By Tom Demerly.

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I was sick.

Some kind of flu. It’s going around. And not enough sleep. Been up since 4:45 AM working a triathlon down on Belle Isle in Downtown Detroit. The State just took the island back from Detroit so people from the suburbs go there again. It’s OK.

I decided to take the long way home. You drive through factories, past a Mosque and through Mexicantown. It’s colorful and interesting. Like a meal eaten in a small foreign country, you’re not sure what you’ll find in it.

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I saw some kind of weird industrial… I’m not sure what it was. Art? Lawn maintenance equipment? Something from a steel mill? Stopped to shoot a photo or two. A little farther down the road, through Mexicantown, the candles and bottles on the corner reminded me, and all the stuffed animals. “Man, I gotta get this…”

When I walked across the street I briefly let my guard down. Men had set up an OP (observation point) on the corner across from where I was headed, offset but with full visibility on my objective. The second they saw my camera I heard them, “He’s takin’ pictures of it.” There were three of them. Now they were between my vehicle and me. Hmmm.

There were liquor bottles, lots of them. Writing on the street, out into the street. Stuffed animals. Notes written on the pole with a sharpie, paint pen, everything. Some in English, most in Spanish. The stuffed animals were fastened all the way up the pole. Some of them were oddly garroted to the pole with wire. They were filthy from weeks in the rain. It looked like a drug cartel had murdered stuffed animals.

“What you takin’ pictures?” The tallest of the three asked. He left off the word “of”.

I walked across the street to make eye contact and speak with them at a normal conversational distance. As if it were normal for me. “I was driving home and I saw this. I’ve seen it before, with people around it at night, and candles.”

The skin on his face seemed drawn tight to his skull. He was tall, handsome and fit. Held his head a couple degrees above level. But he looked tired. “Hey man, lemme show you…”

Now let’s back up a few steps. I’m a guy pretty obviously out of my element, carrying a few thousand bucks worth of camera gear, big camera gear. My truck is parked in a lot filled with broken glass and a car, an old car, with a very large woman in it coughing… or singing… or… I’m not sure. Something really big is hanging down underneath the car. It lists to the side she is on. A man sits obscured by a dense cloud of smoke next to her. I decide this is a great photo op for my friends on social media back in the ‘burbs. The way I would photograph a peacock at the zoo. It was just so… urban.

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But this isn’t a peacock in a cage. These are the lives of people, dense and complex, dynamic and evolving.

“I got a picture of him in here.” I walk into a smoky party store with a wall encased behind thick, marginally clear, mostly yellowed plastic. I’m a little wary, heck, I’m scared, so I don’t notice where the fruit pies are. There are lots of bottles behind the plastic wall, and a low man with a gigantic head that melts into an even wider neck. Patches of black hair on his head. Lottery tickets, just a few.

“Here man, this is all about it.” It’s behind the thick, yellowed lexan armor. Glare is coming off it so it’s tough to photograph.

His name was Ryan Dewayne Lee Jenkins. Nickname, apparently, “Duke”. Jenkins was eulogized on Friday, July 25. He was shot to death standing at that corner some days earlier. No one explained to me why, and I did not ask. The funeral card in the party store said, “Celebrating the Life Of…” In the photo Jenkins is making some sort of hand sign and his fingernails appear… unusual.

I do not know what happened. I did not ask. I should have. The man told me Jenkins was shot to death. There was a tension surrounding the topic, perhaps continued pain from the loss. Maybe more. I don’t know. The body language of everyone interacting with me was… guarded. I would suspect it might be, especially toward some odd guy carrying a camera taking photos of what is a sacred and intimate memorial. So I took my photos and left.

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But as I was leaving one of the men walked up to my truck. I rolled the window down. “Hey man,” he said, “You wanna see something else?”

“Yeah” I told him.

“Go down there, four blocks. There is a candy store. A veteran and a girl own it. It’s new. It’s all they do. Brand new. Sells candy. They’re trying to make it. Go on down there and take some pictures of it and talk it up. They’re doin’ good, tryin’ to make it…”

I followed his directions but didn’t find the candy store. Dropped a pin on a GPS map on my phone and told myself to come back here- that there was more to the story. Much more. My head felt worse and I was so tired it was hard to drive. I went home. But I told this guy I’d help him by telling his story, so I sat down to type before I went to bed.

Detroit isn’t raw, urban or dangerous. It’s not “on the brink”. It isn’t particularly cool or edgy. It’s small town USA in the second decade of the 21st century. People work, they’re friendly, they welcome you. They strive for a better tomorrow. They aren’t closed off and there are no barriers. Two things missing from Detroit are falsehood and pretentiousness. We know the city is run down and dirty. We’ve been through a lot. We’re working on that. It didn’t happen over night. We’re responsible for it, we’ll fix it, and it won’t happen again in our lifetimes. And as it heals and rebuilds its’ stories peel away like scabs off a wound, and sometimes they reveal scars.

