Bombers Soar At Thunder Over Michigan 2015

posted in: Airshows, Event Recap | 0

B-29 Superfortress, Avro Lancaster, and B-17 Flying Fortress - Thunder Over Michigan 2015

The heavy metal was out in force at this year’s Thunder Over Michigan airshow, organized by the Yankee Air Museum and held at the historic Willow Run airport in Ypsilanti, MI. The theme for the 2015 show was “Bombertown, USA”, no doubt in celebration of the preservation of the airport’s special role in WWII B-24 Liberator production. The show, known widely for arranging incredible gatherings of rare warbirds, certainly lived up to the theme by bringing 10 bombers (plus YAM’s own B-17 and B-25, which only flew to give rides during the show) together on one ramp. But the show is not known for static gatherings; organizer Kevin Walsh and his staff usually find a way to get a lot of the aircraft in the skies together. In this case, simultaneous race track patterns of bomber flybys and a grand finale formation flyover!

P-51 Mustangs in Formation - Thunder Over Michigan 2015de Havilland Mosquito - Thunder Over Michigan 2015

The 2015 edition of Thunder Over Michigan was also special because the typically warbird-only show hosted the US Navy’s Blue Angels for the third time ever. After a disappointing showing by the USAF Thunderbirds in 2014, it was nice to see the Blues fly along the proper showline. The USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon demo team “Viper East” also performed at the show for the first time in several years.

Despite the unusual modern military presence, which always irritates warbird purists but draws in a ton of very important money for the museum at the same time, the warbirds were still the heart of the show. Aside from the bombers, there was a segment featuring a WWII fighter formation of three P-51 Mustangs, an F4U (FG-1D) Corsair, and a Spitfire. Rick Volker flew an impressively nimble Harvard routine, and the unique WWII battle reenactments, held twice daily, had simulated strafing runs and dogfights overhead. On the static ramp, the museum even pulled out some of its bomber display aircraft including a B-57 Canberra and PB4Y-2 Privateer, which was parked next to her flying sister ship for an incredibly rare sight.

WWII Battle Reenactment - Thunder Over Michigan 2015PB4Y-2 Privateers - Thunder Over Michigan 2015

It was a very good weekend, but there were some concerns in the crowd about the sky high ticket prices along with the confusing and overly oppressive entry restrictions. However, the Blue Angels drew in enough people to pack the place each day in less than ideal weather. Hopefully the experience was pleasant enough that the spectators will return next year to support the museum and these incredible aircraft!

B-29 Superfortress and WWII Bombers - Thunder Over Michigan 2015USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon and P-51 Mustang Heritage Flight - Thunder Over Michigan 2015
WWII Bomber Static Displays - Thunder Over Michigan 2015WWII Bomber Static Displays - Thunder Over Michigan 2015
SNJ - Thunder Over Michigan 2015US Navy Blue Angels - Thunder Over Michigan 2015
V for Victory - Thunder Over Michigan 2015Blue Angel Autographs - Thunder Over Michigan 2015

The Many Highlights Of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

posted in: Airshows, Event Recap | 0

F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II, and P-38 Lightning Under Fireworks - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Another year, another EAA AirVenture in the books! The week-long event at Wittman Regional Airport annually draws in over 10,000 aircraft, from general aviation to warbirds and modern military aircraft. Many people will camp the entire week, either in the nearby campgrounds or even in a tent right under their plane, because there is simply too much to see and do for just a weekend. For aviation enthusiasts young and old, AirVenture is the biggest event of the year.

Skip Stewart - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015USAF Thunderbirds T-38 Talon - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

This year’s event stuck out to many as one of the best in recent years, thanks to the number and magnitude of highlights. The statistics certainly back up this notion; total attendance was approximately 550,000, up two percent from last year. Even more than that, there was a noticeable increase in both aircraft attendance and activity. At one point, only one parking spot was left in the Fightertown section!

With so much going on, let’s dive into some of this year’s highlights!

