Thunder Over Dover Air Show and Open House 2017

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Story by Bill Sarama, photos by Bill Sarama, Howard German and Mike Colaner.

Dover Delaware, 45 minutes south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, on US Route 13, is noted for two events that get huge crowds: The first is the “Dover International Speedway”, the “Monster Mile”, the famous NASCAR one mile oval track, built in 1969, seating 95,500 racing fans and noted for at least seven NASCAR Cup 400 and 200 races during the year. However. there was another event this year about five miles down the road that beat out the NASCAR track with another “Monster Mile”, with a two-day event that drew at least 150,000 people each day – the “Dover Air Force Base Air Show”! Again, Huge Crowds! The 2017 “Thunder Over Dover Open House”, held on Saturday and Sunday, August 26th and 27th, returned United States Air Power to the Delaware Shore for the first time since 2009. And they certainly made up for lost time at Dover this year with lots of heavy metal haulers, an array of fast mover fighters and a whole bunch of unusual warbirds. 2017 was a special year because it marked the 300th Anniversary of the City of Dover and the 70th Anniversary of the US Air Force.

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The big attraction this year was the US Air Force “Thunderbirds”; Give them the “Blues” or the “T-Birds” and they will come, all 150,000 of them each day. The show also offered the the US Air Force Academy Parachute Team “Wings of Blue”, the US Army Special Operations Command Parachute Team “The Black Daggers”, over 70 aircraft both on the Static and Hot Ramps and over 20 flying demonstrations including such unusual demos as the B-2A Stealth Bomber 3-pass fly-over by the “Spirit of California” from the 509th Bomb Wing out of Whiteman AFB, MO, Art Nall’s Sea Harrier AV-8B demo, the twin-tail 1946 De Havilland RAF Vampire Jet demo, the CAF “Prowlers of the Pacific” warbirds ACM demo and many other flying acts, and, of course, a few of those wonderful “Noisemakers” – the great little Pitts aerobatic stunt planes.

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a) The Ground Show;

Everyone came to Dover to see the Thunderbirds. Besides the usual crazed airplane chasers and the folding-chair-sitters, we had a contingent of hard liner but very friendly “Hell’s Angels” types and a fair amount of Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites, both with their own distinctive forms of dress. There was also a platoon of lovely young ladies from “The Land Down Under” – Australia – handing out brochures and booklets celebrating the 100 years of military cooperation that we have had between the Australian military and the United States military and celebrating the fact that the Australians have assisted the Americans starting in World War One and continue to assist the US militarily even currently in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. We salute the Australians!!! And as you walked the ramp, there were all kinds of vendors selling all kinds of food, drinks, beer, and the usual air show stuff, but it was the airplanes that brought the 150,000 people here, and there were over 70 heavy metal birds on the Static and Hot Ramps to see up close and personal. Many had their air crews nearby to tell you about their planes and some of the missions they were involved in, sometimes even a few real war stories. As you started to walk the south end of the “Monster Mile” ramp – and yes, it was more than a mile long – the first thing you saw on one side of the Hot Ramp were the five stunt planes, including “Jive” Kerby’s little RV-8 “Wild Blue”. Next on the other side of the wire were the “Prowlers of the Pacific” team from the Dixie Wing and the West Texas Wing of the CAF: the Goodyear FG-1D (F4U) Corsair; the Nakajima B5N “Kate” Jap Torpedo Bomber; the Douglass SBD-5 Dauntlas Dive Bomber; and the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat. Next to them was a silver P-51D Mustang with a red nose, red tail and invasion stripes – appropriately called “Red Nose”, also from the CAF Dixie Wing. Next to the Mustang was an unusual T-6 with a tan camo fuselage and a yellow belly.

