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Tuskegee Air Show


The Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow is back and it’s shaping up to be best yet. The show is scheduled for three performances with aerobatics, formation demonstrations, and even a military Heritage Flight. Performances are slated for 1:00 pm on Friday, June 23 and 3:30 pm on each of Saturday and Sunday, June 24-25.

The River Days festival grounds are the best place to see the show. Anywhere along the Riverwalk rail is the best seat in the house!

Other airshows in Michigan consist mostly of performers brought in from as far away as California. The Tuskegee Airmen River Days airshow is overwhelmingly local. 80% of the aircraft and/or aircrew slated to perform are from Detroit, Windsor, and southeast Michigan. No other airshow in the state can make this claim. This is a show in Detroit, by Detroit, for Detroit.

Here’s what you can expect to see at the show:

A-10 Heritage Flight

New this year is the A-10 Heritage Flight. Heritage Flights are a special program of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command. They feature a World War II aircraft with its modern equivalent flying on its wing. The flight at this year’s airshow is expected to feature the A-10 Thunderbolt II (fondly referred to by many as the “Warthog”) making passes down the riverfront and then joining up with a WWII attack aircraft (expected to be a P-51 Mustang or P-47 Thunderbolt) for passes in close formation.

Robert “Tico” LaCerda flying the Pitts Aerobatic Biplane

Robert “Tico” LaCerda returns to the River Days show in 2017 after having wowed the crowds over the river last year. He even distracted the Fox Sports commentators and made it into the telecast of the nearby Detroit Tigers game when his smoke trail was visible to the press box a mile from the Riverwalk.

Tico is the show’s lead aerobatic performer and the audience can expect a high-energy performance that shows off the strengths of Curtis Pitts’s world-beating aerobatic biplane design. Tico will be flying a Pitts S-2C (the red one that thrilled everyone last year) or a Pitts S-2B, a similar aerobatic biplane. 

When he’s not thrilling crowds over the river, Tico is a B-747 captain for Western Global Airlines. He holds a degree in Economics from Tulane University.  

Paul Stambaugh in the Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 Aerobatic Biplane

The Great Lakes Sport Trainer hearkens back to 1929, when the first example flew.  Over the course of 1929–1933 and 1973–1982, Great Lakes Aircraft Company built 250 of them. Great Lakes operated in Cleveland, Ohio at the former Martin Aircraft Company site. The company also built civilian seaplanes, as well as biplane torpedo bombers and dive bombers for the US Navy.  The type certificate for the 2T-1A-2 is now held by Waco Classic Aircraft Corporation in Battle Creek, Michigan, making this aircraft a true creature of Michigan and the Great Lakes.

The example flying in the River Days show is a Great Lakes 2T-1A-2, which is powered by a 180 hp Lycoming IO-360 engine.  It weighs 1,230 lbs empty and 1,800 lbs with pilot(s) and fuel. It can fly at speeds of up to 133 knots (153 mph).

The Great Lakes is far from the high-speed carbon-fiber mono-wing airplanes that you see in the Red Bull Air Races. In fact, it’s slow, underpowered, and piggy. But that’s the beauty of this aircraft! And the beauty of Paul’s performance. Paul will demonstrate the most basic of aerobatic maneuvers, like rolls, loops, Cuban eights, and hammerhead turns. Listen closely to the airshow announcer and you’ll learn a lot about what it’s like to trade potential energy for kinetic energy and then build potential energy again.

The pilot, Paul Stambaugh, is an engineer in the automotive industry and a pilot who flies in southeast Michigan and northeast Ohio. Paul is one of the highest-time Great Lakes pilots now flying and is the ferry pilot of choice when buyers and sellers need to move these ghosts of a bygone era across the country. Although Paul regularly flies at airshows, this year’s River Days show will be Paul’s debut aerobatic performance. 

Team Tuskegee flying the TG-7A Motorglider Formation Team

You’ve probably seen these beautiful yellow aircraft flying in formation around town. But you probably didn’t know what a singular sight that is.

The aircraft are TG-7A Terrazzo Falcons. They are motorgliders that served as trainers at the U.S. Air Force Academy between 1982 and 2002. Although they have engines, they’re classified as gliders and it requires FAA certification in the glider category to operate them. Only six flyable examples of the TG-7A exist, and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum operates four of them. Their wingspans are 59.5 feet, which makes Team Tuskegee’s four-ship formation the widest regularly-performing formation team in the world.

Flying within 500 feet of another aircraft in waivered airspace (like the performance area for the River Days Airshow) requires formation certification (commonly called a “Formation and Safety Team Card or “FAST Card”). Only seven pilots in the world have ever earned a FAST card in the glider category and all seven fly for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum.

When the TG-7As aren’t flying in airshows, they’re being used to fly free rides for Detroit-area youth on the museum’s seven Young Eagles rallies from April through October. The museum’s instructors also use them to teach Detroit-area kids to fly.

All of the TG-7A pilots live and work in Detroit or the surrounding suburbs and several of them are Young Eagles pilots and instructors.

Dr. Brian Smith flying the North American AT-6G

The North American T-6 is an advanced trainer used during World War II. If you made it into flight training, you first flew the docile Stearman biplane. If you did well with that, you graduated to the mighty T-6 Texan (called the “Harvard” in Canada). This aircraft was (and is) notoriously difficult to fly, making it the ideal aircraft to turn Stearman pilots into P-51 Mustang or P-47 Thunderbolt pilots. It is sometimes said that “the P-51 Mustang is a great trainer for the T-6.”

The T-6 flying in the show is a North American AT-6G model. The aircraft was produced at North American Aviation’s Dallas factory, delivered in 1943 to Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama and used until 1945. The same Dallas factory also made the P-51 Mustang, a fighter plane flown by the African-American war pilots to escort bombers. It is unclear what happened to the airplane from 1946 to 1950, but it returned to the factory in 1951 to be reconditioned.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum acquired the aircraft in 2010 from the family of USAF Colonel Rayvon Burleson, who served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. Col Burleson bought and sold vintage aircraft as a hobby and was unaware of the aircraft’s place in history until he researched it and found that the aircraft had helped to train Tuskegee Airmen.

Dr. Brian Smith flies the AT-6G. He is the president and chief pilot of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum. He received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Wayne State University in 2003.

Other airshows in Michigan consist mostly of performers brought in from as far away as California. The Tuskegee Airmen River Days airshow is overwhelmingly local. 85% of the aircraft and/or aircrew slated to perform are from Detroit, Windsor, and southeast Michigan. No other airshow in the state can make this claim. This is a show in Detroit, by Detroit, for Detroit.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum organizes the airshow each year. It operates a brick-and-mortar museum in historic Fort Wayne on Detroit’s south side and conducts air operations from Coleman A. Young Detroit City Airport in the city. The museum preserves the legacy of the United States’ first African-American pilots, who made up the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces in World War II. The museum also gives free first-flight opportunities to hundreds of Detroit-area children each year through its Young Eagles program.

Aircraft, performers, and times are subject to change. Performances are subject to weather, governmental approvals, and other factors.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum is located in Historic Fort Wayne and it operates four aircraft from Detroit City Airport.  More information is available at www.tuskegeemuseum.org.