Warbirds and Airshows
By David D Jackson

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 2014 Airshows
Titusville (Tico), FL   Spirit of St. Louis, MO   Youngstown Air Reserve Station, OH   Central Indiana Warbird Event Trilogy   Evansville Normandy Re-Enactment, IN   Dayton Airshow, OH   Thunder over Michigan, Belleville, MI   Warsaw, IN   Richmond, IN   WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous, Dayton, OH

Thunder over Michigan Warbird Photo Review
Warbirds at Willow Run Airport, Belleville, MI - August 9-10, 2014

This year I attended Thunder Over Michigan for both days, Saturday with my son and son-in-law, and then on Sunday by myself.  As much as there was at the show to see in 2014, and the fact that the weather was perfect for the event, it was well worth the long drive back up and home again in the evening each day.  After returning home on Sunday, I realized the distance I traveled the two days to the show if put into one trip would have taken me to Jacksonville, FL. 

As with all Thunder over Michigan shows, there were a considerable amount of warbirds both flying and on static display.  Saturday I did not really have the opportunity to spend the time I wanted looking at the static aircraft and other displays because the first of two daily WWII battles started at 10:30 each morning.  Saturday I watched the morning battle and Sunday I spent the time looking at aircraft and military displays instead.

One significant event for the Yankee Air Museum  in 2014 that produces the airshow of long range historical significance was the purchase of a portion of the former Ford B-24 bomber plant for the location of its museum.  This has been an endeavor the organization has been working on for several years once it became known the vacant plant was going to be razed for re-development.  The "Bomber Plant" as it is known to the locals, was actually one of literally thousands of new plants and plant additions the US Government loaned the money for to produce war goods during WWII.  This happened for several reasons.  First, the US with the rest of the world was just coming out of the Great Depression in 1940 when it was realized that construction of new facilities would be needed to prepare for the threat of war.  Also, businesses were not willing take on a loan for buildings and equipment that it would only need for the duration of the war and would not be needed by the company afterwards.  And even if the company did want to take out the loan, the banks would not loan the money, for the same reasons.  So the US Government loaned Ford and other companies in the country the funds to construct the needed buildings and procure the needed tooling and equipment.  It was the taxpayer and the workers buying savings bonds and the children in schools buying stamps that became saving bonds that financed the winning of the war.  Then at the end of WWII, the buildings became the property War Assets Administration, which then sold the buildings and equipment.  Many companies chose to purchase the buildings they has used during the war for post war civilian production.   

Ford did not purchase the Willow Run Bomber Plant after WWII although it did purchase the plant at the River Rouge Complex that built R-2800 aircraft engines.  In 1947 the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation purchased the used plant for automotive production and then during Korea built also C-119s in the facility.  This lasted until 1953 when Kaiser-Frazer moved out.  Then General Motors moved in and made automatic transmissions in the plant until 2010.  Over 70 years old and too large for today's manufacturing businesses, the building was scheduled to be torn down.  The Yankee Air Museum after a several year fund raising campaign in 2014 acquired enough funds to secure a portion of the historic plant for its museum.

The Willow Run Ford plant as seen from the crowd line at Thunder over Michigan 2014 where the progress of the demolition can be seen.  It is my understanding that the Yankee Air Museum is obtaining the section with the two hangar doors.  This is an outstanding accomplishment on the part of the YAF and I commend the organization for its persistence in raising the funding to save a section of this historical building for posterity.

 During the show there was considerable time to spent by the announcing team talking about the importance of the Bomber Plant during WWII.  This was all well and good but my recent research into the US auto industry in WWII has found that while the Willow Run Bomber Plant was important, its significance has over shadowed not only many other important war products produced by Ford, but the other eleven US auto companies that were also producing material for final victory.  Many of those products were at the show and many of them were built in the local Detroit area. 

Solid Detroit!  Even before entering the flight line, I found examples of Detroit's contribution to the war.  This WC series 1/2 truck was one of over 404,000 trucks Dodge built for the US military between 1940 and 1945.  All were built in the Motor City and are the predecessors to today's Ram trucks.

Here is another example of Dodge's early contribution to the war effort.  Trucks like this WC-12 1/2 pickup, of which 6,047 were built in 1941, better represent the contribution of the auto industry's to winning World War Two than the B-24's that came off the assembly line across the field in the Bomber Plant.  One contemporary author has erroneously re-labeled "Motor City" as "Bomber City" in order so sell his new book.  This is total and unadulterated bull. 

Willow Run is 30 miles from downtown Detroit and was nothing but farmland 70 years ago and produced only a small percentage of the automotive industry's total war output.

Lest one think that the only military product that Chrysler manufactured during WWII was Dodge trucks, the company produced a diverse product line including R-3350 engines for the B-29 program and 1,000 railcars of nickel plated steel tubing for the separation of U235 from U238 for the Manhattan Project.  Without the tubing the Manhattan Project would not have produced the needed U-235 needed for Fat Man and the feeder uranium needed for the plutonium bombs.

