Thunder Over Michigan Airshow 2021

Story and photos by Howard German

Kevin Walsh, CEO of the Yankee Air Museum in Ypsilanti, MI as well as Event Director of the 2021 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow conducted an impressive and highly entertaining weekend of military and warbird aviation in early August 2021. 

With Covid concerns still very much on the minds of the general public and an active construction project in full swing at Willow Run Airport, a “drive-in” style show format was chosen for the weekend event.  Ticket-holders watched the show from their vehicle but were also allowed to walk around, purchase food from vendors as well as interface with aircrew of static aircraft on display.

The unique aspect for this particular weekend was that there were two high quality shows per day.  Each show having a separate admission and varied schedule.  While distinct admission sounds excessive at first, the reality is that the strength of the lineup for each show made up for the additional cost.  It is not often that one can see the Blue Angels in the morning and the Thunderbirds in the afternoon at the same location.  This show delivered that and much more, thus making it one of the most memorable shows I have attended in a very long time.

Besides the US Air Force Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels demo teams, the split shows featured fourteen B-25’s who flew each morning and afternoon.  “Mitchell Madness” was the theme for the weekend and it certainly was in full effect with many photographic opportunities to capture the array of B-25 Mitchell’s throughout the day. Each performance of the B-25’s included multiple bombing runs, photo-passes and multi formation fly-bys. 

B-25’s flying at the show:

1.     B-25J “Georgia Mae” 44-86785 N5262V Troy, Alabama

2.     B-25J “Show Me” 44-31385 N345TH Missouri Wing CAF, St. Charles, MO

3.     B-25J “Maid in the Shade” 43-35972 N125AZ Arizona CAF, Mesa, AZ

4.     B-25 PBJ-1J “Semper FI” 43-30988 N5865V Southern Calif. Wing CAF Camarillo, CA

5.     B-25J “Devil Dog” 44-86758 N9643C CAF, Georgetown, TX

6.     B-25J “Miss Mitchell” 44-29869 N27493 CAF Minnesota Wing South St. Paul, MN

7.     B-25J “Killer B” 44-86697 N62163 Titusville Florida

8.     B-25J “Wild Cargo” 44-30129 N7947C Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA

9.     B-25J “Georgie’s Gal” 44-86777 N345BG Liberty Aviation Museum, Port Clinton, OH

10. B-25J “Champaign Gal” 44-28866 N744CG Champaign Airshow Museum, Urbana, OH

11. B-25J “Yankee Doodle” 45-8898 N898BW Tri State Warbird Museum, Batavia, OH

12. B-25D “Rosie’s Reply” 43-3634 N3774 Yankee Air Museum, Ypsilanti, MI

13. B-25J “Take Off Time” 44-30832 N3155G Millville, New Jersey

14. B-25J “Lady Luck” 44-31508 N3165G Blaine, Minnesota

After the B-25 flying demo, the exceptional performances continued with no lull in excitement.   The Navy EA-18G Growler demo team took to the skies and flew a number of passes before joining up with the US Navy Legacy Flight F4U-4 Corsair.  In addition, the US Air Force had their F-35 demo team in attendance from Hill Air Force Base.  More photographic opportunities presented themselves with the F-35 performing its solo act, and then joining up with the A-10 Demo team from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for a heritage flight with P-51D “Moonbeam McSwine”.  As the morning show continued, flying activity consisted of the German Air Force performing a demonstration of their Airbus A400M Atlas.  In addition, more warbird flying action followed with the Yankee Air Museum’s B-17G Yankee Lady and a steady rotation of P-51’s comprised of P-51D “Old Crow” 44-74474, Columbus, Ohio.  P-51D “Mad Max” 44-11559a, Buffalo, NY.  P-51B “Old Crow” 43-12252, Livonia, Michigan.  P-51D “Gentleman Jim” 44-74230, Livonia, Michigan and P-51D “Cincinnati Miss” 44-84410, Batavia, OH.

Afternoon demonstrations followed roughly the same format as the morning acts of B-25’s, P-51’s, German Airbus A400, and Heritage Flights of the Navy and Air Force.  The difference being that the afternoon show had an A-10 demo instead of the Air Force F-35 demo and the closing act were the Thunderbirds instead of the Blue Angels.

One more special feature of this airshow, (which I took advantage of), is the option to purchase access to a night photoshoot consisting of a small subset of the warbirds.  The lighting was professionally arranged with Kevin Walsh directing the location, placement of the aircraft as well as wetting down the foreground of the three warbirds participating.  The aircraft on display were P-51D “Mad Max”, F4U-4 Corsair “Korean War Hero”, and B-25D “Rosie’s Reply”.  The night shoot made for a very long Saturday as the morning show started at 8:00am with the night shoot ending at roughly 11:30pm.  Nevertheless, it was well worth the money, time and effort. 

In closing I don’t think I can emphasize enough how satisfying this show was.  The lineup was first rate with a great mix of warbirds and military acts.  There were no silly filler acts during the three days.  For photographers you had many options and opportunities to capture the flying with varied weather conditions, including vapor from the fast jets and even the Airbus. 

I would be remiss in not mentioning how professional and responsive the staff were at the show, particularly the folks operating the photo-pit area.  They really were determined to make our experience a notable one and worked their tails off to produce a smooth-running event.  I thank them for all their help and guidance during these outstanding shows.

Howard German