 

Photos and Story by Tom Demerly. (Feel free to share these photos and mention Baltia Thunder Over Michigan)

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The Baltia Thunder Over Michigan Airshow at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan on Saturday and Sunday, August 9 and 10, 2014 was one of the largest displays of historic and modern aircraft this year. Most of the aircraft displayed are privately owned, including one of the largest gatherings of T-6 Texan and Harvard trainers anywhere. Thunder Over Michigan also featured the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds, along with the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team and other airshow acts.

This is my home town airshow, one of the shows I grew up with, so it was a special event to me. Airshow organizers provided photographers with taxiway passes for special access to the aircraft and crews along with a great hospitality tent with food, drinks, bathrooms and detailed information on every aircraft in the show. Tom Walsh, the coordinator of the photo area, did an incredible job hosting aviation photographers from around the world.

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The early morning light provided a unique opportunity for photos on both Friday before the show opened and on Saturday, the first show day.

This crew (above) prepares the famous B-17G, “Yankee Lady”, that lives at Willow Run Airport as part of the Yankee Air Museum. It is a flying piece of history that is beautifully maintained. Several years ago I got a chance to fly in Yankee Lady out of Willow Run as a guest.

Yankee Lady was built in 1945 and once flew as a Coast Guard PB-1G before being sold at auction for only $5,997 to a smelting company and then to an aerial survey company. It later had a career as an aerial fire bomber and also flew in the filming of the movie Tora Tora Tora about the attack on Pearl Harbor. In it’s current condition the aircraft has been completely restored, including the replacement of all fuel and electrical systems. It is seen flying frequently around Willow Run airport.

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Thunder Over Michigan attracted veterans who were pleased to share stories about the planes and people who built the history celebrated here. The show crossed aviation eras from before WWII to the modern era. Here a veteran and one of the airshow pilots chat before the arrival of show crowds.

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A unique perspective on the “Fork Tailed Devil”, the P-38J Lightening “Ruff Stuff”, belonging to Mr. Ron Fagen of Granite Falls, Minnesota. There are only seven P-38 Lightenings left flying and this is the second one I’ve been lucky enough to see. Ruff Stuff was built in 1945 and never saw active service. It has changed ownership several times but its most recent restoration and the stewardship of Ron Fagen in his Fagen Fighters Museum insure its future as a national treasure.

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We each shot unobstructed photos of the incredible airplanes out on the flight line, an area restricted from the general public on show day during flight demonstrations. Here we set up his shots of a TBM Avenger torpedo and dive bomber.

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Photographers brought an impressive array of photo equipment to capture the action. We used aviation band scanners to listen in on aircraft communications and air traffic control radio from the show Air Boss.  Shooting aircraft requires big telephoto and zoom lenses to capture the action. Canon equipment outnumbered Nikon significantly. Monitoring the show and airport air traffic control enabled us to set up shots before aircraft arrived, especially helpful with fast jets.

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All the photographers enjoyed the same access to the field as the official Air Force Thunderbird photographers Manuel Martinez (left) and Stan Parker (right). I got a chance to grab a photo with these guys as they worked and even got a few tips on aviation photography from two of the best guys in the business.

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Friday, August 8, was arrival day for many of the aircraft in the show, with planes flying in from all over the U.S.. A highlight was this F-86F Sabre, “Smoky”, owned by Paul Wood from Waukegan, Illinois. The restoration and maintenance of this Korean War era jet is impeccable and it is a favorite of photographers. The aircraft was first owned by the U.S. Air Force then sold to the Fuerza Aerea Argentina or the Argentinian Air Force in 1960. It was later acquired privately in the U.S.

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Paul Wood taxis his F-86F Sabre into the parking area. Notice the open speed brakes and the three holes for the .50 caliber machine guns.

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The F-86F has a natural metal finish that is difficult to maintain but brilliant to see on a sunny day. The bubble canopy of the F-86F provided pilots with excellent visibility and inspired the design of the canopy on the most recent fighters including the F-22 Raptor. Pilots like to taxi with the canopy open for ventilation but must duck down to close the canopy fully.

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Paul Wood cranks his F-86F through a flight demonstration that showed the maneuverability and thrust to weight ratio of the F-86F. Considering this jet was built in the late 1940’s it remains an impressive performer. The F-86 was the first fully operational U.S. jet fighter with swept wings.

