The Other Side of Thunder 2016

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Scott talks about warbirds and classic freightliners at Willow Run, MI present during the 2016’s Thunder Over Michigan

The Skies over Detroit’s Willow Run International Airport (KYIP) are devoid once again of High Performance Fighters of today and yesterday once again. Thunder Over Michigan 2016 is in the rear view mirror and in the History Books. Thunder 2016 had it all, Mustangs to Migs, Hueys to Hornets, and A10’s to Avenger’s. The highlights were many from High Performance Fighters such as the FA-18E/F Super Hornet to the F-22A Raptor flying maneuvers that are hard to believe possible. The Breitling Jet Team put on a dazzling display of aerial artistry flying the highly maneuverable L-39 Albatross. If these were not enough add in the F-100 Super Sabre, Mig-17 Fresco, and the TA-4J Skyhawk kept the intensity and noise level very high. Not to be forgotten were the Yankee Air Museum B-25 Mitchell and B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers that graced the skies on a daily basis.

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Many a story will be written, many a photo posted, and many a video watched but there is also a different type of Thunder that goes relatively unnoticed. It is this type of Thunder that draws me to Willow Run year after year. In between the all of the Warbird and Fast Jet action several other Classic Aircraft also come and go. They were once the Workhorses that flew Passengers around the world in their heyday. Their Passenger flying days now over they fulfill an even greater need today. They keep American Production lines and Factories running. I am referring to the Freighters and the Airlines that fly them. These are not your common household Airline names such as American, Delta, and United.

We are talking about names such as USA Jet, Kalitta Charters II, Berry Aviation, Alliance, Northern Air Cargo, and TSM. These airlines and many more use Willow Run on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It is a Commercial Airline Spotters bonanza, Boeings, Douglas, McDonnell Douglas,Falcon’s Lears, Shorts, Brasilia, and many more grace the ramps and runways. Two airlines call Willow Run home those being Kalitta Charters II, and USA Jet.

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Kallita Charters II with it’s rich history has it’s base of operations on the West Side of the Field. Their fleet consists of Learjet’s and Falcon Jets in Passenger, Aero Medical and Cargo Configuration. Boeing 727’s, 737’s , Douglas DC9 Series 10 and 30 type aircraft round out the fleet. Kalitta also has a fleet of Boeing 747-200 and 400 type aircraft in regular scheduled service around the world. Kalitta has many different divisions including Med Flight, Passenger Charter, Contract Maintenance , and many more. Conrad “Connie” Kalitta started in the Airline Industry back in 1967.

USA Jet has it’s Base of Operations on the East Side of the Field and is part of the Active Aero Group. USA Jet’s fleet also consists of Falcon Jet’s, Boeing 727’s and Douglas DC9 Series 10 and 30 type aircraft as well the McDonnell Douglas MD80 Freighter’s. Founded in 1994 USA Jet plays a vital part in the “One Stop Shop” concept that Active Aero offers it’s customers. USA Jet provides On Demand Charter Service that compliments Scheduled Ground, and Expedited Ground Shipping options. Ironically it is the Active Aero Ramp that Thunder Over Michigan uses for the yearly Airshow.

Willow Run International Airport officially opened in 1942 and played a crucial and vital part of the War Effort. 8,685 B-24 Liberators rolled off the production line before shutting down in 1945. In 1946 Willow R un ( Which was named because of a small stream that flowed through the woods and Farmland were the airport was built) became Detroit’s Primary Airport with airlines moving from then overcrowded Detroit City Airport. Historic airlines such as Capital, TWA, Northwest Orient, and North Central Airlines moved into Willow Run. Not a Jet was to be found at Willow Run, only Piston Power here. Convairs, StratoCruisers, Constellations, and Douglas Types. Aircraft Production would also return, from 1947 to 1953 C-119 Boxcars and C-123 Providers rolled off Production Lines.

Commercial Airline Service started to come to an end when in 1958 all but United Airlines made the move to the present day Detroit International airport. United Airlines was the last to leave in 1967. The days of Commercial Airline service to Willow Run were over. Willow Run Airport however was re-born in time to the important Freighter Airport it is now. Many airlines that have now passed into the annals of Aviation History called Willow Run Home. American International, Murray Aviation, Trans Continental, Zantop were once based here.

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Today Willow Run is still a vital Cargo and Business Jet and Prop Airport. The accompanying photo’s from this year’s Thunder Over Michigan Airshow are just a small glimpse into the daily comings and goings of this Historic Airport. Thunder this year was another fantastic weekend of Airliner type activity and photo opportunities. Oh and there was the other Airshow that was pretty spectacular as well. Until next time “Blue Skies to all!”

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