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THE RUMBLE OF THUNDER OVER MICHIGAN 2018

IMG_7219 (2) (1000x373) The Ypsilanti MI based Yankee Air Museum hosts the annual Thunder Over Michigan Air Show at the Willow Run International Airport. We just took a look at the aircraft that brought the “Thunder” to the 2018 airshow, we now turn our attention to the Radials of the 2018 show. Thunder Over Michigan 2018 brought together its usual compliment of piston powered aircraft to Willow Run. While it was the United States Air Force Thunderbirds that brought the “Thunder”, there were also several other fighters, bombers and warbirds that brought there own rumble to the skies over Ypsilanti.

Several different United States Navy and United States Army Air Corps fighters descended on the 2018 show. Five North American P-51 Mustangs were on hand. Several Regular attenders included P-51B “Old Crow” and P-51D “Gentlemen Jim” both owned by NASCAR legend Jack Roush. Scott “Scooter” Yoak brought his beautiful P-51D “Quick Silver to Ypsilanti. Tony Buechler’s P-51D “Petie 2nd” and the Commemorative Air Force’s P-51C “Tuskegee Airman” were present. The Commemorative Air Force also had single examples of the Goodyear FG-1D Corsair and a Bell P-63A King Cobra. Noteworthy attendee was a 1944 built Republic P-47A Thunderbolt “Hun Hunter XVI” Melton Neal is the owner of this P-47 and is based at the Tennessee Museum of Aviation.

Several different carrier borne and land based medium and heavy bombers were at the 2018 show. The Commemorative Air Force brought the world’s only flyable Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver. The Helldiver was on static display and also flew in the airshow. Expertly and meticulously restored Grumman TBM-3E Avenger owned by Brad Deckert was also on static display and flew in the airshow. This Avenger is also a World War II combat veteran serving onboard the U.S.S. Vella Gulf during the battle of Okinawa. Three different North American B-25 Mitchell’s were on hand including the locally based B-25C “Yankee Warrior” as well as B-25J’s “Super Rabbit” and “Georgie’s Gal”. A pair of B-17 Flying Fortresses were in the static display and also flew in the afternoon airshow. The Commemorative Air Force brought B-17G “Texas Raiders” to Ypsilanti, this B-17 was actually a Long Beach Douglas built aircraft and not built by Boeing. The other B-17G was the locally based “Yankee Lady” which was actually built by the Vega Division of Lockheed Aircraft. Both of these aircraft flew several spirited passes in the afternoon airshow. Boeing B-29 Super Fortress “DOC” was also present and flew in the afternoon airshow. DOC was built in 1944 at the Boeing plant in Wichita Kansas and is one of two flyable B-29’s left in the world.

Several other Observation, Trainers and Transport aircraft were also at Thunder 2018 in the static display, these included Cessna’s , Stinson’s, and Texan’s. Locally based C-47D Skytrain, 44-76716 formally known as Yankee Doodle Dandy was on hand after being recently repainted. This C-47 no wears a paint scheme from the China, Burma, India theater and wears “Hairless Joe” titles. The original “Hairless Joe” was a C-47D that the Legendary Lieutenant Colonel Dick Cole flew after being part of the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.

Not to be forgotten about in the static display was Lockheed EC-121K Warning Star, Bureau number 141311. This EC-121K still wears the markings of Airborne Early Warning Squadron Thirteen (VW-13) when it was delivered in 1956. The EC-121 was used by the United States Navy in the 1950’s as a Airborne Warning and Control Aircraft and was originally designated the WV-2. This particular aircraft was re designated as the EC-121 in 1962, and was officially retired in 1979. The Chanute Aerospace Museum acquired the aircraft in 1983, and upon its closure was transferred to the Yankee Air Museum in 2016 and is under restoration.

This annual airshow is always a resounding success with 2018 being no different. If you have never attended this show, consider it, you will not be disappointed. Until next time, “Blue Skies To All!”.