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On the nearby Static Ramp we had some current favorites: an F-22A Raptor, (FF), from the ACC First Fighter Wing from Langley AFB, roped off with its four armed security guards; two A-10 Hogs from the 23rd FW (ACC), Moody AFB, GA, (“FT”), 74th FS, “Flying Tigers”, with Shark Teeth nose art; two F-15E Strike Eagles (“SJ”) from the 4th FW / 335th FS “Chiefs” out of Seymour-Johnson AFB, NC; then everybody’s favorite, the B-25J Mitchell Bomber “Panchito” from the nearby Delaware Aviation Museum. The center of the ramp was equally impressive with the VIP C-21 Lear Jet 35A, 375th AW / 458th AS, AMC, from Scott AFB, St. Louis; the Curtis C-46 Commando “The Tinker Belle”, 1944, Warbirds of America, City of Monroe, NC, with “Missions Over the Hump” nose art; a Rockwell B-1B Lancer “Bone” Bomber, 7th BW (AFGSC) / 28th BS-CC, 85-059, (“DY”), Dyess AFB, TX, with an Indian Head / “Star of Abilene” nose art; a Fairchild C-123K Provider “Thunder Pig” in Vietnam camo, Air Heritage Museum, Beaver Falls, PA; a 1968 restored Grumman OV-1D Mohawk in Vietnam colors, a FAC spotter, the only flying Mohawk and FAA verified for aerobatic flying, out of Myrtle Beach, NC, Owner and pilot – Joe Madessa – out of NJ;

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Close by were some small birds; two CAP C-172’s; a bright yellow 1955 Schweizer SGU 2-22 two seat training glider owned by the Massey Air Museum, MD; two USAF blue and white T-41 Mescaleros,the Military version of the Cessna-172, based here at Dover for pilot refresher and student training, one of 8 training aircraft at Dover, including a C-182 and a Diamond DH-20. Additional mid-ramp aircraft included: a C-17A Globemaster III from the 436th AW (AMC) / 512th AW (AFRC) based here; A C-130H Hercules from the 166th AW, DE ANG, tail logo “The First State”, based at New Castle Airport up the street; a McDonnell Douglas KC-10A “Extender” from the 305th AW (AMC) / 514th AW (AFRC) from McGuire AFB, NJ;

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a C-5M Super Galaxy, 436th AW (AMC) / 512th AW (AFRC), also from Dover; a Sailplane from the USAF Academy Soaring Demonstration Team; a General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAV Drone brought in by trailer from Creech AFB, NV, ( 00-003), CH, 432nd Wing, 432nd ACMS / AXS; a UH-60L Blackhawk helo, DE Army NG, 238th / 126th Med Evac Group, New Castle, DE; a T-6A Texan II, (“CB”), 14th FTW (AETC), Columbus AFB, Miss.; a 1975 Piper PA-28R-200 Cherokee from nearby Delaware State University, in Dover with “Honorary Tuskegee Airman” nose art; a 1975 Piper PA-34-200T Seneca twin prop owned by MIL2ATP, a FTS from NC; a CAF 1945 Grumman TBM-3E Avenger, “Marines-P87” from Dallas; an Army AT-6C Texan Warbird, in 910th AW – Youngstown colors; and right next to it, appropriately, a Lockheed C-130H Hercules, also from the 773th AS / 910th AW from Youngstown ARB, OH.