Airbus’s New A350 XWB

On Monday, a flight-test version of the Airbus A350 XWB (Extra-Wide-Body) gave an impressive display of the aircraft’s flight capabilities. Its tight turns, steep banks, and high rate of climb had spectators on their feet. After its performance, the aircraft was towed to Boeing Plaza for tours of the interior. On Wednesday, it was towed out of the plaza and down to the end of the runway where it gave a second demonstration before returning home. The A350 XWB can carry over 300 passengers nearly 8,000 nautical miles, and is already in service by Qatar Airways and Vietnam Airlines.

Airbus A350 - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015Airbus A350 - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

B-52 in Boeing Plaza

On the Friday before the show, many of the runway lights were taken down to accommodate one of the largest aircraft ever to land at Wittman Regional Airport: the B-52 Stratofortress. While it did not fly in the show, this massive bomber took up a big chunk of space in Boeing Plaza throughout the week, where the pilots and crew gave talks, answered questions, and sold some squadron merchandise. Fun fact: the B-52 is part of the 343rd Bomber Squadron out of Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. This is, coincidentally, the same location as EAA Chapter 343. As a result of this coincidence, special 343 patches commemorating both the base and the chapter were sold in limited supply.

B-52 Stratofortress and B-29 Superfortress - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

The crew even got into the AirVenture spirit by registering the aircraft as a home-built with over 14,000 flight hours and asking for it to be judged. As a result, the B-52 won a special award!

Unfortunately the aircraft did not fly during the event because of the logistics of getting it back to the runway. However, we were there on the following Monday and got the best seat in the house for its departure.

Honoring the Legacy of Burt Rutan

This year, Burt Rutan returned to AirVenture to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his VariEze aircraft design (which first flew in May of 1975). Rutan is famous for his innovative aircraft concepts, such as the use of canards on various general aviation aircraft and also for perhaps his most famous milestone: SpaceShipOne. On Monday, a rare Beechcraft Starship made a special airshow arrival and the next day it joined with various other Rutan designs for a tribute during the show. Tuesday night, the Theater in the Woods featured ‘Garage-to-Garage’, a special presentation that highlighted Rutan’s legacy; 46 different aircraft designs with over 1,000 aircraft in service.

Burt Rutan Tribute - Beechcraft Starship - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015Burt Rutan Tribute - Boomerang - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Arrival of the F-35 Lightning II

While the USMC version of the F-35 has been giving mini-demonstrations throughout the year at military airshows, AirVenture 2015 marked the first appearance of an F-35 Lightning II at a civilian show. Early Wednesday afternoon, two USAF F-35s from Eglin Air Force Base performed some low approaches before landing, unfortunately without afterburner. One of the pair was soon towed over to Boeing Plaza; setting up a rare opportunity to see it next to not only an F-22 Raptor, but a P-38 Lightning as well! Both stealth jets were kept under tight security with armed guards who kept an eye on the swarms of people surrounding them and taking pictures.

USAF F-35 Lightning II - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015USAF F-35 Lightning II - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

F-100 Super Sabre and F-4 Phantom

These two Vietnam-era jets created their own thunder in the later half of the week. The F-100, currently the only one of its kind flying, makes precious few airshow appearances and had never graced the Oshkosh skies before. Pilot and owner Dean “Cutter” Cutshall flew it in from Fort Wayne, IN and performed twice during the show. The first time was during the Friday warbird show when it flew with the Warbird Heritage Foundation’s A-4 Skyhawk and Jeff Kaney’s MiG-17 Fresco in the “Vietnam jets” segment. The real show, however, was the twilight performance just before sunset on Saturday night. The F-100 is known for its primitive one-stage afterburner that POPS very loudly when first engaged, and Cutter knows just how to show it off for the crowd. In the dim evening sky, the flame trailing the aircraft was even more visible than usual and had aviation fans drooling.

F-100 Super Sabre - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015F-100 Super Sabre - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

The USAF F-4 Phantom II had a similar showing at AirVenture, performing a couple times as well as flying during the Saturday twilight show. This particular F-4 has been modified to fly as an unmanned target drone, making its proper designation QF-4. Several of these QF-4s were given special commemorative paint schemes in recent years and taken to airshows to perform in Heritage Flights alongside current fighters. Sadly many of even the specially painted F-4s have been shot down now as the QF-4 program comes to an end and the similar QF-16 program begins. This, combined with the recent budget cuts, meant that the pilots were not Heritage Flight qualified this year, and so they were only able to perform a solo mini-demonstration. Still, an F-4 twilight demo would be a highlight of any show. Oshkosh may very well prove to be the final public appearance of a military Phantom; if so, it went out in grand style.

