Appreciation: Sussex flyover honors frontline workers

WW II era B-25 bomber “Panchito” makes a pass over Bayhealth’s Milford facility Saturday.. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

GEORGETOWN — “Off we go into the wild blue yonder …”

First to take off was Panchito, Delaware Aviation Museum’s pride and joy B-25 Mitchell bomber.

Rosalie, a P-51 Mustang was next, followed by two Chorman C-45 aircraft. A second wave of liaison and training aircraft followed several minutes later.

As the Sussex County Air Force, their mission was to encompass all of Sussex County in a Memorial Day weekend salute to frontline healthcare workers and first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, among those who helped facilitate the event, was on hand on the ground for the initial flyover liftoff at the Delaware Coastal Airport. Later, he got to fly in the Tiger Moth aircraft in the second wave.

WW II era B-25 and P-51 making a pass over Bayhealth’s facility south of Milford Saturday as part of a salute to medical and first responders who are helping Delawareans get through the current virus crisis. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“You can sum it up into one word: appreciation,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “Everybody that has been affected by this; you’ve got our first responders, our police, ambulance, EMS, healthcare workers in our medical facilities and long-term care facilities, they have gone through the ringer in this. They’ve done a tremendous job in helping to keep people safe, treat them when they are sick. And this is a sign of appreciation to them for all that they have done, for the time away from their families throughout this. It is a tribute to them.”

Linda Price, Community Outreach Director for the Delaware Aviation Museum based at the Delaware Coastal Airport, had a bird’s-eye view from behind Panchito pilot Larry Kelley and the bomber’s co-pilot. It was her first flight in Panchito.

“Other than being in the pilot seat I probably had the absolute best seat. To fly in that plane in just a few words is absolutely incredible. You literally have no idea how fast you are going,” said Ms. Price. “We did cover a lot of ground. It was amazing to me how quickly we covered that ground. It was an incredible day for it. The flight was just beautiful.”

The flyover was presented by the Delaware Aviation Museum in partnership with Rickards Auto Body & Restoration and Chorman’s Aerial Spraying. It was supported by public and other donations, including $5,000 in support from Sussex County Council, earmarked to cover fuel and oil.

A WW II era C-45 transport, now owned by Al Chorman and his son Jeff, was converted to mosquito control spraying. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

The four big birds — the B-25 bomber, P-51 Mustang (piloted by Ezra Rickards), and C-45s (piloted by Allen and Jeff Chorman) — covered the entire flight route, which zig-zagged across the county, including flight formation over Beebe Medical Center in Lewes, Bayhealth Hospital Sussex Campus in Milford and Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford.

“The communication between Ezra and Larry was so critical to make sure that we gave a good show., that nobody got ahead of each other,” said Ms. Price. “We did see a lot of people along the route. I got a lot of feedback from people, via Facebook and email.”

There were rave reviews from residents in a development in the Bridgeville area. “There is a group at Heritage Shores that was communicating with me. They were so thrilled, that it literally went right over top of them,” said Ms. Price. “Larry (Kelley) said we were about 1,300 feet up in the air. So people had a good vantage point. People on the ground got a really good close look at the planes.”

Any monetary donations over the cost of fuel will be used for gift certificates for first responders. As of early last week, the total, counting the county’s donation, was close to $10,000.

Panchito, the B-25 Mitchell bomber that is the Delaware Aviation Museum’s marquee aircraft, lifts off Saturday morning at the Delaware Coastal Airport in the Sussex County Air Force flyover. The event saluted frontline healthcare workers and first responders during the coronavirus pandemic. Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe

And the late-May calendar date, Memorial Day weekend, was not forgotten.

“Not to forget or overshadow the real meaning of this weekend, as well, which is Memorial Day, and to pay homage to those have fallen for our country so we are able to do these things,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “We are able to come out here and witness these things because of sacrifices that they made throughout our nation’s history.”

All planes that took part in the flyover were World War II-era aircraft.

Brian Bean of Harrington was one of the many spectators that watched the WW II era aircraft flyby at Bayhealth’s Milford facility Saturday. His father, Army Air Corps Sgt. George J. Bean Jr., was a tailgunner on B-25s stationed in New Guinea during WW II. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

“It was very much about history. And after the pilots’ briefing, we were reminded by our chief pilot what this weekend signifies. He asked all for a moment of silence for those that brought forth for our freedom,” said Ms. Price. “So, it wasn’t lost on anybody that went up in the air. We knew what we went up there for – first responders and healthcare workers – but it was also a chance, which is certainly what the museum is all about, to pay tribute and honor those that sacrificed for us.“

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.