Thunder Over Dover prepares to roar into DAFB for the weekend


DOVER — The closest experience that many people have with Dover Air Force Base is looking out of their cars while driving on Del. 1 and seeing the tails of massive C-5 M Super Galaxy’s and C-17A Globemaster III aircraft poking skywards behind the hangars.

Then, of course for Dover-area residents, there is also the near-daily occurrence of seeing some of the air cargo transport planes flying overhead, sometimes en route to far-away destinations to deliver supplies.

That will all change next Saturday and Sunday as Dover Air Force Base will open up its gates to the public for the Thunder Over Dover air show, which will be at the base’s first open house since 2009.

The event, which features free admission, promises to be two-straight days of celebrating the heritage of flight, as well as a triple anniversary, including: Dover AFB’s 75th, the U.S. Air Force’s 70th and the city of Dover’s 300th.

While the men and women of Dover Air Force Base look forward to showing the public what they do on a daily basis, the featured performers of the weekend will be the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron — the Thunderbirds in their six red, white and blue fashioned F-16 Fighting Falcons.

“We take extreme pride in hosting this event,” said Capt. George B. “Bernie” Kale, a public affairs liaison at DAFB who is prepared for upwards of 200,000 visitors to enjoy the two-day spectacle. “We do this every day, putting the uniform on and serving our country and the community around us.

“For the general public to be able to come on base and see what we do every day and get a little insight into what it goes into being an airman is very special.”

Capt. Kale added, “People often see the big airplane tails sticking up over the fencing and now they get to see the aircraft up close and get to know about the power of what we do in the airlift community.”

The Thunder Over Dover air show will begin with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and will feature several aerial performers throughout the day, highlighted by the Thunderbirds’ dazzling show of precision pilot skills from 3 until 5 p.m. both days.

Every Thunderbird show lasts about an hour and features six pilots performing sometimes breathtaking — and often beautiful — flying formations, loops and rolls in front of the crowd.

Their performance also features a pair of solo pilots that will show off the dizzying flying capability of the F-16, one of the top fighter jets in the world.

The air show will also feature several aerobatic pilots and teams throughout, as well as the USAF Academy Wings of Blue and Army Special Operations Black Daggers parachute teams, a C-17 demonstration team, a flyover by a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber, World War II aircraft and more.

Dover residents shouldn’t be startled if they actually hear the roar of jets flying flow overhead on Friday — that will be the Thunderbirds as they will practice, tentatively, and get a feel for the airspace around the base.

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen welcomes the air show to Dover with open arms. He said there might be a little more traffic and a little more noise, but it’s a celebration and people should enjoy it.

“We are really excited that Thunder Over Dover is part of our 300th Birthday Celebration,” Mayor Christiansen said, about the city’s milestone. “Dover is Dover Air Force Base and Dover Air Force Base is Dover. It is only proper that because of the presence of the Air Force in our community that they showcase what they do and do so well for over 75-plus years.

“Not only have they been an economic engine in Dover, but they have influenced our city in many ways culturally. I salute Col. Ethan Griffin and the men and women of the 436th and 512th and their families for calling Dover home. Finally, let us never forget those who so many years ago turned the Dover Municipal Airport into the the fortress of freedom we see today. Thanks to each of them for their service to our country.”

Wendie Vestfall, executive director of Kent County Tourism, said the air show is an added bonus that could bring many new visitors to the area. That staggering attendance number could very well make it an even bigger event than Kent County’s other two big attractions — the NASCAR races and the Firefly Music Festival.

“It is big. It’s going to be great,” Ms. Vestfall said. “This is fantastic for Kent County, especially with it taking place later in August when we don’t have much going on.

“We’d love to have everybody come to Kent County and see what we have to offer. We take a lot of pride in the Dover Air Force Base and what they, and also our community, have to offer.”

Capt. Kale said that if an aircraft is not in the sky during Thunder Over Dover, chances are it will be available to observe and tour on the ground.

Static displays at the air show will include an F-22 Raptor, one of the Air Force’s newest fighter jets, along with an F-15 Strike Eagle and World War I and II planes from the Massey Air Museum, located just over the border in Maryland.

The Air Mobility Command Museum at DAFB will also be open during the air show with its display of more than 30 vintage aircraft.

There will also be a kid zone where children can play and interact with games and activities and an Australian strongman will attempt to pull a C-17 by himself.

Capt. Kale said Thunder Over Dover is an event that has been two years in the making.

“I’m just glad that it is coming soon and everything is coming into place,” he said. “It’s always a logistical challenge but all of the folks out here are more than up for this challenge.

“It’s everything from making sure we have enough Porta-Johns to snow fencing, our guys are doing it. It may seem to be a little busier than normal, but our people are up to it. It’s a fun challenge and something we are proud to host.”

In order to get in and out of the air show as easily as possible, Capt. Kale said that attendees should plan ahead.

“The parking is always going to be a logistical challenge,” he said. “Visitors coming from south of the base should park at Bergold Farms (off Del. 9). There will be shuttles every five to seven minutes that will take them to the entrance of the air show.

“For visitors coming from north, everybody should go through the North Gate (located at the intersection of U.S. 13 and Del. 10) at the base which will lead to parking right on the ramp (on the runway). Handicapped parking is also available coming through the North Gate entrance.”

Dawne Nickerson-Banez, chief of community relations for DAFB, can’t wait for Dover’s celebration of flight and the base itself.

“We’re really excited to be able to open our doors and let everybody come in and get the full base experience,” she said.

“This year we’re moving it back old school to the main ramp, so people will actually be coming onto the base through the North Gate and parking on our main ramp where our aircraft are usually parked.”

As for Capt. Kale, everything appears to be a go for the air show.

“There will be something for everybody to see and do,” he said. “There will be plenty of amenities such as food and drink for people to enjoy, they will get to see the inside of DAFB, see lots of aircraft and, of course the Thunderbirds — so it doesn’t get much more exciting than that.”

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