2016 Event Review

Thunder Over Michigan Air Show, August 20-21, 2016
Location: Willow Run Airport, Ypsilanti, MI
Admission: $40 adults, kids 15 and under free, advance purchase discounts
Parking: $20 per vehicle, advance purchase discounts
Value: Good
Rating out of 10: 8

US Navy Legacy Flight

"Helotown, USA" was the theme for this year's Thunder Over Michigan Air Show. Following on the heels of last year's successful "Bombertown, USA" expectations were quite high. The Yankee Air Museum's annual warbird show features a collection of aircraft based on a particular subject and normally manages to secure at least one, if not more, marquee aircraft. With the demise of Hiller Aviation Museum's "Vertical Challenge' all-helicopter airshow, this year's show was eagerly anticipated. The Breitling Jet Team and the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team were on hand to provide lots of modern jet noise.

The Air Show grounds and chalets opened at 9AM. The flightline was largely devoted to chalets, although there was a section at airshow left open to the public. The WWII Air and Ground Battle started promptly at 10:30AM. Tanks and other military vehicles maneuvered on the ground as three P-51D Mustangs and the B-25D Mitchell "Yankee Warrior" flew numerous passes overhead.

Opening ceremonies were followed by a warbird U.S. Navy Legacy Flight, consisting of a TA-4 Skyhawk and a TBM-3E Avenger, which flew several passes in very tight formation. Once the Avenger broke away, Bert Zeller put on a very nice demonstration of the "Scooter's" aerobatic capabilities. Randy Ball put on a very dynamic show in his MiG-17PF Fresco-D, explosively lighting the afterburner and trailing a long tail of flame clearly visible even in the midday sun. Dean "Cutter" Cutschall finished up the day's vintage jet show by flying a similar show in the F-100F Super Sabre. Although a MiG-23UB Flogger had been scheduled and was eagerly anticipated, it was unable to appear due to mechanical difficulties.
Although primarily a warbird show, Thunder Over Michigan (TOM) usually manages to land a jet team. This year it was the Breitling Jet Team who put on their usual impressive show. Additionally, the US Air Force's Raptor Demonstration Team put on an incredible display. Major Daniel "Rock" Dickinson put the F-22 through some jaw-dropping maneuvers before teaming up with Charlie "Tuna" Hainline in the P-51D Mustang "Double Trouble two" for the Heritage Flight. And finally, the US Navy Super Hornet Tac Demo team brought three F/A-18 Super Hornets, two flying demos and one on static display. Those who arrived early on Friday and stayed through Sunday were treated to five awesome demos: all three crews on Friday (including LT Shaun "Buzz" Roessner and LT Justin "Skinny Jeans" Wedel), the Foxtrot demo on Saturday (with LT Brett "Lobster" Jakovich and LT Nolan "Chub Mitts" Lucas) and the Echo demo on Sunday, piloted by LT Jayson "Bobble" Trembath . Incredible!
The first of the helicopters to take to the skies was a Bell 407-GX of the Michigan State Police which demonstrated a mock car chase. Next up was a "Hollywood Battle" featuring a pair of AH-1 Cobras as well as two UH-1 Hueys, all four from the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation. An OH-6A Cayuse rounded out the cast of helicopters. A pair of Mi-24D Hinds, which were to have been the stars of the show (a photo of a Hind was featured on the back of every volunteer T-shirt) failed to show up. Nevertheless, the pilots of the Vietnam-era helicopters put on a very dynamic show, throwing their choppers around with seeming abandon. The "Helotown USA" segment was rather disappointing. Billed as a varied selection of helicopters, and being the theme of the show, one expected more than the three helicopters which flew by: a Bell 47 (the original Bat Copter from the television series), a Robinson R44, and an Enstrom F-28A in military-inspired markings.
Of particular interest to aviation photographers are this show's well-run photo tours. Different packages offer a multitude of opportunities: Friday's Taxiway Photography provides full-day (9AM to 5PM) up-close coverage of arrivals, the Photo Tour affords early access (7AM) to the aircraft on static display well in advance of the general admission crowds, and the Photo Pit features an exclusive tented area at far show right which includes a catered, buffet-style lunch and free water.
The warbird static lineup included a variety of trainers from primary (PT-17 Stearman, N3N Yellow Peril, de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk) through basic (BT-13 Valiant) to advanced (AT-6 Texan). Modern military airplanes included the aforementioned F/A-18E Super Hornet, T-6A Texan II, T-38 Talon, A-10 Thunderbolt II, F-16C Fighting Falcon, P-3C Orion, P-8A Poseidon, and RCAF Hawk trainer. Modern military helicopters included a US Army CH-47 Chinook, US Navy CH-53E Super Stallion. Absent from the ramp were any of the military "Heavies" such as bombers, refuelers or cargo aircraft.
The absence of the much-advertised Mi-24D Hinds, the Mi-2 Hoplite and the Mig-23 Flogger was keenly felt and the theme of the show ended up being not as filled-out as those in years past. Nevertheless, the organizers deserve credit for pushing the envelope and trying something new, even if the execution fell short of expectations. Despite the missing elements, the show, featuring three vintage jet performances, the Super Hornet and Raptor demos, the Breitling Jet Team and the warbirds that did show up, has to be considered a success. We look forward to seeing what the organizers have in mind for next year.
Announcer Rob Reider did a great job of keeping the weekend's audience of almost 45,000 informed and entertained and Air Boss George Cline kept the action in the air flowing smoothly and safely. We would like to thank Herb Gillen for arranging our media access and all of the show's performers, staff, sponsors and volunteers for making this show such a success
P-51D Mustang 'Sierra Sue II'
Announcer Rob Reider and Air Boss George Cline
Performers included:

Breitling Jet Team

F-22 Raptor Tactical Demonstration

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration

Heritage Flight: P-51D Mustang "Double Trouble two", F-22 Raptor

Bert Zeller, TA-4 Skyhawk Aerobatics

Randy Ball, MiG-17PF Fresco-D Aerobatics

Dean "Cutter" Cutschall, F-100F Super Sabre Aerobatics


North American P-51D Mustangs:

"Double Trouble two"

"Sierra Sue"

"Gentleman Jim"

"Old Crow"

Bell UH-1H Iroquois "Huey" (x2)

Bell AH-1F Cobra (x2)

Hughes OH-6A Cayuse

Static displays included:


Boeing PT-17 Stearman

Cessna L-19 Bird Dog

Cessna O-2A Skymaster

Douglas C-47D Skytrain "Yankee Doodle Dandy"

Piper L-4 Grasshopper

Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Yellow Peril

North American AT-6 Texans, SNJs, Harvard

North American B-25J Mitchell "Yankee Warrior"

North American T-28B Trojan

Vultee BT-13 Valiant

Modern Military:

Beechcraft T-6A Texan II

Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet

Boeing P-8A Poseidon

Fairchild Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II

General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcon

Lockheed P-3C Orion

Northrop T-38 Talon

RCAF BAE Systems CT-155 Hawk

Boeing CH-47 Chinook

Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion


Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for

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