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A few minutes later the U.S. Army Parachute Team’s C-31A Troopship flew into the pattern at Willow Run for a landing. The pilots obliged photographers with a low pass before final approach. This is a nice sounding, Rolls-Royce powered aircraft built by Fokker. It can carry up to 25 jump equipped soldiers for demonstrations.

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We had excellent access to active taxiways throughout Friday and were accompanied by helpful “safeties” who kept us from getting run over by aircraft when we were looking through a camera viewfinder. It was a remarkable experience to be so close to the aircraft as they came and went during arrival and show rehearsal.

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This unusual aircraft is the de Havilland DH-115 Vampire formerly of the Royal Navy and now belonging to Marty Tibbits of Detroit. It is a pretty, unusual aircraft that operated from Royal Navy aircraft carriers after 1945 and also served, in a different version, with the Royal Air Force. The Vampire, in its many versions, was a successful aircraft that was flown by several countries through the 1990’s, including, oddly enough, Rhodesia.

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If there was one perfect P-51D Mustang at the show it was Mark Peterson’s “Hell-er Bust” from Boise, Idaho. The aircraft is painted in a photogenic livery and carries a pair of simulated 500 lb. general purpose bombs. Here Mark taxis in after his arrival on Friday. Hell-er Bust has an impressive history since being built in 1945 at the North American Aircraft plant in Inglewood, California. She first joined the legendary 8th Air Force in 1945 but was transferred to the Swedish Air Force in 1948 and the to the Dominican Republc from 1952 to 1984, making it one of the last remaining truly operational Mustangs while in service with the Dominican Republic. Hell-er Bust uses the classic Packard Merlin V-1650-7 engine that produces that goose bump-inducing Mustang sound.

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The B-25D “Yankee Warrior” is one of the planes that lives at Willow Run as part of the Yankee Air Museum. We are lucky enough to see it fly around the airport occasionally and got a good look at it on reception day. Five of its .50 caliber machine guns are visible in this view. Yankee Warrior is a combat veteran of WWII, having flown eight bombing missions over Italy before it was retired, then restored.

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Yankee Warrior had a rather attractive pilot flying on arrival day and was meticulously turned out in its natural metal finish. This B-25 is a frequent visitor to air shows around the U.S. but I never found out who the pilot pictured here is.

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A number of exciting private jets flew in on Friday including this Aero Vodochody L-39C belonging to Tim Brutsche of Battle Creek, Michigan. Brutsche owns Brutsche Concrete in Battle Creek and is a licensed Air Transport Pilot (ATP) who has been an active promoter of youth in aviation for years.

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Here is Tom and his co-pilot, perhaps his wife Beth Franklin-Brutsche who frequently flies with him, taxiing their L-39C to its parking ramp.

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Aircraft owners spent time on Friday chatting with photographers and polishing their airplanes for the show opening on Saturday. This TBM-3E Avenger gets a shine in the morning.

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The P-47D Thunderbolt “Jacky’s Revenge” was restored from former Peruvian Air Force service in 1966 and painted in U.S. livery with D-Day invasion stripes on the wings and fuselage.

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There were so many T-6 Texans, Harvards and this AT-16 Texan from Blanchester, Ohio it was hard to pick just one to photograph, but this bright orange and yellow paint scheme stood out from the other aircraft.

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We got a raised maintenance platform to shoot photos from each day, making it easy to get great shots of aircraft taxiing and of the flight demonstrations. Each of the photographers took turns in a corner. We used a pilot band radio receiver to help locate inbound aircraft. When one photographer would see an aircraft inbound to the demonstration field they would shout out, “Aircraft, inbound, from the east…” for the other photographers to get their shot.

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An operational German Luftwaffe Transall C-160D from Air Transport Wing 61at Penzing AB, Germany made a special visit to the show. The Transall is a workhorse twin-engine tactical transport that serves air force around the world and is especially prolific in Europe and Africa. It makes a pretty “whirring” noise like a mini-C-130.

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The flight crew of our visiting German Transall were happy to be at the air show and brought a big tent filled with their squadron mugs, T-shirts, patches and other memorabilia. They enjoyed chatting with the crowd in English and in German and also had fun shooting photos of the other flight demonstrations while they earned some cash selling souvenirs.

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Friday was a relaxed day and a chance to meet the Thunderbird pilots in person without any fences. I caught the entire flight demonstration team here for a candid group shot here.

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Thunderbird #6 Opposing Solo, Major Jason Curtis of Kalispell, Montana, taxis out for Friday practice. He is a drummer and competitive snowboarder and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2004.

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Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. Bob Moseley taxis out for flight demonstration practice on Friday. The names of the enlisted flight maintenance crew for this aircraft are painted on the right side of the cockpit with Lt. Col. Moseley’s name on the left side of the aircraft. Moseley is a graduate of Virginia Military Institute and has flown both the F-15 and F-22.

