Thunder Over Michigan 2011 – Preview

Thunder over Michigan is the best “themed” airshow in the country as well as one of the biggest.  Most airshows follow a pattern of “try to get airplanes” so people will come and watch it (hence raising money for the local museum, etc).   “Thunder”, as it is known is the airshow that supports the Yankee Air Museum which is based in Ypsilanti Michigan just a few miles west of Detroit.  The Museum was started back in 1981, and I first stopped in when I was working for Chrysler in Detroit a few years later.  It was the beginning of a long relationship with this group and their upcoming airshow.  At that time they had just acquired a well used and tired B-17 fire bomber and were in the process of restoring it.  Honestly, it looked to me like a project that would never be finished.  The end result was the magnificent “Yankee Lady” which is one the best B-17s still flying.  The museum sells rides in the B-17, as well their beautiful B-25 and C-47 to help support the museum.

“Themes” go back to Walt Disney in the late 1950s and his invention of the “theme park”.   The Thunder airshow knew in the beginning that it had to do something to attract attention in the show.  They invented the “theme air show”.  For example, last year it was “B-17s” and they managed to attract nearly every flying B-17 in the country to the show.  A few years before the theme was B-25s and they had about 15 B-25s on the ramp; another year they filled the ramp with most of the flying TBM Avengers in the USA.  They have done this with so many different themes it’s incredible.  They have brought us the Collings Foundation’s F-4 Phantom and an F-100 in the past.  These are aircraft rarely seen away from their home bases and to get them to Michigan is a feat (very expensive feat that is).  Kevin Walsh and Michael Luther who run the show have a great staff working with them to coordinate and manage all the aircraft that come in and take care of their crews and other needs

The theme of this year’s show is the “Centennial of Naval Aviation” and Thunder is one of the few shows that have been approved as an Official USN 100th Anniversary site.  This allows them to get access to some of the specially painted Naval aircraft.  For the Centennial the Navy painted a lot of aircraft in “retro” commemorative paint schemes which has been very popular with the airshow crowds and public in general.  Seeing more than one or two of those birds at any event is considered a treat, so far they have 6 of them scheduled.  I can imagine this to be one of the largest gatherings of those airplanes since the official debut at San Diego this spring.  The end of a great day at the show is the Blue Angels performance.  No doubt the Angels will put on a show you can’t miss.  Also here should be John O’Connor’s Blue Angel’s painted BearCat giving us some idea of what the Angels flew in the early years.

There was a “Gathering of Corsairs” in Connecticut a few years back with 4 Corsairs in final attendance.  Thunder has EIGHT (yes 8) Corsairs scheduled to attend as well as two REAL Japanese Zeros.  The Zeros are based in Texas and California and are rarely seen in this part of the world.   There will be a Wildcat, Dauntless and Helldiver.  Also scheduled is a civilian A-4B Skyhawk and many others.

The Army Air Corp will be well represented with at least four P-51s and two B-25s.  There are reenactors who stage a WWII land battle every year, a real game of Axis vs. Allies.  At Thunder the troops are not alone and have air support.  In the past there was CLOSE (and I mean CLOSE and LOW) air cover by P-51s flown by Vlado Lenoch and Jimmy Leeward.  Another year there was a real ME-109 (Daimler engined) supporting the Germans being chased and driven off by a Hurricane.  To see those two in the air at the same time was interesting to say the least.  Both were about the only surviving ones of their type in this hemisphere.  This year, expect the Germans to have cover from the FW-190 from the Military Air Museum.  Of course the allies will be looking at some Mustang support of their own.  Photos from this year should be nothing short of amazing.

Civilian jets include a MIG-21, MIG-17, T-33, L-39, Iskra TS-11, and the previously mentioned A-4B.  The jet contingent will have a lot of military aircraft too.

By my count there are at least 79 featured aircraft scheduled to attend.  As with all airshows, bear in mind that some scheduled aircraft may not be able to attend due to weather or mechanical problems.

Along with inventing the “theme airshow”, the people at Thunder also seemed to invent “hospitality tents” for airshows.  In the days of old, you got in the airshow and sat on the grass, then you could bring in chairs, and it got more involved.  Other sporting events had hospitality tents where you could get a seat in the shade and have a drink or some food.  Nobody ever thought about bringing that to the airshow arena until Thunder.   For an additional charge beyond admission, you can get into a tent on the flight line with chairs, food, drinks, and the best seats in the house.   I’ve done the special packages in the past and they are well worth it.  Going to an airshow like this is special, you might as well enjoy it to the max.  Check the Thunder website to see what is available and tickets can be purchased in advance on line.

Thunder Over Michigan this year may be one of the best shows of the season.  The pictures you take will let you relive this experience for a lifetime.  If you are in the area, you need to go.   If you are not in the area, you still need to go.  If you have to crawl to get there, you need to go.  If you are short on funds, well, having two kidneys is overrated and you should sell one and go.   If you don’t go, you are going to hate yourself on Monday morning.  Needless to say you will see me and my family there, it’s going to be a great time.

The Thunder Over Michigan Airshow is July 23rd and 24th 2011,  The Yankee Air Force website can be found at .  Note on the photos; some are taken at prior Thunder Over Michigan air shows, some are taken at other shows across the country; some are actual planes scheduled to be at this year’s Thunder and some represent types scheduled to be there.

You can contact the author, Mark Hrutkay, at TNMark@Me.Com.


Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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