military display team in the world.

They started in F6F Hellcats and quickly transitioned to F8F Bearcats, before entering the jet age with the straight-winged F9F Panther and then the swept-wing F9F Cougar.   After a few years they started using the little-known F11F Tiger, which continued in service for 12 years until replaced by the F-4 Phantom II.   Fifteen years later they swapped to the A-4 Skyhawk, and after another 12 years they went to the F-18 Hornet, which they've been using for the last 21 years.

They have six aircraft in the air during a demonstration, two of the aircraft acting as "opposing solos", the other four flying as a "diamond", and at times all six aircraft will come together in the "delta" formation.

In 1992 the Blue Angels became the first foreign military display team to perform in Russia, in the middle of the peak period for Soviet aircraft displaying at western airshows.   The Russian teams do some spectacular flying and get to do some neat tricks like popping flares, as you can see from their demonstrations at MAKS 2005 and Gidroaviasalon 2006, but for sheer flying skill there's no question that the Blue Angels have them beat!

See the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow in 2003, 2005 and 2006.