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 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

Lockheed Martin F-16CJ VIPER - © by Shawn Clish
US Navy BLUE ANGELS - © by Robert Kysela

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 years 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.

Goodyear FG-1D CORSAIR - © by Robert Kysela
Goodyear FG-1D CORSAIR - © by Shawn Clish
With the Leap Frogs unable to jump from their Sikorsky MH-53E SEA DRAGON due to low cloud ceiling, Louis Horschel opened the Saturday morning show with an aerobatic routine in his Goodyear FG-1D CORSAIR. The FG-1D is actually a Vought F4U-1D CORSAIR built under license by Goodyear. A total of 2,303 of this type were produced. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800-8W 18-cylinder twin radial with an impressive output of 2,250 hp, the CORSAIR was widely used in the Pacific Theater of Operations but also served with the British Fleet Air Arm, who received some 2,012 Corsair in total. In British service the Corsair was re-designated as Corsair I (F4U-1), Corsair II (F4U-1A), Corsair III (F3A-1D; licenses produced by Brewster company) and Corsair IV (FG-1D). Louis Horschel was a welcome late addition with his mighty Corsair to the lineup in an effort to fill the vacancies left by the unavailable performers. 

Dean's F-100F and an F-100F from the Collings Foundation are the world's only airworthy examples of the USAF's first supersonic jet

North American F-100F SUPER SABRE - © by Robert Kysela
North American F-100F SUPER SABRE - © by Robert Kysela
Dean “CUTTER” Cutshall, a former Douglas A-4 SKYHAWK pilot, made his fourth appearance at Thunder Over Michigan in his stunning North American F-100F SUPER SABRE. The F-100F is a two-seat trainer, built in 1958, which was handed over to Turkey after a long career with the USAF.  It was in active service with Turk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force) for more than 10 years before being acquired by TRACOR, a defense contractor. Via detours, the HUN, as it is also known, found its way to Dean Cutshall, who painstakingly restored it to its current condition. Dean’s F-100F and an F-100F from the Collings Foundation are the world’s only airworthy examples of the USAF’s first supersonic jet. As usual, Dean flew multiple options down Runway 23 on his arrival on Friday, then performed plenty of high energy passes for the crowd each morning, lighting the afterburner on his Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engine, an act which can be seen then heard as it’s accompanied by a sharp bang
Hawker HURRICANE XII & Curtiss P-40B KITTYHAWK III - © by Shawn Clish
Curtiss P-40B KITTYHAWK III - © by Robert Kysela

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.

Lockheed Martin F-16CJ VIPER - © by Robert Kysela
Heritage Flight - © by Robert Kysela

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 teams 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.

Museum’s most recent acquisition, a beautiful Ford TRI-MOTOR that will soon be available for passenger rides

Boeing F/A-18E SUPER HORNET - © by Robert Kysela
Ford Tri-Motor - © by Robert Kysela

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. 

de Havilland DH.115 VAMPIRE T.Mk55 - © by Shawn Clish
Messerschmitt Me 109G-10 & Focke Wulf FW 190F-8 - © by Robert Kysela
By 2:30 the guests for the sold-out afternoon shows were all parked and the display was opened each day by aerobatic pilot Michael Goulian in his yellow and purple Extra 330SC. By far the most spectacular display of the event was flown in a de Havilland DH 115 VAMPIRE T.Mk55. This DH 115, known as “Vampy Too”, belongs to Jerry “VLAD” Conley, who has two more Vampires in his inventory. His latest acquisition is a de Havilland SEA VENOM, which will hopefully be seen at air shows soon. His exceptional display was flown nice and low with lots of topside banking, pleasing the photographers located in the tent at the extreme right of the show line. Jerry would have probably been the most exciting performer at the show had it not been for Bernie Vasquez, who was airborne again in the afternoon flying the other warbird from the Dakota Territory Air Museum, a Supermarine SPITFIRE Mk IXc “Half Stork”. Before his aerobatic routine he was joined by three other fighters for the WWII Famous Fighters” segment that featured a Messerschmitt Me 109 from the Erickson Aircraft Collection, a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 F-8/R1 from the Tri-State Warbird Museum and locally based P-51D Mustang Gentleman Jim” from Roush Aviation. The four fighters flew three inside racetrack patterns before joining up together for a very impressive formation. Bernie then circled briefly to allow the others to land before returning to impress the crowd as he had done earlier during his morning display.

However, the V-1710 was perfectly adapted under an original cowling of a G-10

Messerschmitt Me 109G-10 - © by Shawn Clish
Supermarine SPITFIRE Mk. IXc - © by Robert Kysela
The Messerschmitt Me 109 G-10 is based on a Hispano Aviación HA-1112-1ML BUCHON. However, the engine installed is not an original Daimler Benz DB-605D rated at 1850 HP take-off power nor a Rolls Royce MERLIN 500-45 (as in the HA-1112), but a considerably weaker Allison V-1710 inline twelve-cylinder. The Allison engine is not only smaller compared to the Daimler Benz engine but is also available in sufficient quantity and with good spare parts supply. In addition, it is a very reliable engine. However, the V-1710 was perfectly adapted under an original cowling of a G-10. The paint scheme is based on an aircraft flown by fighter ace Major Hermann Graf (212 confirmed kills; however, Graf never flew a G-10 but a G-6 model in this livery). In addition to the original engine cowling, the tail unit was also adapted to the G-10 version. The only (external) feature that shows that the 109 might not be an original G-10 is the propeller. This prop comes from a DC-3 and was only adapted in length.
US Navy BLUE ANGELS - © by Robert Kysela
US Navy BLUE ANGELS / "Fat Albert" Capt. Jackson Streiff - © by Robert Kysela
The finale of the afternoon was the demonstration of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron “BLUE ANGELS”. The most popular (and according to common opinion best) aerobatic team in the United States updated their aircraft last season and now fly the Boeing F/A-18E/F SUPER HORNET, as well as the Lockheed Martin C-130J HERCULES “Fat Albert” as support aircraft. The latter is a used ex-RAF aircraft. The show starts with the display of the Fat Albert” (on Saturday afternoon only). While the incredible jet assisted takeoffs are long in the past (the last display when “Fat Albert“ used the so called JATO-bottles was in 2009), the Fat Albert” routine still includes multiple impressive elements such as the Low Transition Takeoff, the Parade Pass and the Assault Landing. The six “Blue Angel” blue and “Insignia” yellow F/A-18E SUPER HORNETS then took over and went on to impress the crowd with their incredible skill in both formation and solo maneuvering. The Blues made their first back-to-back appearance at Thunder Over Michigan, having been added as a late addition in 2021, and their sixth appearance overall since the show expanded to include major jet demonstration teams in 2007. The program has changed only marginally with the transition to the new aircraft. The SUPER HORNET is about one fifth larger than its predecessor and has a better thrust-to-weight ratio, but this has little effect (visually) on the Blue Angel´s display. Possibly the best air show act in the world, the Navy’s best looked sharp and stunned the spectators as they seemed to be lower and closer to the crowd than previous years. We got the full repertoire from the team as they performed a high show on Saturday then a low show on Sunday.

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

Lockheed Martin F-16C VIPER - © by Robert Kysela
Curtiss P-40B KITTYHAWK III - © by Shawn Clish

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. Its 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. 


First lessons as a helicopter pilot - © by Robert Kysela
Hawker HURRICANE XII - © by Shawn Clish

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

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