Thunder Over Dover a roaring success

7598 – A Dover based C-5 lights up the sky with a barrage of flares used to deter enemy heat seeking missiles. (Special to Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Everyone involved with the Thunder Over Dover air show and open house all had one thing on their mind when the Air Force Thunderbirds shut down their engines for the final time at Dover Air Force Base Sunday afternoon — mission accomplished.

Col. Corey A. Simmons, the vice commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, couldn’t erase the smile on his face.

“To be honest, I think this was amazing,” Col. Simmons said. “It’s American air power with precision and class with Delaware hospitality. It’s about as good as it gets.”

The US Air Force aerobatic team makes a pass in formation over the crowd Sunday. (Special to Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The weekend open house celebrated America’s aviation heritage, the airmen stationed at Dover Air Force Base, the Thunderbirds, a strongman from Australia, and just about everything in between — including perfect weather conditions.

“We’ve had the Thunderbirds, the premier air power in the Air Force, one of our airmen proposed to his wife on the runway (on Saturday), we had a re-enlistment ceremony with guys re-enlisting in the Air Force on Friday, we had guys join the Air Force (Saturday) and we had a recognition ceremony (Sunday),” Col. Simmons said. “So it is showing off all of the airmen in every single way we possibly can.

“And really, who doesn’t want to be able to show off what they do? Being able to have our friends from Delmarva and the whole area here, to be able to show them what we do — it was absolutely great.”

Lt. Col. Ryan Orfe was the main person tasked with bringing the massive Thunder Over Dover project together.

He said DAFB officials don’t have an official count on attendance just yet, but he is certain the crowd topped 40,000 people on both Saturday and Sunday, including thousands who were coming in and out of the base at separate times throughout the day.

“We are super excited,” Lt. Col. Orfe said. “Things have been going really, really smooth. The crowds have been great, all of our volunteers have been great and we’re thankful to so many people that helped us put this on, thankful for the community and Delmarva area that came out to support us at the open house.

The US Air Force Thunderbirds make a pass over Dover AFB through a hazy sun. (Special to Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

“Everybody I’ve talked to has had a great time and we really, really appreciate it.”

Both Saturday and Sunday brought some different things to Thunder Over Dover.

On Saturday, guests were treated to a B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flyover and on Sunday, a C-5M making a flyover low over the base’s airfield unleashed some brightly-colored flares from the aircraft’s six flare pods, drawing “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from the crowd.

Army paratroopers come in for a soft landing after they jumped out of a C-17. (Special to Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Commander Grant Edwards, who is now the head of the Australian Federal Police’s Americas Division, based in Washington, was able to successfully pull a C-17 Globemaster III in the name of mental health awareness for first responders on Saturday and Sunday.

He received a plaque for breaking a world record by pulling the 300,000-pound aircraft with a rope and a harness tied to his body. He said pulling aircraft is hard because they often have “flat spots” on their tires that don’t roll over easily.

“Getting it moving is difficult,” said Cmdr. Edwards, 54. “These aircraft it can be quite difficult to pull. The actual initial movement is the hardest and then it’s just a matter of patience in getting it moving and then it will go.”

Overall, it turned out to be a weekend celebration of flight at Dover, attracting thousands of families with strollers, kids on shoulders and arms pointed skywards in awe of the Thunderbirds in their F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Suddenly, at 5 p.m. on Sunday, it was all over. But the memories will remain.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said it was an event that should not have been missed.

“Dover Air Force Base and Dover rock, that’s all I can say,” Mayor Christiansen said. “This is the first time we’ve had the show out on the (DAFB) ramp for a while, and I think when everybody goes home and tells their friends and neighbors who weren’t here, they’ll want to be here for the next one.

“This is the perfect way to celebrate (the city of Dover’s) 300th birthday and the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force.”

Mission accomplished.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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