Thunder Over Michigan - A Formula for Success

Now class, I want to bring your attention to tonight's homework... calculating the formula for Fun!

TOM 2010 = 8 B-17/11 X 1 B-24/2 +7 P-51 + 1 F-100 = FUNN

Perhaps this may seem like an advanced calculus formula, but it’s not scientific at all. Just ask people who are regulars at air shows across North America -  they are already familiar with the theoretical formula: The Sum of FUN

So what was so much fun exponent to the power of "n"? Answer: the Thunder Over Michigan (TOM) air show last August 7-8 at the historic Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan, between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The theme of these two marvelous days was “The Gathering of Fortresses and Legends”.  Let's break down the compents of the TOM formula:

8 B17 / 11

Eight of the 11 existing airworthy B-17s at that time were in attendance, coming from Texas (Texas Raiders and Thunderbird), Arizona (Sentimental Journey), Georgia (Liberty Belle), Wisconsin (Aluminum Overcast), Massachusetts (Nine-O-Nine), from Geneseo in New York State (Memphis Belle, The Movie) and the one on site at Ypsilanti (Yankee Lady).

1 B-24 / 2

Witchcraft, one of the only 2 existing airworthy B-24 Liberators flew in from the Collings Foundation.

7 P-51

There were also 7 Mustangs P-51 including the three spectacular performers of the Horsemen aerobatic team.

1 F100

A Super Rare rare North American F-100 Super Sabre turned heads and attracted photographers.

The advanced formula (not shown here) also factored in  2 B-25 (Yankee Warrior and Briefing Time), a rare Douglas DC-7, and a subset of T-6 trainers.

The probability of having 8 B-17s flying together is quite low these days.  If you simply assume that these 8 magnificent Flying Fortresses you see parked as a unit on the tarmac the day of the air show, will fly together, there is still no guarantee. As luck would have it, they did so on the Saturday, but one of them, Texas Raiders, flew the entire show with her gear down due to mechanical problems - and the crowd appreciated the effort. The B-24 was grounded that day because of mechanical issues as well. On the Sunday, Witchcraft went up but not Texas Raiders. One never knows what can happen to a warbird until the last minute before its demonstration. This is something we have to understand and embrace.

There were performers who had to cancel their appearance at the air show, such as the much anticipated Bf-109 from the Russel Aviation Group of Niagara Falls, Ontario and the Me-262 from the Collings Foundation. But the aircraft list was impressive, and the show was excellent with fantastic orchestrated demonstrations.

Enough math... let's take a look at the photos:

By Pierre Lapprand

TOM 2011 will be held on July 23 and 24, featuring the US Navy Blue Angels. The main theme will be on the Pacific Theater and the US Navy aircrafts. This year is the US Centennial of Naval Aviation. The list of guests is already showing 7 Corsairs, 2 Mitsubishi (A6M2 and A6M3) Zeros, more warbirds representative of this period, many F-18s, and more. Please go at

Special thanks to Ken Walsh and Michael Luther of the Yankee Air Museum for their sense of organization and pre-sales of tickets for TOM and to Dave O'Malley for his help and historical research for this article.

There is nothing so magnificent as eight warbird giants in a row all with unique and historic bombardment group markings. the line-up reads left to right The 381st BG, RAF Ridgewell; the 457th BG, RAF Glatton; 303rd BG, RAF Molesworth; 390th BG, RAF Framlingham; 398th BG, RAF Nuthampstead, 91st BG, RAF Bassingbourne, 92nd BG, RAF Podington and lastly another from the 381st BG, RAF Ridgewell. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Fuselage Squadron codes and engine cowling colours will help us tell an even more specific story - that of the squadrons within a group. In the foreground the Fortress "X for X-ray" wears the squadron code “VP” for the 533rd Bombardment Squadron (BS).  Behind her, the all-metal Fortress wears the blue fin flashes of the 749th BS. Farther down the line the “GN” code indicates the 427th BS, followed by “DI” for the 570th BS. Then we can just make out the “3O” code (with H aircraft code attached) of the 601st BS.  Photo: Pierre Lapprand.