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We had an interesting incident on Friday, practice day, when Thunderbird #3, Maj. Caroline Jensen, had a “bird strike”, sucking a bird into the intake of her F-16. The bird damaged the engine and caused her to safely circle the field and make an expedient landing.

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Major Jensen taxied past the photo stand on her way back to the flight line to switch to the reserve aircraft that was already preflighted by the Thunderbird ground crew and ready for engine run-up.

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She quickly climbed down from the damaged #3 aircraft and ran to the waiting reserve aircraft while the ground crew began to survey the damage to her F-16.

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All of the Thunderbird ground crew wanted to see the damage to the inside of the F-16 intake from the bird strike. The man in the red shirt is likely the aircraft engine manufacturer’s technical rep who travels with the Thunderbirds, Mr. Tom Eshelman from Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines. That a jet engine can withstand a high speed bird induction through its turbine fans and continue to fly safely is an impressive accomplishment by Pratt & Whitney.

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Major Jensen climbs up to the reserve F-16 to rejoin the demonstration formation after running to the alternate jet that was already preflighted by the Thunderbird ground crew.

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Lighting conditions on Friday practice for the flight demonstration were poor with flat and overcast skies. It was less than ideal for good photos. We enjoyed the practice after shooting a few photos and checked the weather for Saturday, hoping for better lighting conditions for aerial photography.

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The weather on Saturday started misty but the fog burned off quickly as crews got their aircraft ready for the first day of the show. I liked this shot of the B-17G Yankee Lady with the U.S. flag in the sky overhead.

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The first big flight demonstration was an giant formations of T-6 Texans and Mk IV Harvards. This is only half of the total formation. The  combined sound of their radial engines was an amazing recollection of what it was like to be near one of the big WWII fighter training bases.

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The formation flying continued throughout the morning with an intricately coordinated double-racetrack pattern of aircraft flying over Willow Run. This tight formation of a P-38, P-51 and the B-17 G Yankee Lady is a living display of air power over the Pacific and the European theaters during WWII. I can’t help but wonder what the view from inside the cockpit must be like.

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Ruff Stuff, the Lockheed P-38, did a few photo-pass fly-bys for photographers, giving us the opportunity to shoot photos from different angles.

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P-38 Lightening Ruff Stuff as viewed from the rear quarter. Notice the superchargers on top of each of the engine booms.

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The chunky looking P-47D Thunderbolt, predecessor to the modern A-10 Thunderbolt II, becomes more graceful in the air. The P-47D was used extensively in the ground attack role. The black and white stripes on the fuselage and wings are called “invasion stripes”. These helped other allied aircraft identify each other following the D-Day invasion to prevent them from shooting at each other and prevented ground crews from shooting at them.

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This P-63 King Cobra has a number of unique features including a centrally mounted M-37 30 mm cannon that fired through the propeller hub and an engine located directly behind the pilot. The pilot enters the aircraft through a side-hinged door, not a sliding canopy like the P-51 and P-47. Notice the intake for the centrally mounted engine immediately behind the cockpit. The tricycle landing gear was unique to the P-63 and its less successful little brother the P-39 Airacobra. Most P-63’s saw service with the Soviet Union, over 2,000 of the total of approximately 3,000 built were given to Russia by the U.S. under a lend-lease agreement. Russian pilots actually downed several Japanese planes in WWII with King Cobras.

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B-17G Yankee Lady turns in toward the crowd line. The “G” model B-17 had several upgrades over the precious “F” and “E” versions, most notably the forward facing chin turret with two Browning .50 caliber machine guns to prevent aerial attack from the front.

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This side view shows a puff of smoke from one of the B-17G’s engines and a good view of the ball turret under the aircraft.

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B-24 “Diamond Lil” has a fascinating history as one of the very early B-24A bombers built. The aircraft had a landing accident during its ferry flight to England in the early 1940’s and had to be returned to California for repair. It was converted to a C-87 transport, a modification that likely enabled it survive the war. It went on to be restored as a B-24 with the paint scheme seen here. In this photo the crew is initiating engine start and run-up for its flight demonstration.

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Following the flight demonstrations by the historic aircraft the Thunderbirds held the briefing for their demonstration flight. Here Major Caroline Jensen listens in before the beginning of the demonstration routine.

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The Thunderbird diamond and solo pilots salute the crowd at the beginning of their flight demonstration routine.

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Introductions of the pilots to the airshow crowd over the PA begin the show as the ground crew forms up for the demonstration in the background. From the preparation of the flight to the aerial maneuvers the entire show is carefully choreographed with impressive precision.