Hyakuri Air Base Open Day and F-4 Phantom Showcase

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An air base open day was held on 2 December 2018 at Hyakuri Air Base (RJAH) in Ibaraki Prefecture, marking the start of the transition of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (Koku Jeitai or JASDF) from the McDonnell Douglas (Mitsubishi Heavy Industries construction-built) F-4 Phantom II to the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, with the 302nd Hikotai (Tactical Fighter Squadron) planned to stand its phantoms down in February, 2019.

The F-4 Phantom has been an important contributor to western air defences for nearly 60 years. JASDF has operated 154 variants of the F-4 Phantom since 1972 and production ended with their 127th F-4EJ, on 20 May 1981. This was the last F-4 built in the world (as serial 17-8440 it still operates from the base with the 301st as an upgraded F-4EJKai and was observed in flight on several occasions). Less than 70 now remain in service, with retirements and some scrapped in recent years.

Japan is one of the few countries to continue operating the F-4 into the second decade of the 21st Century. The recent announcement of extra F-35 acquisitions will no doubt hasten the process of operational F-4 de-acquisition.

JASDF's two operational F-4EJKai tactical fighter Hikotai of the 7th Kokudan (Air Wing) are based at Hyakuri with the Central Air Defense Force along with RF-4Kai (reconnaissance nose) and RF-4EJ (carrying ventral podded reconnaissance equipment) of Teisatsu Kokutai (Air Reconnaisance Group).

The following squadrons are based at Hyakuri in December 2018:

The 301st Hikotai is the "frog-and-scarf" - taken from the Shirokuno Gama Frog which inhabits Mount Tsukuba, close to Hyakuri Air Base), observant spotters noted the 301st's frog's scarf currently shows the seven stars of the 7th Kokudan.

The 302nd Hikotai "white-tailed Eagle" - the stylised white-tailed eagle represents the Ojiro Washi Eagle which inhabits the mountains near their original base at Chitose).

501st (Teisatsu Kokutai or Tactical Reconnaissance) Squadron "Woody Woodpecker".

As seen in the accompanying images, the 301st and 302nd Hikotai currently contribute to the QRA - Quick Reaction Alert which maintains interceptor coverage for Japan and the Tokyo area in particular.

F-4EJKai continue in use at Hyakuri as the 302nd prepare for their retirement of the type, the 301st with their F-4 Tactical Fighters and the 501st continue to operate the RF-4 variants until replaced by newer jets. late news from Stars and Stripes - The Japan Air Self-Defense Force will retire its aging RF-4E Phantom II reconnaissance jets and decommission the unit that flies them by March 2020, the Defense Ministry is planning to replace the Tactical Reconnaissance Group’s (RF-4Es) with state-of-the-art F-35A and F-35B Lightning IIs. A recent announcement has stated Japan will acquire 100 extra F-35s for a modernised JASDF to counter a growing threat of incursions (said to be almost daily) from China and Russia.

Having admired the Phantom as a type for many years, and enthralled of the variety of variants and schemes, I was determined to visit Japan before the type disappears from the scene. I was particularly keen to photograph the blue and green maritime superiority schemes. So I joined a tour operated by respected Townsville aviation photographer Leroy Simpson and his wife Maho, and wasn't disappointed. Having a vehicle allowed us the facility to be where the light and the wind allowed the best shots. I can only speak well of the JASDF for allowing such ease of access to their bases and indeed, their use of soon-to-be-retired airframes to wear attractive commemorative paint schemes. A "peculiarly Japanese" habit is to wave, and it was common to see photographers and crews exchanging friendly and hearty waves on most occasions - all were clearly "living the dream"!

While there are challenges for photographing F-4s (that drooped tail for burner shots), the rewards were many including capturing the QRA Phantoms as they transited the airfield between the maintenance hangars and the ready hangars at the far end and the early morning run-ups, preparing the aircraft for another day on QRA.