The show's name "Thunder over Michigan” is powerfully demonstrated in this tight formation of P-51D Mustangs of The Horsemen aerobatic team. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Les Belles Dames. Like a scene from Memphis Belle, 3 mighty B-17 Flying Fortresses taxi for the active runway led by B-17s Liberty Belle and Memphis Belle. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Always looking for unique angle, Lapprand captures a line-up of North American T-6 Texan aircraft reflected in the mirrored glass of a building.  Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Climbing out into an overcast sky, the all aluminum B-17 Liberty Belle reflects the dull sky. This B-17 hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma and is operated by the Liberty Foundation. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

If you were a lathe operator at a ball bearing factory in Schweinfurt, Germany, it would be about this time you would say "Stellen sie ihre werkzeuge jungen hinunter - Tools Down Boys" and start running for your life. With telephoto lens, Lapprand has captured the majesty of four “Forts” streaming into the target. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

If there ever was a “pointy end of the stick”, this is it - the bombardier's seat and position at the front end of the Fortress. Vulnerable to frontal attacks and flack bursts, it would be here that a bomb-aimer would take over “flying” the bomber, keeping it on target using the top secret Norden Bomb Sight until he called “Bombs Away!”  Then it was Miller Time. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Perhaps the most uncomfortable and least desirable position on any aircraft would be that of the ball turret gunner. So compact was the tiny electrically-operated capsule, that only short and slender young men were able to fit inside - in a semi-fetal position, shooting from between the gunners knees.  At the end of the Second World War, a poet by the name of Randall Jarrell penned this grim black, humoured ditty about the ball turret

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

He subsequently described the equipment thus: "A ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24, and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine guns and one man, a short small man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside down in his little sphere. The fighters which attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a steam hose."  Photo: Pierre Lapprand

A slab-sided behemoth B-24 named Witchcraft of the 467th BG is accompanied to the target by two "Little Friends" as escort fighters were called by grateful bomber crews. In the heat and haze behind comes a “bomber stream” of B-17 Flying Fortresses. The original Witchcraft was assigned to the 467BG, 790BS and compiled an amazing record of 130 combat missions.  Then vulnerability of the ball turret gunner is very evident on this photo.  Photo: Pierre Lapprand

B-17G Yankee Lady labours low through the haze created by pyrotechnics. This aircraft was delivered to the U. S. Army Air Corps as 44-85829, then transferred to the U. S. Coast Guard as PB-1G, BuNo 77255 in September, 1946. It served at NAS Elizabeth City, North Carolina until May 1959. Her later life included stints as a water bomber, but now she flies for the Yankee Air Museum, at the Willow Run Airport, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Liberty Belle climbs out over a demonstration of American armour on the ground - creating a image that seems rooted in 1944.  Photo: Pierre Lapprand

The B-24J is a very utilitarian looking bomber but she exudes a certain beauty in her rugged ugliness. The 130 bomb mission flashes on the side tell a story of endurance and bravery not equaled or surpassed by many.  Photo: Pierre Lapprand

3x17 + 24 equals B-75. In this rare view we get a good sense of the comparative shapes of the two bomber types.   Photo: Pierre Lapprand

A dramatic, sinister angle on the classic Fortress with the massive wing dominating the shot.  Photo: Pierre Lapprand

12 Texans and Harvards Thunder over Michigan. The Harvard/Texan is the undisputed loudest single-engine warbird around - 12 of them is either heaven or hell, depending on your aural stamina. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

A beauty out of a past where airlines were bastions of service and elegance, a DC-7B from the Eastern Airlines Historical Foundation lands at Willow Run Airport. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

“Beware the Hun in the sun” goes the old dog-fighting saying. This two-seat training variant of the venerable North American F-100 Super Sabre, known lovingly by its pilots as the Hun (for Hundred), is a rare bird indeed, but no one need beware, except possibly these frightened birds. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

The Horsemen gallop past show centre while Lapprand pans with them. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Second world War USAAF fighter ace, Bud Anderson has had his old warhorse immortalized on more than one still-flying P-51. In this instance it is his P-51C “Old Crow” (owned by Jack Rouche) from the 362nd FS, 357th FG, flown by Jimmy Leeward. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

These five North American Harvards in BCATP yellow seem to follow the line described by the Boeing KC-10 tanker's tail in the foreground. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

A dramatic downward bomb burst manoeuvre with the three mustangs of the Horsemen. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

Lapprand uses a sepia tint on this photo to make it appear as a vintage shot of close air support during the Second World War. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

John Mohr is the undisputed King of the Stearman, able to wring aerobatic excellence from the docile trainer. Photo: Pierre Lapprand

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