USAF F-4 Phantom II - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015USAF F-4 Phantom II - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Salute to Veterans

Each year, EAA AirVenture hosts an Old Glory Honor Flight, which flies veterans to Washington DC to visit the memorials built in their honor. This year, the flight honored veterans from the Vietnam War. As the American Airlines MD-80 carrying them returned to show center at the conclusion of their special day, it was greeted with a water cannon salute from a pair of firetrucks. A large crowd on onlookers cheered the arrival, and the crowd shifted to the main stage in Boeing Plaza for a ceremony followed by a performance by the Lt. Dan Band (featuring Gary Sinise, best known for his role as Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump). Several Vietnam-era aircraft, including the F-4 Phantom, F-100 Super Sabre, A-4 Skyhawk, OV-10 Mohawk, and A-1 Skyraider were arranged to ring the concert, making the moment even more special.

Vietnam Veterans Tribute - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Vietnam Veterans Tribute - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015Vietnam Veterans Honor Flight - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Record-Breaking Sky-Dive Attempt

The Golden Knights will often reference a “traffic jam in the sky” when several of their jumpers are coming in to land, but even their routine is nothing compared to the massive sky-diving attempts that were performed Wednesday and Friday during AirVenture. In an attempt to set the sequential mega-formation world record, 108 skydivers from around the world were divided among 5 jump aircraft. After jumping from 20,000 feet, the group had only 60 seconds to join up and form five different formations before splitting apart. As the jumpers opened their parachutes simultaneously, the sky exploded with canopies; so many that it was clearly audible on the ground thousands of feet below! Although the group made 3 different attempts at the record, they were not successful in the eyes of the judges. However, they did end up setting a Wisconsin state record for largest skydiving formation!

Rare Bombers: B-29 Superfortress and PB4Y-2 Privateer

This year’s show featured the world’s only flying B-29 Superfortress and PB4Y-2 Privateer. Although the B-29 “Fifi” has been in Oshkosh several times in the last few years, it was the first visit for the all silver Privateer. Both flew during the week, making simulated bombing runs with the help of the Tora Bomb Squad pyrotechnics team on the ground. “Fifi” also operated out of Appleton for part of the week, selling rides to passengers alongside EAA’s B-17 Flying Fortress “Aluminum Overcast”.

PB4Y-2 Privateer - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015B-29 Superfortress "Fifi" - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Roar of the Merlins

Thursday was the day of the legendary Merlin engine. The warbird portion of the show marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain by having the Avro Lancaster and de Havilland Mosquito, both powered by Merlins, fly together along with a replica Spitfire. The Lancaster and Mosquito are both one of only two of their type left flying in the world. A second Mosquito was on static display, however it is part of the EAA Museum located on the airport and does not fly. Still, the opportunity to see two side by side was incredible!

Avro Lancaster - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015de Havilland Mosquitos - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

A short time later, no less than 14 P-51 Mustangs taxied out. As they approached the runway, they stopped to perform simultaneous run-ups right in front of the crowd. Talk about goosebumps. They soon launched, mostly in pairs, and the formation-rated pilots in the group joined in three elements of four aircraft to provide high cover before diving in for individual high speed passes. Add it up and that’s twenty Merlins singing together in the skies over Oshkosh!

P-51 Mustangs - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015P-51 Mustangs - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Same Old AirVenture

Each year EAA AirVenture offers something new; something even fans who have been going for the last 35 years haven’t seen before. But at the same time, EAA AirVenture remains fundamentally the same; a massive gathering of aviation enthusiasts and fans with an unmatched feeling of camaraderie that draws people back every year. From the 10,000+ aircraft that fly in to the 1,000+ forums/workshops and the 800+ exhibitors, AirVenture will always be the world’s biggest aviation destination and that is a worthy highlight in its own right.

USAF F-22 Raptor and Fireworks - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015P-51 Mustang - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Mass Warbird Formations - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

MiG-17 Fresco - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015USAF Heritage Flight - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015
The 4ce - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015Texas Flying Legends B-25 Mitchell and Zero - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015