T-6s, SNJs, and Harvards await the formation fly-bys later in the day.  This photos of the long line of North American trainers gives some indication of the huge ramp that is available for the show.  During WWII this was the ramp of the Willow Run Army Air Force Base. 

Six of the hydraulic cylinders that opened and closed the gear doors, and raised and lowered the landing gears on the Texans were built by the Frigidaire Division of GM in Dayton, OH.  Frigidaire had four plants in Dayton producing products for the military during WWII, two of them built specifically for the war effort.  General Motors, the largest military contractor in the US during WWII, had 38 Divisions with over 100 plants turning out much needed war material and was the largest military contractor during WWII.

This is a first for any airshow I have been to, an Aero Union P-3 air tanker on display.  One would not expect this so far east and was a rare warbird on display for the event.

A few of the many statics on display including the rare Temco TT-1 Super Pinto with Dave Rothenanger's T-34 in the foreground.  With the large ramp area there is lots of room for static displays.

This DeHavilland Vampire, along with Super Pinto are owned by the World Heritage Air Museum in Detroit.  I was disappointed that neither of them flew in the show, as I have never seen a Super Pinto fly, and it has been a long time since I have seen a Vampire in flight.

More of the statics on display.

The Bell P-63 is from the Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg, ID and performed an aerobatic routine later in the show.  This was a first for me and the crowd at Thunder, as to my knowledge, a P-63 has not gone aerobatic in recent times.

Four different GM Divisions provided components for the Bell P-63 in WWII.  As can be seen here the four bladed prop was produced by the Aeroproducts Division in Dayton, OH, the gear reducer by Cadillac in Detroit, MI, the V-1710 engine by Allison in Indianapolis, IN and the 37 mm cannon by Oldsmobile in Lansing Michigan. 

Its always good to see a P-38 and a show and see her flying as was the case at Thunder 2014. 

Aviation enthusiasts are well aware that the Allison Division of GM provided the V-1710 engines for the Lockheed Lightning, but are unaware that Oldsmobile provided 20mm cannons for the aircraft and the Harrison Radiator Division of GM supplied radiators ,oil coolers and intercoolers.  Three GM divisions, AC Sparkplug in Flint, MI, Brown-Lipe-Chapin in Syracuse, NY and Frigidaire all produced the aviation version of the .50 M2 machine gun, which would have been used not only on the P-38, but every other warplane used by the US in WWII.  Cadillac supplied 175 parts for the Allison engine while the Delco-Remy Division of GM furnished all of the major castings.

This year there were two Eastern Aircraft TBMs on the field but unfortunately neither was part of the flying program, which was a shame as they would have added a lot to the show.

Eastern aircraft was a Division of General Motors that was created specifically from five of its east coast plants to produce not only the TBM torpedo bomber but the FM-1 and FM-2 Wildcat fighters.  If the war had continued, planning was in place for Eastern to produce the F8F Bearcat as the FM-3.  The Division was dissolved at the end of the war and the plants returned to building autos and trucks.  Pontiac Motor Division of GM in Pontiac built aerial torpedoes that the TBM would have carried, and car manufacturer Graham-Paige in Detroit machined components for the torpedoes.

This particular TBM carried rockets and an added camera, in addition to the normal gun camera, that can be seen in the leading edge of the wing.

This is an "Aircraft Torpedo Camera" which would activate with the launching of the torpedo, rather than be activated by the firing of the guns.  This is the first time I have ever seen one of these.

P-47 "Jacky's Revenge" looked real good sitting on the ramp. 

Both Ford and Chevrolet supplied the R-2800 engine for the P-47, while the Harrison Radiator Division of GM provided intercoolers for the aircraft during WWII.  Frigidaire Division of GM provided the big four bladed props.

It was great to see P-51 "Lil Margaret" at the show. 

Most warbird enthusiasts are well aware that the Mustang became the fighter it was when powered by the Packard built Rolls-Royce V-1650 Merlin engines, built on East Grand Boulevard in downtown Detroit.  But they may not be aware that Buick cast the cylinder blocks or that Graham-Paige machined parts for the engine.  They may also not be aware that Henry Ford was originally approached to build the engine and refused, as he did not want to work with a foreign company and country.  But Ford did go on to build 57,851 R-2800 engines at the River Rouge, which was several thousand more engines than Packard built of the Merlins.  Chrysler also refused the work but that was because it did not want to commit the engineering resources to converting British drawings and specifications to American ones.

Also on display and part of the flying display later was "Goodtime Gal", a Lockheed C-60 operated by the West Houston Wing of the CAF.  It was good to see her at Thunder.

There was a good crowd around B-24 "Diamond Lil".  This was the second time for the season I had seen her at an event. 

