The First 20 Years Of Thunder On The Lakeshore Celebrated!

by Geoff Sobering

The “Best of the First 20 Years” was the theme for this year’s “Thunder on the Lakeshore” air show at Manitowoc County Regional Airport, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. “Best” was certainly a good description of the lineup, which included three national showmanship award recipients: Stock Stearman pilot, John Mohr; Dave Dacy Airshows; and the AeroShell Aerobatic Team.

Mohr flew in the first show 20 years ago, and has participated in every one since, except for one year that his airline “day job” kept him away. Dave Dacy Airshows has been an integral part of “Thunder” for many years. This year the air show troupe featured announcer Phil Dacy, airboss Scott Duck, sound wizard Claude Spears, pilot Dave Dacy with his Super Stearman, and wingwalker Tony Kazian.

The 20th anniversary show brought the return of the “Hoppers” four-ship L-39 formation team. Rounding out the jet performers was Fowler Cary in his T-33 painted in U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds team colors. Cary is another stalwart regular at “Thunder,” missing only one show when his plane was down for repairs.

A couple of regulars missed the 20th anniversary party. Long-time airboss Wayne Boggs is running the Navy’s “Celebration of the War of 1812” series of shows, and one of them happened to be on the same weekend as “Thunder.” Boggs’ involvement with the Manitowoc show is another indication of the show’s stature in the air show entertainment industry. He is one of the regular air bosses at Oshkosh each year.

“Thunder on the Lakeshore” has evolved a very successful formula over the years. They have a great set of “regulars” who form the foundation of the show. Every year they book a number of other performers to fill out the lineup, along with at least one nationally known “headline” act. This format gives the show a familiar feel, without being boring.

As with most air shows this year, the lineup was missing the usual Air Force tactical demonstration team due to Pentagon budget cuts. Luckily, the U.S. Air Force “Heritage Flight” formation featuring an F-16 Falcon and the P-38 Lightning “Ruff Stuff” flown by Kevin Eldridge, was available.

The U.S. Navy has not curtailed its demo program and sent an F/A-18 Super Hornet from the VFA-106 “Hornet East” demo team.

The “Best of the First 20 Years” theme brought a number of other performers back to Manitowoc: John Klatt with the new “Air National Guard” MX-S, Bob Davis and his SU-29, the Darnell family’s “Flash Fire” jet truck (this year, Chris Darnell was driving), the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, the sailplane aerobatics of Manfred Radius, and Jim “Fang” Maroney with his Super-Chipmunk.

Jim Leavelle is a newcomer to “Thunder,” and the air show circuit. He flies a beautiful dark-blue SNJ with a great smoke system. Leavelle keeps the plane right in front of the crowd.

Producing the show is Curt Drumm of Lakeshore Aviation in Manitowoc.

With a successful 2012 show completed, I’m sure the organizers are already working on putting together the first show of the “second twenty years.” I know where I’ll be the first weekend in June!

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