Yankee Air Museum "Thunder Over Michigan" Airshow 2003

It was a brave man who flew into the Vietnam war in a small plane like this Cessna O-2 Skymaster.   A total of 532 were built for the US Air Force, and used mostly in the "forward air controller" role, hence the lettering on top of the wings of this one.   Forward air controllers flew low and slow over Vietnam looking for enemy activity, which often meant hearing themselves being shot at.   They would then call in air support which was lurking close at hand, fire rockets to mark the enemy position with smoke, and let the big boys pour in some serious armament.   At times O-2s did carry offensive weaponry like small gatling guns or explosive rockets, but some poor pilots were forced to fly with nothing more than loudspeakers and pamphlet distribution equipment in the pointless exercise called "psychological warfare".   The O-2 might have been a bad plane to go to war in, but with two engines it was better than the single engine O-1 Bird dog, whose pilots were in a lot of trouble if that engine stopped working.

O-2 Skymaster   (click on this photo to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The S-2 Tracker is a retired US navy anti-submarine aircraft.   Here you can see it in the "dirty" configuration with wheels and tailhook extended.  After finding an enemy submarine the Tracker could attack with torpedoes, rockets or even a nuclear depth charge.

S2 Tracker

This is the only Curtiss Helldiver in the world which is still in flying condition.   The Helldiver was a much larger replacement for the Douglas Dauntless dive bomber.   The gunner at his station in the back of the plane certainly adds something to the photo.

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Two stalwarts of the US navy in world war two, on the top is the F6F Hellcat and below it is the F4U Corsair.   Not too many Hellcats are flying nowadays, but Corsairs are fairly common, doubtless due in part to its long production run, from 1942 to 1952, with over 12,500 produced.

F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair

This Russian MiG-17 "Fresco" was a development of the famous MiG 15 "Fagot".   This one has its afterburner lit up, and banking sharply like this it's an impressive sight.

Mig17 with afterburner

Another rare bird, a P-38 Lightning.   These fighters didn't do particularly well in the European theater of operations during world war two, largely because German planes could recognize it from far off and outdive it, making it very difficult for the P-38 to catch them.   In the Pacific, however, the P-38 had great success, and America's greatest ace of world war two, Richard Bong, made all of his kills in a P-38.   Forewarned by intercepted and decoded Japanese communications, and equipped with long-range fuel tanks, P-38s were also responsible for killing the head of the Japanese navy, Admiral Yamamoto, by shooting down his transport plane.

P38 Lightning

The highlight of the show - a P-39 Airacobra.   Depending on which page of this plane's website you believe, this is the only airworthy Airacobra, or there are two others.   Like the P-38 Lightning, American pilots didn't have much success in Europe with the P-39, however the Russians bought huge numbers of them and used them very successfully in a ground attack role.   Because it was built around a very large 37mm cannon which fired through the propeller hub, the P-39 was very unusual in having its engine mounted behind the pilot, with a long driveshaft connecting the engine to the propeller.

P39 Airacobra   (click on this photo to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format

Is it just a coincidence that this Canadian Lancaster bomber is the only plane on this page which is flying from right to left?   Well, somehow I don't think so.  On Saturday I arrived at the airshow late in the morning, but thankfully just in time to see the very good display put on by the Lancaster crew as they banked left and right past the spectators.   The news on the grapevine on Sunday was that they were reprimanded by the airshow organizers, so their display that day was far more sedate.   This particular Lancaster is one of only two flying, the other one belongs to the Battle of Britain memorial flight based in the UK.   The Canadian Lancaster was meant to be at the 2002 Willow Run airshow, but it had a taxying accident and hit a parked aircraft, putting it out of operation for a while.

Canadian Lancaster bomber

Sigh, back to planes pointing right!   Another big bird, this time a C-121 Constellation, the US military version of the Constellation airliner.   The Constellation would probably beat out any challenge as the most attractive propeller-driven airliner ever built, and perhaps even the most attractive airliner, period.   The curved top and bent nose make it look as sleek as a greyhound, and it performs just as well.

C141 Constellation in MATS paint scheme

This is the only B-24 Liberator bomber in the world which still flies, owned by the Collings Foundation.   The Commemorative Air Force operates an LB-30 Liberator which was damaged during its wartime delivery flight and converted to a cargo plane without gun turrets.   The B-24 Liberator was built in far greater numbers than its more famous cousin the B-17 Flying Fortress - 24,000 Liberators compared to 12,700 Flying Fortresses.   However, it was the B-17 which captured the public's imagination and because of this, and because the B-24 had a very narrow wing and was therefore harder to fly, fewer B-24s survived after the war than B-17s.

B-24 Liberator 'The Dragon and Its Tail'   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

So that's why there were four Flying Fortresses at this airshow and only one Liberator!   The folks at the Yankee Air Museum who organize this show have done a good job of collecting a large number of aircraft of a particular type at the last few shows; last year it was the B25 Mitchell bomber and this year it was the Flying Fortress.   This is the first time I've attended a show with so many B-17s.   Unfortunately they flew them all in "V" formation on Friday when not many people were around, including myself, so I didn't get to see what would have been an awesome sight.   This is the museum's own Flying Fortress, "Yankee Lady", which flew spectators during the show for $400 each.

B-17G Flying Fortress 'Yankee Lady'

This plane is painted in the colors of the most famous Flying Fortress of world war two - the "Memphis Belle", the first B-17 to complete its tour of duty of 25 combat missions.   The Memphis Belle was the subject of a world war two documentary, and a 1990 movie which recounted its feat.    As an earlier model B-17F, the Memphis Belle lacks the "chin turret" under the nose of B-17Gs like Yankee Lady.   The B-17F could carry 8,000 pounds of bombs, twice the capacity of the B-17E, but at a cost of flying 70 miles per hour slower, making it easier for enemy aircraft and artillery to shoot down.   As partial compensation for this, the B-17F had two more machine guns than the B-17E, and the 0.30 inch machine gun carried by the B-17E was upgraded to a 0.50 inch machine gun.

B-17F Flying Fortress 'Memphis Belle'

This B-17G is owned by the Collings Foundation and carries the rather unimaginative name "Nine O Nine", a reference to the registration number carried on its tail.

B-17G Flying Fortress 'Nine O Nine'

The Commemorative Air Force's B-17G "Sentimental Journey" served in the Pacific during the war, later becoming an air-sea rescue plane and finally a fire-fighting "borate bomber" in California.

B-17G Flying Fortress 'Sentimental Journey'
See highlights of the Yankee Air Museum "Thunder Over Michigan" airshow in 2005, 2006 and 2007.