News & Insights

Dykema Powers Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow

July 12, 2016

Downtown Detroit isn’t accustomed to F-16 fighter jets tearing through the sky over the Detroit River on a Friday afternoon, but that’s exactly what happened on Friday, June 24. And the fly-by was just the beginning of the third annual Tuskegee Airmen Detroit River Days Airshow, which featured performances over three days during the River Days Festival on the Detroit Riverfront.

More than 130,000 spectators attending the festival were duly impressed with the displays of aerobatics and precision formation flying, but most don’t know about the different kinds of maneuvers that are required long before the first performer rolls inverted in the performance area.

“The performance area – sometimes called the ‘box,’ – is close to skyscrapers, right up against an international border, and over an international shipping lane,” said Steve Tupper, the leader of Dykema’s aviation transactions team and recent chair of the Aviation Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan. “There are altitude, maneuvering, and other restrictions in that airspace that required waivers by the FAA of 22 provisions of the Federal Aviation Regulations and the imposition of 38 special conditions for the conduct of the show. This is among the most complex airspace used by any airshow in North America.”

Dykema’s aviation team arranged for the FAA waiver, coordinated with U.S. and Canadian assets to keep the box clear on the water, and even worked with the Detroit Tigers to allow performers to enter the protected zone around Comerica Park to get to and from the box over the river while the Tigers played a series against the Cleveland Indians.

By the end of the third performance, the show had featured more than 40 sorties by 16 aircraft, including World War II training aircraft, the world’s only formation glider team, aerobatic performers, a Cold-War-era jet, and the F-16s from the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo. Tupper noted that, unlike other airshows in Michigan, more than 85 percent of the performers are from southeast Michigan and southwest Ontario. “This is an airshow by Detroit, for Detroit. We’re very proud of that.”

River Days

Sherrie Farrell, managing member of Dykema’s Detroit office and chair of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, said “The firm is really proud to have a role in helping the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum put on this airshow. Because of the airspace and the sheer weight of regulations and operational issues, this event is nearly impossible to put on. But, when you work with those who follow in the footsteps of the original Tuskegee Airmen, you rapidly find that nearly impossible is no barrier at all.”

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum honors the legacy of the African-American military pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They overcame withering discrimination at home and enemy fire abroad to amass an exemplary record in World War II and then returned to play a vital role in the movement for civil rights. The museum operates a facility in historic Fort Wayne and six aircraft at the Coleman A. Young Municipal (Detroit City) Airport on Detroit’s east side. It also provides free orientation flights to more than 200 Detroit-area children each year through its Young Eagles rallies.