Blue Angels bringing thunder to skies over Ypsilanti

Steven Sonoras
Special to The Detroit News

When you want an event with a boisterous title like “Thunder Over Michigan” to live up to its name, call in the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

Known for their expert precision formation flying, the world’s most famous aerial team will storm the skies over Ypsilanti this weekend with their six trademark blue and gold F-18 Hornets, accompanied by their trusty C-130 support aircraft, “Fat Albert.”

This year marks the team’s first visit to the annual event, held at Willow Run Airport, since 2011.

“They’re a team that just brings energy and excitement,” says Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Yankee Air Museum, which sponsors the event.

“It’s amazing to watch their professionalism and their interaction with the crowds. It’s a rare opportunity, and we’re excited to have them back.”

The Blue Angels’ supply officer, Navy Lt. Gregory Bollinger, is in charge of the team’s safety. He’ll be on the ground communicating with the pilots as they perform dizzying feats in the sky, and he says the ground-level view might be just as exciting as being on the other end of the spiraling smoke streams above.

“From my perspective, I get to see and hear the crowd much more closely,” Bollinger says. “The pilots are focused. They’re in the jets. They’ve got the roar of the engines. We can give them that energy, and bask them in how the crowd was.”

Bollinger says every Blue Angels performance is different depending on the venue, the weather and the team’s rapport.

“We never get complacent,” Bollinger says.

“Part of our role as a team is to try to look at how we can improve things that didn’t go right. Most people see the jets flying and they may not realize that there are 130 personnel on the team working together. We debrief after each show, and we all work together to make sure we do better each time.”

Bollinger says the Blue Angels not only aim to entertain, but also to leave the crowd with a message: to pursue excellence and follow their dreams.

“A major portion of the mission statement for the team is not just to come there, do a show and get out of there, but to make an impact on the community, get in touch with them, and inspire people to have a good remembrance of our military as a whole,” he says.

“We have the unique opportunity to bring the Navy and Marine Corps to a hometown where they can see some of our capabilities and hear our story.”

The Blue Angels may be the highlight of this year’s “Thunder Over Michigan,” but there’s plenty more to inspire casual spectators, aviation enthusiasts and future pilots alike.

Saturday and Sunday kick off with a bang with a mock WWII air and ground battle, featuring authentic vehicles and weaponry. Other highlights include world-renowned aerobatic champion Mike Goulian, who will be flying his famed Extra 330C, and an extra dose of thunder via the U.S. Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration.

Walsh is particularly excited that this year’s WWII battle demo will feature a Focke-Wulf 190, a WWII German fighter.

“Not only are you going to see it for the first time ever at our show, but it’s going to be immersed into the battle sequence, which will be much more exciting than just seeing it fly by,” Walsh says.

Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.

Thunder Over Michigan

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Willow Run Airport

801 Kirk Profit, Ypsilanti

Tickets $35 in advance,

$40 on site

Parking $15 per vehicle in advance, $20 day of show

Children 15 and under free

(734) 485-6666