Thunder Over Michigan 2021 Air Show Report

United Fuel Cells

by Aaron Haase

The Yankee Air Museum’s Thunder Over Michigan air show took place in Ypsilanti, Michigan over the weekend of August 7th/8th 2021. Due to infrastructure construction on the East side of the airport and the Thunderbirds staging at Selfridge, this year’s event involved a hybrid drive-in format for visitors, who could watch the show from their vehicles, but also walk around a static ramp area to meet the crews and view some of the aircraft up close. The air show itself was spectacular. Early performer announcements included the US Air Force Thunderbirds and F-35 Lightning II aerial demonstration teams, the US Navy’s EA-18G Growler legacy flight team, a German Air Force A400M Atlas, along with a large gathering of North American B-25 Mitchells and a selection of other significant warbirds. Then a month before the show, the museum’s Kevin Walsh announced two further major additions to the air show lineup: the US Navy Blue Angels and Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II demonstration teams. Currently, Thunder Over Michigan is one of only two shows this year to have managed to land both the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds!

Unusually, display flying began at 8:30AM, with an intermission to allow patrons and performers to grab lunch and explore the grounds before the afternoon performance started at 1:00PM; each display period was jam-packed with nonstop action. The morning shows started off each day with what they dubbed “Mitchell Madness” with all thirteen attending B-25s and the sole-surviving PBJ-1J Mitchell taking to the air. There was a rumble of building thunder as bomber-after-bomber started their engines and began pre-flight run-ups. During their performance, each Mitchell flew past air-show center three times for a strafing run, photo pass, and an open bomb bay pass. The Mitchells concluded their performance with a 9-ship flyover during the Saturday morning show and an 8-ship flyover during that afternoon and the Sunday shows.

The attending B-25s included:

After the B-25s recovered from their morning and afternoon portions of the show, the other performances followed a similar pattern each day: the VAQ-129 EA-18G Growler Legacy Team from NAS Whidbey Island (staging from Selfridge ANGB) took center stage with some fast passes. Following its solo display, the Growler formed up with Scott Scooter Yoak flying Jim Tobul’s F4U-4 Corsair (BuNo.97143 Korean War Hero) to begin their U.S. Navy Legacy Flight demonstration.

The German Air Force’s Airbus A400M Atlas then made some fantastic flybys, especially during their morning performances, when they pulled copious amounts of vapor during their maneuvers. After the A400M, Louis Horschel performed a short aerobatic demonstration in TP-51D Mustang 45-11559 Mad Max. Once he landed, the Yankee Air Museum’s pride and joy took to the skies – their magnificent Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Yankee Lady – joined by four P-51 Mustangs each day: Louis Horschel’s Mad Max, Jack Roush’s P-51D Gentleman Jim (Saturday) and P-51B Old Crow (Sunday), Tri-State Warbird Museum’s P-51D Cincinnati Miss, and Jim Hagedorn’s P-51D Old Crow. Three of the Mustangs joined the B-17 for a formation pass and then each made a few solo passes. Once these aircraft recovered, the US Air Force took center stage with the F-35 Demonstration team (staging from Selfridge ANGB) flying in the morning portion and the A-10 Demonstration team flying in the afternoon portion. The morning portion also included the crowd favorite US Air Force Heritage Flight which included the A-10 and F-35 forming up with Stuart Milson flying the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s P-51D Mustang Moonbeam McSwine. The finale for the morning air show segment came from the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in their new F/A-18 Super Hornets. The morning’s high humidity sometimes meant the team disappeared in the incredible amounts of water vapor the team generated with their high-g maneuvers. I asked one of the Blue Angels’ crew members what time they had to start preparing for their morning performances, since this was highly unusual for the team, and he stated that they started prepping the jets as early as 5:00 AM! The final performance of the afternoon air show, of course, was headlined by the US Air Force Thunderbirds. The team had to stage from Selfridge ANGB due to the limited amount of ramp space available at the Willow Run Airport which resulted from the runway construction  presently underway. The Thunderbirds new display routine seems to keep them lower and more in front of the crowd – it also added a lot more “thunder” with several new passing routines with lit afterburners, including a diamond sneak pass!

Saturday night also featured a photoshoot featuring P-51D Mustang Mad Max, F4U-4 Corsair Korean War Hero, and the Yankee Air Museum’s B-25D Rosie’s Reply. I was also lucky enough to take part in a B-25 photo flight, flying in the Commemorative Air Force’s B-25J Show Me from which I was able to photograph the Commemorative Air Force’s B-25J’s Miss Mitchell and Maid in the Shade! Special thanks must go to the pilots of Show Me for allowing us to fly with them!

Huge kudos, of course, go out to all of the Thunder Over Michigan personnel and staff for putting on an incredible event given all of the changes and curveballs with which they had to cope in our present circumstances. The drive-in parking grounds looked full and the speed at which the crew handled the morning and afternoon air show parking transitions was impressive to watch. Congrats to all on a well-put-together and well-thought-out event!

Kevin Walsh,  the Yankee Air Museum’s Executive Director and Director of the Thunder Over Michigan Airshow had this to say about the event: “Thunder this year pushed the envelope of innovation in guest experience. We proved that quality wins out over quantity with all 4 air shows (in 2 days) being less than 2 1/4hrs. We saw the emergence of a much younger audience with a format change. And although many came to see the jet acts, they left talking about the B-25 segment.

Many thanks to Aaron Haase from AirShow360 for the report and photos. For more great aviation photography, visit AirShow360 on Facebook.

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