The airfield attack display set-ups were spectacular and highlighted the unique shape of the F-4 in differing configurations. All Phantoms launched in pairs, breaking low past show-centre, providing yet another dimension to an already mind-blowing sight. A six-ship flyover (accompanied with a seventh, camera-ship F-4EJKai) proved particularly memorable both in sight and sound!

I particularly appreciated the 301st and 302nd flying their low-level attacks and transitions just above tree-top height, with the paired "special" paint-schemed F-4s (the white and the black, launched only that week), repeatedly rolling-in together to strafe" the airfield from end to end. The 302nd painted up these apparently time-expired airframes which is ops-normal for JASDF commemorative paint jobs! A 301 F-4 did a beautiful solo display as well. The 501st also attacked, in pairs, providing maximum opportunities to photograph the blue, green-brown and green-grey colour variations. Grey or camo Phantoms several times passed the tower, just over the ramp it seemed. I have not witnessed such concentrated attacks since the final show of the F-111 at RAAF Base Amberley. Whilst the weather on the day was far from perfect, as part of the tour we had in fact spent the previous week capturing the "spirit" of the F-4 and took it in our stride.

Other significant players included the Air Rescue Wing, Koku Kyunandan Raytheon Hawker 800 (U-125A), heavily modified for SAR and the UH-60J SAR variant, of Hyakuri Kyunantai demonstrating the JASDF's commitment to peaceful humanitarian activities of Search-and-rescue. While the -60J dropped pairs of parachutists during the show, the U-125A orbits above, demonstrating co-operation providing swift transit times and top cover for the rescue choppers below. We also enjoyed the best F-15 display (303rd TFS out of Komatsu) I have seen for many years, in beautiful autumn light. Rounding off the ground displays were a Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft, an indigenous F-2 fighter, T-7 trainer (Turbo-Mentor), Bell Huey helo, a Gulfstream U-4, F-15Js and of course, many more F-4s, making one of the best ramps I have ever witnessed.

DEFENDERS OF FREEDOM

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Ten miles South of Omaha Nebraska, adjacent to the city of Bellevue Nebraska, one will find Offutt Air Force Base. Offutt has a very rich history dating back to the late 1890’s when Fort Crook was constructed, as a matter of fact many of the original structures are still in use today. In 1918 flying came to Fort Crook in the shape of balloons operated by the United States Army Air Corps. May 6th 1924, the flying portion of Fort Crook was renamed in honor of 1st Lt. Jarvis Offutt. Lt. Offutt was Omaha’s first World War I air casualty, when he died in 1918 from injuries sustained in a training accident in France. In 1940 Offutt was chosen as a location for a bomber plant to be operated by the Glenn L. Martin Company. 531 B-29 Superfortresses would be built here including the B-29’s that would drop Atomic Bombs, Enola Gay and Bockscar. The newly formed United States Air Force would assume command of the base in 1947 and would become the headquarters for the next 40 years of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). In 1992 the Strategic Air Command would be disbanded and the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) formed at Offutt. Today Offutt’s single 11,703 ft long runway 12/30 is home to the 55th Wing and the 595th Command and Control Group.

Part of Air Combat Command, the 55th Wing’s mission statement is simple “Global information and electronic warfare dominance Any time, Any place.” The 55th Wing is largest wing in Air Combat Command, and is the second largest in the Air Force overall. The 55th Wing is composed of 5 groups at Offutt and at various locations around the world including Kadena Air Force Base Okinawa Japan, and Mildenhall Air Force Base England. The group employs approximately 46 aircraft including 13 models of 7 different types of Boeing OC,RC,TC,WC-135 aircraft. These highly modified variants of the Boeing KC-135 are used as Open Skies, Reconnaissance, Intelligence Gathering, Training, and Atmospheric Testing platforms. All of the wings aircraft use the tail code “OF”. Three different Offutt based 135’s were part of the weekend events. 2 different Boeing TC-135W’s were seen with 62-4133 arriving after the Friday practice airshow and TC-135W 62-4129 being part of the flying display. The TC-135W’s mission is to train and keep pilots proficient. In the static display, Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint, 64-14841 was present and is used as an intelligence gathering platform.

