Air show thrills big crowd

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE — It was a beautiful day for airplanes.

Thousands of people came out to Dover Air Force Base Saturday for Thunder Over Dover, the first air show the base has hosted since 2009. Planes soared overhead, with pilots performing death-defying stunts and thrilling the multitude of people watching from the ground.

Gates opened at 9 a.m., and an hour later, at the start of the shows that were scheduled to last until 5, thousands of people were already on the base.

The Air Force Thunderbirds, the main attraction, were not set to perform until 3, but there was plenty of entertainment to keep attendees busy until then.

More than 20 planes, from a massive C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft to a much smaller Cessna 172, sat on the tarmac. Attendees milled around the aircraft, but it was clear what the main attraction was: the aerial demonstrations that led up to the Thunderbirds.

The Viper Pitts Acrobatic plane performs a stunt during Thunder Over Dover at the Dover Air Force Base on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“I’ve been waiting for this all year,” said John Verdi, of Newark.

The day started with members of the Black Daggers, the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team, sailing down. A captive audience watched as the parachutists floated down to earth from thousands of feet above, leaving red smoke trails behind them in the sky.

Many people came with chairs, allowing them to get comfortable for a full day of spectacular aerial stunts. One family laid down a blanket on the tarmac, and one man pulled a child behind him in a wagon.

Spectators crowd the fencing to get a closer look during Thunder Over Dover at the Dover Air Force Base on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Some carried binoculars and cameras, and with planes flying by close enough that those with good eyesight could read the words on their wings, there were plenty of chances for unforgettable photos.

Heidi Bishop came with her family from Earleville, Maryland, to see the show. She also visited the base in 2009, the last time the Thunderbirds performed above Delaware’s capital.

She said she loves seeing the looks of her sons’ faces as they watch the aircraft shoot by overhead. The fact that attendees could see a variety of planes close up and even go in some of them is a bonus, Ms. Bishop said, as her son Mathew chimed in to note his favorite thing: “looking at planes.”

Two Navy Warrior Aviation L-39 jets perform during Thunder Over Dover at the Dover Air Force Base on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“We’ve been in a couple and it still doesn’t matter. They still want to go in, they still like it,” Ms. Bishop said of her sons’ interest in aircraft.

Vic Rackers made the trip to Dover from Jefferson City, Missouri, to watch his son perform.

Jared Rackers, a student at the Air Force Academy, is a member of the Wings of Blue Demonstration Team. He has performed more than 535 jumps and will be parachuting into NFL and college football stadiums this fall, Vic Rackers said.

Four of the six Thunderbirds during Thunder Over Dover at the Dover Air Force Base on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Saturday, the Wings of Blue parachuted down to the ground after jumping from 12,500 feet — more than two miles.

“The special forces jumps out first, and then the Wings of Blue are still circling and they’re going up to a higher elevation,” Mr. Rackers said shortly after the Black Daggers made their way to the ground.

An announcer narrated the stunts, explaining to the audience exactly what spectators were seeing and even speaking to one of the pilots through his radio at one point.

Several planes representing Delaware State University’s aviation program, which the university brags is “simply the best flight education opportunity on the East Coast,” performed a flyby at one point.

A Navy Warrior Aviation L-39 jet passes by spectators during Thunder Over Dover at the Dover Air Force Base on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Although some might not have noticed, there was an overarching theme during the demonstrations: celebrating history. The air show coincides with Dover’s 300th anniversary, Dover Air Force Base’s 75th anniversary and the U.S. Air Force’s 70th anniversary.

Dave and Jan Monk, who moved to Wilmington last year, were making their first visit to the base. Unlike some of the people who planned most of the day on base, they did not bring chairs, although the two were undaunted.

A mother holds her son as he uses binoculars during Thunder Over Dover at the Dover Air Force Base on Saturday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“It makes you think about the military from a different perspective,” Ms. Monk said of the air show.

She noted she heard people speaking several different languages in the line to enter and even saw a few attendees who appeared to be Amish — examples of the pull of the event.

Thunder Over Dover continues today, with gates opening at 9 and demonstrations starting at 10.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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