Buick was the primary source for Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines for the B-24 program during WWII, along with Chevrolet that also supplied the engine.  The Delco-Products Division of GM supplied the landing gear assemblies for the B-24s and both Frigidaire Division of GM and Nash-Kelvinator manufactured the three bladed propellers.  The Nash-Kelvinator plant was in Lansing, MI, not far from where I grew up.  My Grandfather was a foreman in the plant in charge of balancing the blades.

B-25 "Briefing Time", owned and operated by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, is always at Thunder and is a fine example of a B-25J built by North American Aircraft at Fairfax, KS.

When the Fairfax plant opened up the Fisher Body Davison of GM supplied 55% of the content that went into the B-25s built there which included wings, fuselages, tail assemblies, exhaust collectors along with forgings, castings and machined parts.  Fisher Body supplied Fairfax from its opening in 1941 through June of 1945.  Ten Fisher Body plants were involved in this endeavor.  One of the Fisher Body plants was also in Lansing, MI, where my mother worked during the war.

I always take time to be available to watch land battle in the morning which until this year has always had either P-51s or P-47s making low passes in support of the American troops.  Not this year, which resulted in what I thought was rather a ho-hum show, as the low flying fighters add to the excitement of the event.  I watched it on Saturday but did not pay any attention to the morning battle on Sunday.

The Cadillac Division of GM in Detroit, MI was one of the producers of of M5 Stuart tanks.  Each M5 had two Cadillac V-8 engines paired with Hydra-Matic transmissions built by the Detroit Transmission Division.  After Kaiser Frazer moved out of the Willow Run Bomber plant across the field, the Hydra-Matic Division, which was the renamed Detroit Transmission Division from WWII, moved into the Bomber plant and stayed for over 55 years, producing millions of transmissions in the facility.

Here the M5 Stuarts long with infantry prepare for the upcoming mock battle.

Cadillac built M5 Stuart tanks were a small part of the 56,901 M3, M4, M5, M10, M18, M26, and M36 tanks and tank destroyers built by not only Cadillac, but Buick Division of GM, Chrysler, Fisher Body Division of GM, and Ford.  This is another reason the proper moniker for Detroit is "Motor City".

Also at the show was this GMC CCKW-152 2/1/2 ton 6x6 truck, the workhorse of the US Army transportation in WWII.  528,829 of the 2-1/2 ton 6x6 trucks were built by both GMC and Chevrolet during the war, with the vast majority by GMC in nearby Pontiac, MI.

In the quotation below from Dwight D Eisenhower's book, Crusade in Europe, the General speaks of of the importance of the 2-1/2 ton truck. "Incidentally, four other pieces of equipment that most senior officers came to regarded as among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2-1/2 ton truck, and the C-47.  Curiously enough, none of these is designed for combat."

In a previous portion of the book, General Eisenhower spent a page explaining how the emergency shipment of 5,400 2-1/2 ton trucks to the battle front in North Africa was vitally important to winning that campaign.

Dodge supplied the vast majority of 4x4 ambulances for the US military during WWII, in both 1/2 ton, like this WC27. 

Six auto companies built trucks for the war effort from 1940 to 1945:  Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Studebaker, and Willys-Overland built 2,258,854 trucks ranging in capacity from the 1/4 Jeep to 3 tons.  True Motor City!!

The airshow started with all of the T-6s doing mass formation fly-bys.

Next up was Paul Wood in the Warbird Heritage Foundation's F-86.  We were treated to several low, high speed passes by Paul, which is the norm for the F-86 routine at Thunder.

Right behind the F-86 came the P-51 demonstration.

One change at Thunder for 2014 was the having the Sky Soldier Huey and Cobra rides stage out of the south end of the field, instead of the north end as in 2013.  This was, like most things, a double edged sword.  On the good side there was always flight movement to watch and listen to close by where we were sitting as the UH-1s and AH-1s operated most of the day.  But on the other hand, it did take away from the already small fence line for the crowd at the south end.

The AH-1 flies over the T-6s as they await to be towed back on to the static ramp.

 Up until 2014 the ramp that contained all of the flying aircraft was sterilized during the flying and the crowd kept behind a fence.  One could go to the fence and enjoy all of the great warbirds start and taxi.  Not in 2014.  All the warbirds were towed out to the taxiway far from the crowd for starting.  Another take-away for the spectator and warbird enthusiast at Thunder in 2014.

Even though there were warbirds flying for most of the show, the most exciting portion of the event was a 25 minute sequence each day that started with this five ship formation of B-17 and four fighters.  

The Sky Soldiers continued to do helicopter rides during the show, with the exception of when the Thunderbirds flew.  Here a Huey flies back in for a landing at a pre-briefed low attitude while the warbird formation flies at a pre-arranged higher altitude.  I believe this is the first time I have seen it done in this manner.  Typically race track patterns fly away from the crowd, not behind the crowd as shown here.  With a pattern away from the crowd, there is no need for altitude separation between flying aircraft and the helicopters giving rides. 