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Wearing a pair of G-suit pants the pilots climb the ladder to the cockpit while crew chiefs stand ready to prepare the aircraft for take-off.

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Engine start completed, Thunderbird #1 prepares to taxi to the active runway for take-off.

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With a plume of smoke the four-ship diamond formation begins their takeoff roll at the start of the flight demo routine.

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The opposing solo aircraft, Thunderbird #6, Maj. Jason Curtis, turns in across the crowd line as he closes on the the lead solo aircraft for one of their head-on passes.

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Blue skies and better light gave us a chance to grab good photos of the Thunderbird diamond formation as it flew by the photo stand near show-center.

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Lead solo Thunderbird #5 Maj. Blaine Jones turns in toward the crowd line for a high-speed pass.

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Thunderbird #6 demonstrates a five-point hesitation roll and gives a good plan-form view of the F-16. The paint scheme of the Thunderbirds aircraft is specially designed so the crowd can see the aircraft roll from a distance.

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The Thunderbird diamond formation at the top of an inverted loop at an altitude of about 2000 feet above ground level. The Thunderbirds have a “high show” routine and a “low show” routine for overcast conditions when a low cloud deck prevents them from being visible from the ground. We got to see the low show on Friday practice and the high show on Saturday.

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“From the left, Thunderbird #5, Major Blaine Jones, the Lead Solo, will execute a maximum performance, high-G turn.” This sequence shows the F-16 turn in under afterburners and pull up to 9G’s. In the third frame you can see the wings of the F-16 flex upward under the G-load.

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The two solos cross in the cross over break, one of the most spectacular and difficult to photograph maneuvers of the show.AA390

This pull-up maneuver is used to sequentially position the aircraft for entering the landing pattern and makes for a cool shot as the aircraft begin their break.

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This maneuver begins in the trail formation with the aircraft behind each other and completes a loop up to 2,000 feet where the formation rejoins with incredible precision during the inverted, changing to the diamond formation. Condensation formed on the wingtips streams off the aircraft at higher altitude as the air cools.

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The opposing solo high-alpha pass: Thunderbird #5 flies across show center at about 100 MPH or nearly the minimum speed the aircraft can maintain and still stay in the air. The speed brakes at the back of the aircraft are deployed to slow it down.

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Thunderbird #6, the opposing Solo, trails condensation vapor as it pulls up to the vertical to rejoin the four-ship diamond formation.

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All six aircraft form the wedge formation high into the afternoon sun with thick vapor trails coming off their wingtips.

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The six-aircraft wedge formation passes in review under slight overcast.

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Then flies into clear sky with a complete change of lighting.

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Finally the diamond formation pitches up to the vertical and executes the high bomb burst with one of the solo aircraft rolling vertically through the middle. It was a classic Thunderbird finale.

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Back on the ground with the chocks in place Thunderbird #1 prepares to shut his engine down at the end of the flight demonstration.

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It’s a tradition to wait after the airshow and meet the Thunderbird pilots in person for a handshake, photo and an autograph. Here the Thunderbird team leader, #1 Lt. Col. Greg Mosley, poses for a photo with a fan.

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Thunderbird 12, Major Darrick Lee, high-fives a fan at the end of the airshow.

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On my way out of the show I met aviation artist David Ails. Ails was displaying and selling some of his incredible digital aviation art depicting aircraft including the P-61 Black Widow and F-4 Phantom. Ails represents a new breed of aviation artist who uses digital media for creation of incredible images that depict historic aviation events and aircraft.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

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Jon Logan died on May 17, 2012. He died of cancer. He was only 51 years old.

But I still do not understand: Where did Jon Logan go? Today at the Jon Logan Memorial Triathlon I learned where he went.

I am not a particularly religious person. I have read, with reverence, some from the Bible, the Koran, The Tao de Ching. I went to catichism. Religions offer inspiration and comfort. I admire those who follow them and I look to them for guidance too.  

People came to the Jon Logan Memorial Triathlon in Novi, Michigan in much the same way they go to any triathlon, and a little like some go to church. They wore special gear with sponsors’ logos. First time triathletes came with doubtful expressions and simple gear. Then it became apparent this race was very different. 

The setting was beautiful. A wonderful neighborhood of proud mansions with stately lawns, carefully trimmed and lushly landscaped. The sun rose a frosty haze through light mist. Giant freshwater birds put on a quiet airshow as athletes and volunteers arrived. People smiled, shook hands and hugged. The usual competitive silence before a triathlon was gone. Instead, there was fond celebration of friends and acquaintances. There was reverence for our tight knit community and a beautiful sport.

Then people lined up by the lake and got ready to race.

