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2008 Air Shows

Thunder Over Michigan

Location: Willow Run Airport, Belleville (Ypsilanti), Michigan
Admission: $65.00 for 2 day (that being Internet price with parking purchased several weeks ahead) Gate pricing higher + $20 additional fee for Friday + upgrades optional +photo pit; way over priced!
Parking: free on Friday , $5 in advance over Internet, $10 during event
Value: Less than average, too expensive when everything taken into consideration.
The flight path for the air show provided good to excellent viewing and photographic opportunities with a zoom or telephoto lens 300mm or greater.

The air show and mock battles were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and one could also attend on Friday to watch the planes arrive for the event. The arrival day is usually the best of the days to photograph aircraft, as the majority of the people who will attend are still at work, and cannot interfere by blocking any direct sight. Furthermore, it is a good opportunity to take static images of the aircraft that have landed. However, at Thunder Over Michigan (TOM), this was not the case. In fact, Friday was a total disappointment not just for me but for many other photographers. Especially, the ones who paid the $105* per day, for the photo pit pass. There were tank rides as well as aircraft rides available in such planes as the B-17G "Yankee Lady"

*Photo pass was $35+$50 (mandatory photo tour)+$5 parking +$15 entry fee =$105 per day!!! Folks that is a bit much!!!!
I attended TOM with a photographer friend of mine. We met at a hotel, and then drove to Willow Run Airport. While the airport was not that difficult to find. However, on Friday, to get to the right gate location in order to enter the grounds of the air show, was a bit of a challenge . Their signage and clearer directions would have helped anyone who have never attended any previous shows. Once the right location was found, Friday’s entry fee was quite steep, $20.00 just to get in, when most other shows charge half price on arrival day or, even less. However it wasn't the $20.00 which irked me, it was how all the attendees who paid the $20 were handled. We were corralled into a fenced off area, near the far end of the runway into the photographers’ pit. In theory it was to be a good area, complete with folding chairs and a large tent, where one could buy refreshments and hot dogs and pizza quite inexpensively, yet, in reality it was the pits! The problem, all the aircraft landed at the other side of the airport. Even with a long telephoto lens, such as a 500mm, it was just about impossible to take any decent photographs, and the ones I took were all ruined by heat haze, that shimmering effect that resembles water ripples in a pond. Furthermore, we were not allowed to take static shots of the aircraft once they landed. We were not allowed to exit the corral all day unless if we wanted to leave the air show grounds. News Flash Folks: For any event, this is no way to treat photographers or anyone, very very discourteous, period!!!!
Saturday, for me started with disorganized ticket collectors and parking attendants. I entered the grounds at the indicated road by the signage. My tickets, for parking and entrance, were taken as soon as I entered the air show grounds. I was told to follow the road to the end to park. Halfway down the road I was stopped by one of the parking attendants and was told I would have to turn around and exit at the next road, then turn left, and about an 1/8 of mile turn left again to enter at that gate to park. I protested that now I had no proof that I had paid for my parking and entrance, as my tickets were taken away. I was told to go, and I will be let in with no problems, as they are aware of the situation at the other gate. Right! Murphy’s Law, of course this was not the case. Eventually, after arguing for 15 minutes, why I was not going to buy another set of tickets, which these bright folks wanted me to do, I was let in! Their attitude was: we do not believe you. Luckily for me I had my internet receipt with me, so finally one of them actually believed that I had purchased my ticket in advance, and just maybe, I was telling them the truth! What a disorganized way to handle the entrance at 07:30 in the morning!!!

I parked and walked a good ½ mile to the gates to enter the show ground. It was 8 a.m. when I got to the entry gates. I was told that the general public had to wait until 9 a.m., to get in, although, if one had purchased the $105 photo pass, then they could just waltz right in. At 9 a.m., on the dot, the gate opened. The crowd rushed in. I wanted to take some photos of the static aircraft, but with all the crowds, it was not truly worthy. After my feeble attempt, I just walked over to my reserved seat, an additional $25 upgrade, at the “Chalet” that my friend upgraded for me. It was a much better place to take photos of the air show than the photo pit, not crowded and fairly civilized. My friend showed up around 10:30 or so, since the show didn't start until noon. He left before the show ended. I stayed to the end.

For Sunday, we both had general admission tickets. I got to the air show grounds at 7:00 a.m. I entered at a different road, to avoid the previous day’s hassles. I waited until 9 a.m. to get in and located a good spot, left my folding chair behind with my sun umbrella and decided to try to take some static images of aircraft of interest, such as the Me-109E and the MiG 21. However the Me-109E was inside a hanger on the other side of the airport, due to rain during the evening. I found the MiG 21, but I also learned from the pilot of the MiG 21 that it would not fly during the show as the organizers of TOM, did not want to pay the fuel for the plane to fly during the show. What the heck?!!! Enough said!!!
I noticed during the day, as my friend and I decided to move to another location when it started to rain a bit, that most of the photographers who paid the $100+, were not inside the photo pit. The photo pit was actually the worst place to be during the show!!! I’m glad that I did not pay for that privilege. What a rip-off!
Sadly, it looked to me that the organizers became a bit too greedy and wanted to charge as much as they felt they could get away with. At most of the other air shows I have attended, the parking is free, arrival day entry is $5.00 and one can walk around taking photos of static aircraft. No wonder then for this this year there were less people at the air show than last year. While, I may go back next year, the organizers have to improve a bit; otherwise there will be even less people who will attend in 2009!

Some of the warbird participants were:

  • (4) B-17 "Memphis Belle", "Yankee Lady", " Thunderbird" and "Nine-O-Nine"
  • (2) B-24 "Ol 927" and "Witchcraft"
  • (4) P-47 Thunderbolt
  • (3) P-51 Mustang "Old Crow", "Betty Jane" and "Hurry Home Honey"
  • (2) MTB-3E Avenger
  • (2) FM-2 Wildcats
  • B-25D "Yankee Warrior"
  • Hawker Hurricane -- from Canada
  • Messerschmitt BF-109E -- from Canada
  • MiG-17F
  • MiG-21UM
  • and too many others to list
To summarize: Thunder Over Michigan, (TOM) was not a bad show, but improvements to its organization might have made it a better show. For TOM, the aircraft line up was very good, even without the ‘no-shows’. The weather more or less cooperated. While there was thunder and rain near the airport on Saturday, not one drop fell on the air show itself. On Sunday, it started as nice and sunny, but a strong wind blew in some very dark clouds, and it started to rain a bit . However, it stopped quickly, but the rain caused some of the venues to be shorter. If the ticket and parking staff had been more organized, the show more photographer friendly, and less expensive, it might have been one of the best one among the air shows I have attended to date in 2008.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Due to these reasons:
  • lack of proper organization
  • misinformation
  • nickled and dimed to death -- EXPENSIVE!.
The show had many highlights, thus, to pick just one is hard, but perhaps seeing the two B-24s in the air together would be the one for me..
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