THUNDER over MICHIGAN - Willow Run Airport / Ypsilanti - USA
Update: 2022/07/28 by Shawn Clish & Rob Kysela / CHK6
The 2022 edition of the THUNDER OVER MICHIGAN air show was held from July 15 to 17 at the Willow Run Airport (KYIP) southwest of Detroit. This annual show is hosted by the YANKEE AIR MUSEUM with proceeds from the event going to support the museum and its wonderful collection that includes five airworthy aircraft: a Boeing B-17G FLYING FORTRESS “Yankee Lady“, a North American B-25D MITCHELL “Rosie´s Reply“, a Douglas C-47 SKYTRAIN “Hairless Joe“, a Ford 4-AT-B TRI-MOTOR and a Bell UH-1H HUEY “Greyhound“. For more information about the history of the show and the Willow Run Airport/Bomber Plant please check out this article written in 2020:
The show returned with the same hybrid drive-up format that was adopted in 2021 and featured separate morning and afternoon flying programs each day. The United States Air Force (USAF) F-16 VIPER Demonstration Team was the headliner in the morning while the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the BLUE ANGELS, closed the afternoon segment of flying. This year’s theme was a salute to British aviation dubbed “The British Are Coming”. Unfortunately, the British did not show up in the announced number, as numerous aircraft, including the De Havilland DH.98 MOSQUITO from Jerry Yagen´s Military Aviation Museum (MAM) in Virginia Beach, were stuck in St. Louis with technical problems, while the Fairey FIREFLY as well as the Westland LYSANDER could not even leave their home airport due to technical issues. These cancellations challenged the organizers in the days leading up to the event. Additionally, operational commitments forced modern military aircraft like the Grumman E-2C HAWKEYE and the Boeing B-52 STRATOFORTRESS to miss the show as well. Another highlight, the Hawker HURRICANE Mk XII from the Vintage Wings of Canada. which was recently painted to honour legendary Canadian fighter pilot, Flying Officer William Lidstone “Willie“ McKnight, DFC and Bar, was also unfit to attend. Even the Lockheed P-3C Orion from the German Navy, a highly anticipated static aircraft due to its pending retirement, made it across the Atlantic only to develop issues during its stop over in Nova Scotia, Canada. Finally, pilot illness forced the MAM Supermarine SPITFIRE Mk IXe to remain on the ground at its home in Virginia Beach.
A second warbird aerobatic routine followed, flown by Bernie Vasquez in the Dakota Territory Air Museum Hawker HURRICANE Mk. XII. Bernie became a household name at this show thanks to his incredibly dynamic display of low passes and high bank angles, reminiscent of the way Jimmy Leeward used to pilot the North American P-51B MUSTANG “Old Crow” during the morning battle re-enactments over a decade ago. The Hurricane was then joined by another late addition to the aircraft roster, a Curtiss P-40B KITTYHAWK III from the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Batavia, Ohio. The two fighters looked great together and stayed in formation for multiple passes in some of the worst weather each day.
The final act of the morning was the Air Combat Command (ACC) Single-Ship Demo from the 20th Fighter Wing based at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. Aimee “Rebel” Fielder is the team’s new display pilot for the 2022 season, flying a Lockheed Martin F-16C VIPER painted in the stunning black and yellow scheme known as “Venom”. Her performance featured loads of high-G maneuvering that condensed plenty of the moisture in her flight path and made some unique vapour patterns around the jet, all while fire poured out of her General Electric F110 turbofan jet engine. This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the USAF, 30th Anniversary of the ACC and the 25th Anniversary of the Heritage Flight. The Heritage Flight at Thunder Over Michigan featured a North American P-51D MUSTANG known as “Bald Eagle” leading “Rebel” in the five-pass routine while “We Remember” by Dwayne O’Brian played over the speakers.
There was a break following the morning segment that allowed for some lunch and a tour of the static display. Highlights included a VFC-12 Boeing F/A-18E SUPER HORNET wearing an adversarial livery meant to replicate a Sukhoi Su-57 FELON and the Yankee Air Museum’s most recent acquisition, a beautiful Ford TRI-MOTOR that will soon be available for passenger rides. On the topic of rides, the break between shows allowed the Bell UH-1H HUEY “Greyhound“ and Boeing B-17G FLYING FORTRESS “Yankee Lady” to fly multiple passenger flight to generate some revenue for the host museum. Although the static display was not as plentiful as previous years, there were some fun conversations to be had with the visiting pilots. The two gentlemen in front of the Boeing PT-17 STEARMAN and Vultee SNV-1 VALIANT were very happy to share information about their aircraft and talk about the challenges associated with tail wheel flying. While the Sikorsky MH-60S KNIGHTHAWK from HSC-2 had an all-female flight crew who were extremely friendly and eager to share their wealth of knowledge about their helicopter and its missions.
One of the most anticipated attractions at Thunder Over Michigan is the night engine run. This feature has lead to stunning photos and video of participating bombers and fighters since its inception in 2018. An added bonus this year was the ability to walk the static and warbird ramps during the golden evening light ahead of the night segment. Organizers had been looking to add a modern aircraft for a couple of years and finally got their chance in 2022 when the 112th Fighter Squadron “Stingers” agreed to let their F-16C be photographed. It’s amazing how good this grey jet looked with professional lighting and a watered down apron for reflection and will probably lead to another modern fighter being included in the future. The “Stingers” continued to make their mark on this event on Sunday afternoon when they departed ahead of the Blue Angels display and made multiple impressive passes for the crowd. The Viper was followed by the Me 109 that had to be pushed into position due to the lack of an available tow bar. The dark fuselage contrasted beautifully with the bright red spinner and cowling that hides the Allison engine. The final aircraft was the Curtiss P-40M KITTYHAWK III featuring bright white stripes and light blue roundels. This aircraft is a rare participant at air shows and the pilot and museum deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to be a big part of the show on short notice.
VERDICT: The relaxed, extremely friendly atmosphere, the rich program and the possibility to participate in the night engine run make the THUNDER OVER MICHIGAN air show one of the best events on the North American continent – a MUST for every aviation enthusiast! A lot of praise is deserved by the very seasoned crew at Thunder Over Michigan for producing four aerial performances that featured seven of the top fighters of World War II, two special vintage jets and two of the top military displays in North America. The show will return to its traditional dates on the first weekend in August in 2023.
Special thanks to Kevin Walsh and Ashley Myers for their generosity – looking forward to CU again next year!
Shawn Clish & Rob Kysela / CHK6