Dense fog rolled onto the swim course. The outer swim buoys disappeared as the lake was cloaked in grey. The mist absorbed the sounds around the lake and a church-like quiet fell. I don’t know if I imagined this, but it seemed like people lowered their voices. I heard one athlete ask another, “What do we do if the fog is too thick to swim?” The other athlete answered, “We do what Jon would do, we swim…”

Nothing stopped Jon Logan. Nothing. He did an Ironman with a broken collar bone, swimming with one arm. It was Lake Placid. With his wife Sandy, he raced Ironmans around the world, ticking off finishes with an effortless ease and a broad smile that made it look… fun. Then he would come back, inspire friends, mentor beginners, volunteer to help, and do the whole thing all over again.

Out in the fog, the strength, humility and courage of Jon Logan beckoned. Jon would have swam.

So people got in line. Announcements were made. Timing mats were set. Sandy Logan shared a prayer, and the athletes did what Jon would do. They raced.

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At the front of the race the best athletes in the Midwest tore away at each other for the win like hyenas on a kill. Fernando, DeCook, Krzyzanowski. Same for the women. In the middle and at the back of the race people learned the sport and were baptized as triathletes for the first time. Triathlon veterans went to the competitive altar to receive their sweaty communion on another racing Sunday.

They did, what Jon Logan did.

And while Jon Logan passed away some time ago, he was, very tangibly, there today. More importantly, Jon went home with everyone who raced today. For young athletes who never met Jon Logan in person, they know him now. They go forward inspired by his character and reverence for life, made stronger by his example. They know Jon Logan now.

Now I know exactly where Jon Logan went, he went to a new start line. We were glad to join him again today as his character and drive live on in the athletes who raced in his name and memory. Jon would have raced, so that is exactly what everyone did today.

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At this hour the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370’s disappearance is one of the most baffling chapters in aviation history. With every hour that passes the mystery becomes more remarkable.  There was no distress signal, automated or manual, no radar track to a known accident site, no anomalistic flight data transmitted, no covert hijacking signal, no wreckage, no diversion to a remote airfield under duress, no witnesses of an actual crash in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

That the aircraft likely vanished over one of the busiest commercial shipping areas in the world, the Straits of Malacca, with 50,000 to 90,000 ships a year passing through it’s narrow, 500-mile passage is even more remarkable.

When you perform a statistical analysis of aircraft accidents over the previous 30 years that involve more than 100 passengers you see how truly bizarre this mystery is.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration maintains a detailed database of aviation accidents broken into 18 accident causation categories. They include “Crew Resource Management”, “Fuel Ignition”, “Fuel Exhaustion”, “Incorrect Piloting Techniques” and others.  All of them leave some trace to conduct a forensic investigation.

That MH370 left no trace, electronic or otherwise, is its most remarkable anomaly. Given the volume and sophistication of systems to avoid just such a disappearance one explanation is some willful intervention to counter each of these surveillance and tracking systems took place. Someone intentionally lost the aircraft.

One unnamed source has already proffered an opinion on this disappearance: MH370 was hijacked in a 9/11 style terrorist attack. The target may have been the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, a hauntingly similar target to New York’s Twin Towers. The attack failed when some intervention, perhaps by crew, passengers or other force led to the flight’s termination in a similar way to United Airlines flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers attempted to intervene in the hijacking and retake the aircraft before reaching its intended target.

It is possible the flight disappeared when it descended to low altitude for the willful purpose of evading radar as it turned back toward Kuala Lumpur on its attack run. This admittedly outlandish theory is partially supported by Fisherman Azid Ibrahim, 66 of Kota Baru, Indonesia. Ibrahim told the New Strait Times that an airplane appeared to fly low below thick cloud deck. He followed the aircraft for about five minutes before it disappeared without crashing. Another witness reported a similar sighting about 30 km (18.6 miles) away from Kota Baru.  Businessman Alif Fathi Abdul Hadi, 29, reported to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) that he saw “bright white lights”, descending fast into the sea at about 1:45am that same day. A third report from an oil rig also reported seeing a large aircraft flying at low altitude over the region, then a burning object.

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In December 2011 the Co- pilot on MH370, Fariq Abdul Hamid, broke regulations when he allowed female passengers Jonti Roos and Jaan Maree into the cockpit, while flying, for a flight from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The 53-year old captain of MH370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had a room in his house dedicated to a computer flight simulator where he could practice flying a Boeing 777. And familiarize others with how to do it.

In an interesting literary parallel, Ian Fleming’s 1961 novel and 1965 film “Thunderball” depicts a fictional RAF pilot named François Derval who is extorted by sexual coercion into stealing an aircraft for a terrorist plot.