Also part of the 55th Wing, though not based at Offutt is the 55th Electronic Combat Group. The 55th is based at Davis Monthan Air Force Base Arizona and flies the Lockheed EC-130H Hercules. This version of the venerable Hercules called “Compass Call” is used as an electronic warfare and suppression of enemy air defense platform. The EC-130H has a crew of 13, with a total of 14 aircraft currently serving.

Rounding out the flying units based at Offutt is the 595th Command and Control Group. The mission of the 595th is to “Ensure U.S. strategic deterrence by providing aircrew, operators, and maintenance personnel for command, control, and communications (NC3) platforms enabling the National Command Authority survivable, real time strategic assessment and global strike capabilities.” The 595th flies 4 Boeing E-4B-BN Advanced Airborne Command Post, a highly modified version of the Boeing 747-200 Jetliner and serves as a survivable mobile command post for the National Command Authority. A total of E-4B’s are part of the Air Force inventory.

This past August Offutt Air Force base opened its gates to the public and hosted the Defenders of Freedom Airshow. This two day airshow and open house featured a static display including several front-line U.S. military aircraft as well as several civilian owned warbirds.

Notable aircraft in the static display included Northrop T-38C Talon 67-4951. This T-38 is part of the 87th Fighter Training Squadron and wears special 100th anniversary colors. The 87th is based at Laughlin Air Force Base and is one of the oldest squadrons in the United States Air Force with its history dating back to 1917. This unit is is assigned to the Air Education and Training Command, and is responsible for training student pilots to fly fighter or bomber aircraft. Approximately 500 T-38’s are still flown by the United States Air Force as an advanced supersonic jet trainer.

Boeing “Heavies” were all around the static display and included Boeing KC-10A Extender 85-0034 which serves with the 305th Air Mobility Wing based at McGuire Air Force Base New Jersey. This KC-10 is outfitted with a pair of Cobham wing mounted aerial refueling pods. Boeing C-17A Globemaster III 01-0193 was on hand. This C-17 serves with the 437th Airlift Wing and is based at Charleston Air Force Base South Carolina, it also wears Spirit of Strom Thurmond titles above the main entry door. Boeing KC-135R, 57-1461 serves with the 155th Air Refueling Wing, part of the Nebraska Air National Guard and is based at Lincoln International Airport Nebraska. The hometown unit was also represented in the static display in the shape of Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint 64-14841. This aircraft is part of the 55th Wing and wears special Kadena Air Force Base inspired nose art. Rounding out the Boeing “Heavies” was Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0017. This B-52 is based at Minot Air Force Base North Dakota and serves with the 69th Bomb Squadron.

The afternoon airshow featured civilian, warbird and modern military performances and demonstrations. Scott Francis thrilled the crowd in the highly maneuverable MXS, N104MX. Kent Pietsch brought NC37428, the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet. Kent actually lands and takes off in this aircraft from a ramp mounted on the back of a moving pick up truck. Matt Younkin flew his always impressive routine in N9109R, his Beech 18, better known as Magic by Moonlight.

Several different jet and prop Warbirds were in abundance, with several different types featured in the airshow. Highlights included, Team Aeroshell flying its highly polished airshow routine in their four Red and White North American T-6 Texans. The Commemorative Air Force had a pair of warbirds in the airshow. 1942 vintage Curtiss P-40N Warhawk, registration N1226N, flew several solo passes and formation passes with a P-51 and a T-6. 1945 vintage North American P-51D Mustang, registered N5428V, better known as Gunfighter also made several passes. Randy Ball brought his 1960 vintage Polish built LIM-5, N217SH. The LIM-5 is a license built Mikoyan Gurevich Mig-17F, NATO code name “Fresco” flew several spectacular afterburner passes.

