The Thunder Over Michigan air show is returning to Ypsilanti’s Willow Run Airport August 4th and 5th, and will feature dogfights, battle re-enactments, rides in a Boeing B-17G or North American Aviation B-25D in exchange for a donation and will showcase the only operable privately owned FA-2 Sea Harrier in the world.
The Yankee Air Museum, which is putting on the event, gave members of the press an exclusive preview July 9 of the FA-2 fighter jet, which was originally designed for the British Royal Navy and is a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, which means it can hover in mid-air like a helicopter.
FA-2 owner and pilot Art Nalls, who purchased the jet in 2005 and spent two years restoring it to flying condition, is a retired and decorated Marine Corps pilot.
Nalls, 58, said the Harrier is his favorite airplane to fly, but it’s very unforgiving of pilot error and doesn’t turn as sharp as some other planes because of its short wingspan.
When asked why people should come see the FA-2, Nalls said, “It makes a lot of noise, it goes real fast and it will be the act that will hover right in front of your face. Ten tons of aluminum motionless, burning a gallon of fuel every 2 seconds.”
An Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros, a Czechoslovakian trainer jet that will be on static display at the show, escorted Nalls in his FA-2 to the Willow Run Airport. Nalls circled high above numerous times before hovering over a field for about a minute and then brought the craft in for a landing.
The 31-year-old decommissioned FA-2, which Nalls named the SHAR, can reach speeds of up to 730.25 mph (almost the speed of sound), has four directional nozzles that can exert 21,500 pounds of thrust and it can even fly backwards.
Nalls said it was a condition of the sale not to disclose the price he paid for the jet, but his wife Pat Hatfield-Nalls told Popular Mechanics in February 2011 that the restoration project alone cost more than $1 million.
According to Naval-Technology.com, a media business service that focuses on military technology, the design of the FA-2 is optimized for air-to-air combat with secondary uses in surveillance, air-to-sea and air-to-ground attack.
Nalls said his main focus is to ensure the jet can continue to be flown safely, and if not his plan is to park it and build a restaurant around it.
“We’d make up some Harrier drink and have some sound effects in the cockpit and charge people $20, and give them a T-shirt, to sit in the cockpit,” Nalls said.
Nalls said a tactical advantage of the FA-2 is that it can land in tight spaces because of its vertical flight ability.
“The whole concept of the Marine Corps battle plan is that we would move the air support right behind the ground troops. The Harrier, the way the Marines use it is close air support, and we mean close,” Nalls said.
Thunder Over Michigan air show Director Kevin Walsh said the planes featured in the show were hand selected for what audiences want to see.
“[The Harrier is] kind of like the big closer for the show this year. It’s kind of our headliner, but in the same respect Mustang Mania sold a lot of tickets when we announced that theme,” he said.
Walsh was referring to the 20 plus North American Aviation P-51 Mustangs that will perform at the air show. The P-51 was rated by the Truman Senate War Investigating Committee in 1944 as “the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence,” according to Boeing.
Walsh said there are only about 80 P-51 Mustangs flying actively worldwide and Thunder Over Michigan’s battle re-enactment, the world’s largest air and ground re-enactment, will feature about a quarter of them.
Children 15 and under are free and discounted advance prices are available online, with tickets for $25 and $5 for parking. On the day of the event tickets will be $30 and parking $10. Additional information and advanced tickets are available at www.yankeeairmuseum.org/airshow/.
The Blue Angels will not be appearing at Thunder Over Michigan this year; Walsh said they make an appearance about every other year.
Related material: FA-2 Sea Harrier and Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros photo gallery
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