This is speculation. But it has origins extrapolated from known statistical data of airline accidents along with an analysis of the region, its vulnerabilities, its known terrorist activity and additional factors. It also is partially reinforced by the emerging navigation tracks of MH370 that show it returning toward Kuala Lumpur where it originated and where the Petronas Towers are.

It is also as implausible a theory as the 9/11 terror attacks were on 9/10. Before the 9/11 attacks and former President Bush’s election the Clinton administration had intelligence that suggested a coordinated attack using airliners in the Pacific region was a plausible threat. One analysis suggested the attacks might originate from Indonesia. The theories were not regarded as actionable. By 9/12 this paradigm had shifted.

When will know the facts about MH370’s disappearance? That is another mystery. Until then all we have is questions and speculation as passing time creates more depth to one of the most bizarre mysteries in aviation history.

By Tom Demerly.

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In much the same way as Franklin Roosevelt is remembered for the Social Security Act of 1935, President Barack Obama will be remembered for the Affordable Care Act.

And it may be a larger success than any of us imagine.

The Affordable Care Act could be a masterfully engineered piece of legislation that has already set in motion the only means possible to topple big medicine and make U.S. health care affordable. But not how you think.

We’ve all seen the charts and YouTubes comparing the cost of medical procedures in the U.S. to other countries. They make a case for health care being significantly more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries that already have a state subsidized or administered medical system.  It’s possible the authors of the ACA did a masterful “Potomac two-step” in selling the ACA to the powerful medical, pharmaceutical and hospital lobby. Washington sold them a Trojan horse.

ACA critics have pointed to a host of administrative problems that are likely short lived. Those problems aren’t “structural”.

A structural problem built into ACA is that the weight of medical costs in the U.S. is spread over the broader economic “ice” of the American population. That ice is still too thin to support big medicine’s current financial weight. One of two things can happen: The ice can break or some weight can be removed.

Since ACA is law, and law can presumably be enforced, the “ice” that is ACA will be held up by Washington. The weight that comes off the ACA ice will be U.S. “Big Medicine” getting whittled down to functional size. No more massive, glossy prescription drug marketing campaigns. No more mini-malls and valet parking at hospitals. No more health care providers filing endless reams of electronic files, paying staff to interpret billing and insurance logistics and creating their own internal television networks to promote themselves. Malpractice litigation will be reformed. Medicine will become more medical, less commercial and litigious.

The ACA will dry up hospital "malls" and commercial dining areas and other accessories to hospital operation.

The ACA will dry up hospital “malls” and commercial dining area and other accessories to hospital operation.

There will be blood. Hospital staff, already strained in many places, will be trimmed. Logistics will be streamlined, even doctors will earn less. Health care suppliers will suffer mightily; with many going bankrupt like auto component suppliers did in the U.S. automotive bailout. And just like the automotive bailout many of the financial negotiations that were abrasive and costly between unions and car companies will now be quickly dispensed in bankruptcy court. And for once, it will be the medical companies that will take the hit. The ACA may protect the citizen-patient.

“Health care quality will contract while health care access will expand.”

If this is the direction of ACA, intended or not, the process will be an abrasive one. We the people in the first decade of ACA will experience constant changes in health care logistics and a general decline in the quality of health care. In short, our health care infrastructure will contract to a scale similar to those of countries with functioning social medicine. In many ways that will appear as a downgrade. But in the spirit of ACA it will spread access to health care across a broader population. Instead of high-income people getting great health care and middle and lower class people getting none or reduced levels with exposure to financial ruin, everyone will get a roughly equivalent level of healthcare services and products. Health care quality will contract while health care access will expand. The optimal balance will be when the two conflicting agendas meet in the middle.

It’s possible President Obama’s ACA will be remembered as the savior of the American patient, not the American medical industry. Getting there will require a long and painful period of financial and legislative surgery that includes some painful amputations with no anaesthetic.

By Tom Demerly

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The greatest fear I had going into Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was that it would be a sad eulogy to Tom Clancy’s genius. I’m pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Director Kenneth Branagh did his homework and borrowed subtle and successful elements from each of the Jason Bourne, James Bond, Mission Impossible and Tom Clancy franchises to weave a surprisingly good story thread that is visually well done.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a tight and snappy spy thriller. It’s well written, tightly shown and quickly paced. Camera, sound and production techniques are tasteful and pay homage to its influences. Very little is over blown. Even the sets are well dressed and chosen.

Writers David Koepp and Adam Cozad used Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan with reverence for Clancy’s original vision of Dr. Ryan, the nerdy analyst turned reluctant but capable action hero.

Jack Ryan gets his first kill James Bond style, in a bathroom.

Jack Ryan gets his first kill James Bond style, in a bathroom.