An over the crowd formation fly-by before the aircraft break for individual passes.

On Sunday only, the C-54 took off and joined in the individual show passes.  This was a pleasant surprise in that this is the first time I have ever seen "The Spirit of Freedom" fly a show, as she is normally static only. 

The P-38 down low with the C-47 "Yankee Doodle Dandy" turning inbound in the background.  What makes this particular portion of the show unique to Thunder over Michigan, is there are actually two groups of aircraft flying simultaneously.  The faster fighters in this photo are on the inner pattern which does a race track behind the crowd and the slower bombers and transports fly a pattern farther from the crown with the race track pattern away from the crowd.

With the dual pattern this allows two aircraft to fly in parallel to each other and be in front of the crowd at the same time.  The dual pattern fly-bys compensates for some of the disadvantages of the Willow Run Airport presents to the airshow organizers.  First, there is only a soy bean field directly in front of the crowd and no taxiway to allow aircraft to taxi in front of the crowd for photos and allow the spectators to hear the sounds of aircraft engines.  Also, the runways are at 45 degree angles to the crowd and prevailing winds typically have the aircraft take off away from the crowd.  Warbird take-offs are an exciting part of any airshow.  So the excitement of the take-off is lost here.  So in essence Thunder only has two things going for it; the great and varied collection of warbirds that it showcases each year, and this dual racetrack pattern.  Otherwise, Thunder becomes just an another airshow. 

And yes, in 2014 Thunder did have the USAF Thunderbirds, which I did not stay to see either day, but from all reports was pretty much a non event due to lack of enthusiasm in the Thunderbird's flying and the fact the show was so far away from the crowd.  When all is said and done, a US military jet team costs a show $50,000 plus.  For what the organizers and spectators got out of that added cost, the money could have been better spent on warbirds.  Or used for the purchase of the B-24 plant across the field. 

Here B-25 "Briefing Time" starts across the field with B-17 "Yankee Lady" fight behind her.

"Yankee Lady" gave us some really nice low passes after not flying in the show at all in 2013.

The Hudson flew, which was great to see.

 C-47 "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

Chevrolet Division of GM built R-1830s for the C-47 and C-53.  Frigidaire Division built propellers for the aircraft.

The C-47 and C-60 in trail.

Here the P-38 and B-25 fly in parallel on their separate racetracks.

And then the P-38 breaks to fly behind the crowd as the B-25 turns away from the crowd.

P-51 "Hell er Bust" gives the crowd a low pass.

Studebaker built R-1820 engines in South Bend, IN for the B-17 program while Chrysler built cockpit enclosures for the Flying Fortress at its Los Angeles, CA plant. Both Lockheed-Vega and Douglas built B-17s in the LA area, which no doubt is where the Chrysler cockpit enclosures went.  "Yankee Lady" is a Lockheed-Vega built B-17.  I wonder if she has a Chrysler cockpit enclosure as part of her airframe?

Allison, Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Nash-Kelvinator, Packard and Studebaker produced 352,259 aircraft engines during the war.  Maybe that's why Detroit is properly called Motor City.

Here the B-25D, "Yankee Warrior", sets up for a high, low speed pass.  The cement plant has become an unwelcome fixture at the airshow for several years, preventing an unobstructed view of the aircraft and taking away from an already small spectator line.  The plant is on site as all of the runways are being repaved in a multiyear plan.  One of the reasons the Thunderbirds would not fly in front of the crowd is this obstacle.  But it hasn't been a problem for the rest of the aircraft at the show over the past couple of years.

Finishing out the warbird sequence at Thunder 2014 was John Bagley doing an aerobatic demonstration in the Legacy of Flight's Bell P-63 King Cobra.


After the P-63 demonstration I left on both days.  On Sunday, I stopped at an automotive museum in Ypsilanti to the west of the airport.  Walking to my vehicle after the visit, the Thunderbirds flew over downtown Ypsilanti several times as they were setting up for their next pass at the show.  From what I have heard, I may have had a better view of the Thunderbirds than those at the show.  Hopefully Thunder 2015 will have a warbird and Blue Angel show that is more spectator friendly than was 2014.

For more information on the US Automobile Industry's contribution to victory in WWI, please visit:  US Auto Industry in WWII

Titusville (Tico), FL   Spirit of St. Louis, MO   Youngstown Air Reserve Station, OH   Central Indiana Warbird Event Trilogy   Evansville Normandy Re-Enactment, IN   Dayton Airshow, OH   Thunder over Michigan, Belleville, MI   Warsaw, IN   Richmond, IN   WWI Dawn Patrol Rendezvous, Dayton, OH


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