Modern military aircraft also participated in the airshow, including 3 passes from an Whiteman Air Force Base Missouri based Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. This B-2, 88-0329, is named “Spirit of Missouri” and serves with the 509th Bomb Wing.

Air Combat Command brought the noise in the form of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Demo Teams.

A pair of Raptors came to Offutt, 04-4073 a block 20 model and 05-4085 a block 30 model. Both Raptors are part of the 1st Fighter Wing based at Langley Air Force Base Virginia, which is one of the oldest in the Air Force dating back to 1918. The 2018 Demo Team Pilot, Major Paul “Loco” Lopez flew his usual impressive display of the Raptor’s capabilities.

The 61st Fighter Squadron based at Luke Air Force Base Arizona bought the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II to Offutt. This F-35, 11-5030, is noteworthy as it was the first to arrive at Luke in 2014. The 61st is a Fighter Training Squadron and is part of Air E ducation and Training Command. The F-35 was not certified to fly a full demo just yet but flew several solo passes before participating in the Heritage Flight with the F-22 and a P-38.

No airshow is complete without a United States Air Force Heritage Flight. The Defenders of Freedom Airshow featured a Heritage Flight with the F-22,F-35 and the Lockheed P-38 Lighting. The P-38 that flew this Heritage Flight is registered NX79123, a 1945 built L model lighting is owned and flown by the Fagen Fighters out of Granite Falls Minnesota. This P-38 proudly wears the nose art “SCAT III” in honor of Robin Olds, one of the most successful fighter pilots of all time.

The weather this weekend was hot and hazy, but definitely worth visiting one of the most important Air Force Bases in the country. A very special thank you to the 55th Wing Public Affairs office for their hospitality during my visit. Until Next time, “Blue Skies to All!”

Looking Back at my 2018

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Aviation is alive and well, as I witnessed during my travels in 2018. Innovations are still forthcoming, history is still revered, and air shows and other presentations still draw large crowds. I traveled outside the U.S. for a pair of air shows this year, and attended 6 other trade, convention and air show events within America.

For single day events, I caught some early springtime sunshine at Portsmouth NH’s Pease airport, seeing the world’s first delivered Pilatus PC-24 jet operated by PlaneSense, plus a group of Italian Air Force aircraft en route to a Red Flag exercise.

I spent a few hours at the Rhode Island National Guard Open House and Air Show in the springtime, witnessing some great flying displays from National Guard, civilian and warbird operators.

Summer’s events began with a day at Westover Air Force Reserve Base’s air show, with a wide assortment of warbirds and active military aircraft, plus some very friendly Reservists!

Later in the Summer, I ventured to the EAA’s AirVenture Oshkosh, and was immersed in all things aviation for a few awesome days

I was lucky to be able to travel to Poland for the 100th Anniversary of that country’s Air Force, as well as to photograph some great airliners in Boston, Warsaw and Copenhagen.

I went to Airshow London in Ontario, and saw that resurrected air show’s great military aviation display, as well as some good airliner opportunities at London and Toronto, Ontario.

I caught the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour stop in Worcester MA during late summer, near their Stow MA headquarters. Some of their rarer fighters were on static display, a rare treat.

Finally, I spent a few hours at the big NBAA Convention in Orlando, both on the baking static ramp and inside the cavernous Convention Center on the other side of town. It was good to see long-time aviation historian Scott Wonderly for supper too!

I’m very fortunate to be able to record aviation history from both “behind the scenes” and at the actual events… it’ll be 29 years this year since my first article was accepted in the Atlantic Flyer… and if I’m lucky, I’ll be involved for a few decades more here at Photorecon.net, ClassicWarbirds.net, and CivilAviationWorld.com too.

Cheers!