Chris Pine as Jack Ryan is fantastic as is Kevin Costner as Thomas Harper, his CIA boss. And because no great spy film is a success without great villains, it is a pleasure to have Kenneth Branagh as the dangerous Russian, Viktor Cherevin.

The plot hits ominously close to home, literally and figuratively, with a story line that weaves into the little known world of economic warfare. Villains originate from Dearborn, Michigan in the shadow of Ford World Headquarters. The plan is to crash the stock market in a combined terror and economic attack; a scenario everyone hopes will remain fiction.

But Tom Clancy’s fiction has an ominous way of weaving its way into the headlines.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit never sags and builds well to a strong climax. There are a few corny moments but remember, this isn’t a strict Clancy plot. It weaves influences from every corner of the spy thriller genre, and does it with respect and tribute to each. While these stories do become somewhat cookie-cutter this one is flavored uniquely and with enough craft to make it a snappy 105-minutes. And yes, there is a sequel planned that hopefully continues with this fine cast in the upcoming Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy would have loved Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It is tight, quick and nice looking. This is a pleasant surprise after the painful loss of a great author and storyteller who created these characters. That new writers are able to execute on Clancy’s vision confirms their talent and reverence for his mastery.

Taking to the streets with a nod to Bourne franchise in "Shadow Recruit".

Taking to the streets with a nod to Bourne franchise in “Shadow Recruit”.

By Tom Demerly.

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Early July 2005: I was in the car. CNN was on. There was a report of a “U.S. long range reconnaissance team lost in Afghanistan”. They went to a commercial.

I pictured what must have been going on. Marine recon, Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare, Air Force Special Operations. It was one or some combination of them.  They had no comms, they were cut off, they may be lost, their food was gone. They may not even be alive by the time it made the news.

In the mid to late 1980’s I was a member of a U.S. Army National Guard Long Range Surveillance Team, Co. F., 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Michigan National Guard. I was the scout/observer for our five man reconnaissance team.  We never saw combat then. But the sense of being a long way from home, cold, wet, hungry and with no communications is a very familiar one. Our radios never worked. We rarely got comms. We often walked home, even on training missions.

In 2007 when Marcus Luttrell wrote his book Lone Survivor I read it in one sitting, and didn’t sleep well for days. His account of a long range surveillance mission gone bad is harrowing and realistic.

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“Lone Survivor” author Marcus Luttrell signs his new book “Service”. Luttrell’s incredible account of Operation Red Wings deserved a better film adaptation.

This weekend Director Peter Berg’s adaptation of Lone Survivor hit theaters. Berg is the mastermind behind the impressive and haunting film The Kingdom from 2007.

Berg executes the complex story of Operation Red Wings told in Luttrell’s Lone Survivor with the level of authenticity you expect for a 121-minute Hollywood movie. There are moments when the film “works”, sort of. But for the most part it is clunky, forced and unrealistic feeling.

Berg may get a pass because faithfully depicting the horror of a small recon team retreating down a cliff side in the high Afghan mountains of Kunar Province is technically demanding. But remember Steven Spielberg’s D-Day landing scene in Saving Private Ryan, a scene so real it makes you recoil in terror and smell the cordite, exhaust fumes and gore. Even Ridley Scott’s Blackhawk Down, while very “Hollywood-ized” provides a more authentic and vertiginous sense of what combat must be like. Both Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk Down “feel” more realistic. Lone Survivor relied too heavily on bad set dressing, rotten camera movement, poor make-up and a generally inauthentic “look” to deliver.

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The cast of “Lone Survivor” look more like an airsoft convention than a Long Range Surveillance Team.

The shape and storyline of Lone Survivor is good but the look and feel is shallow and contrite. There is so much “punch” and terror to this story it could have been done better. The digital effects, especially of aircraft and wide scenes, are embarrassingly poor by current standards. Lone Survivor simply looked “hurried” and synthetic. The make-up effects of wounds and blood looked like something you’d see in a Halloween haunted house. Even after three days of a long range reconnaissance patrol the characters didn’t look authentically dirty and grimy.

Another nick against Lone Survivor is that the “Afghanis” didn’t look like they lived in the mountains of Kunar Province. They looked like people from an L.A. cattle call for “Afghan” extras for a film shoot. For reference on how to get it right look at the realistic pirate depictions in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips . Barkhad Abdi and Barkhad Abdirahman were authentic and believable in their roles as Somali pirates, in no small part because they are from Somalia.

Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor is not a total failure. The audience in the theater spontaneously applauded when the credits rolled, so it got their attention. But it isn’t the authentic and horrifying insight into Long Range Surveillance and Marcus Luttrell’s incredible book that I had hoped for.

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