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A little further down was a old but good looking (63-133) T-38A Talon, “FF” tail code, 1st FW, out of Langely AFB, VA, all gloss black with a red tail band and “Ironmen” tail logo. The T-38’s at Langely are used for training but also play the “Bad Guy” Aggressor role in ACM practice with the F-22 A Raptors – Top Gun Bandit colors brought back here for some simulated gunfights over the VA ocean MOA!. Nearby was parked another T-38A Talon in a typical training gloss grey camo color scheme, “CB” tail, 14th FTW (AETC) out of Columbus AFB, Miss. and another Columbus aircraft, a white Raytheon T-1 Jayhawk, a plane used to train tanker and airlift crews. There were two helos nearby: a blue VIP UH-1A Huey from the 89th AW out of Andrews and the USCG MH-65 Dolphin from Atlantic City. The far Hot Ramp had a few more planes roped off. The Warrior Flight Team had their two Aero L-39 Czech “Albatross” trainers close by, “Vandy -1” is the call sign for the “Black Bunny” L-39 done up in VX-9 Test and Evaluation colors and “Roman-86” is for the blue and white L-39 done up in the colors of VFA-106 Gladiators out of Oceana but with a red star on the tail. There was also the white C-182 tow plane for the USAFA Glider Demo; Art Nall’s black Aero L-39 “Albatross” with red stars; Art Nall’s demo Sea Harrier (AV-8B) SHAR VSTOL RAF jump jet fighter; the RAF twin-tailed De Havilland 1946 DH-115 Vampire air show demo plane with tan and green camo colors with yellow invasion stripes on the wings; and of course the six F-16A’s from the Thunderbirds sitting at Show Center. Remotely parked were the C-130H jump plane from the 166th AW, the C-17A demo plane from JB Pearl Harbor, HI and the Dover C-5M demo plane. Finally there was the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber fly over – you could say that was at a 500 foot extension of the “Hot Ramp”!

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b) The Flying Show:

What’s an air show without some flying? Well Dover had some flying. – six hours worth! But you can’t fly without two important guys who did a great job keeping it all under control: Dave Schultz, the Air Boss, who kept it all on schedule and all the planes properly separated and then there was Howdy McCann, the cool Announcer with the “southern twang” voice who knew so many unusual facts about the flying show. The flying began at 10:00 with the USASOC “Black Daggers” doing a Mass Free-Fall Egress followed by the the Flag Jumper from a New Castle 166AW C-130H from 10,000 feet with the American Flag while the National Anthem was sung by a Dover A1C while Chef Pitts circled the flag jumper in a S-1 Pitts Special, later doing a dead stick glider landing. Skip Hyle, an F-16 pilot in his day job, was next up with his yellow and green Canadian Harvard MK-IV (T-6 Texan) followed by Keith Davis in his 2-seat bi-wing Pitts S-2B stunt “Noisemaker”. The C-130 came in to pick up another jump team – the USAF Academy “Wings of Gold” Parachute Team For a Mass Free Fall Exit and Bomb Burst at 12,000 feet. Delaware State University “Hornet Flight Team” next had a 4-ship finger formation flyover with Piper Commanders, not quite F/A-18’s, but still pretty tight. Next up was the little blue and white mono-wing RV-8A “Wild Blue”, piloted by Josh “Tater” Petrone, who is actually a F-16 driver, is the little plane who “wants to grow up to be an F-16 fighter jet”, at least so says his female announcer in a nice and easy tone. The USCG MH-65 Eurocopter Dolphin helo came in out of Atlantic City and painted in a special orange and white 100 year Anniversary paint scheme, was next in for a simulated demo with a rescue swimmer being lowered with a basket for an emergency rescue pick-up.

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That C-130H Jump Plane was recovered next and came in on a combat approach short field landing with a reverse back-up move. The CAF P-51D Mustang “Red Nose” was up next for his display followed Jacquie Ward in her one-of-a-kind custom Pitts Special “Extra 300” mono wing with the special glitter ribbon on the fuselage. Then, at exactly 1200 Noon we had a special treat – a 15 minute fly-over demo by the B-2A Stealth Bomber “Spirit of California” from the 509th Bomb Wing (“WM”) out of Whiteman AFB, MO, doing three low passes at 1500 feet. When the B-2 departed the area, they launched the USAF Academy glider demonstration – a TG-16A Flugzeugbau DG-1000 “Saber-3” sailplane pulled by a Cessna 182 tow plane. The glider released at 6000 feet and after some gracefully powerless silent aerobatics, touched down 15 minutes later. The 34 gliders at the Academy are part of a collection of USAF training aircraft used at Colorado Springs by the cadets under the command of the 94th Flying Training Squadron / 36th FTG (AETC) that also includes the T-41D Mescalero (C-172), the T-51A (C-150), the T-53A (Cirrus SR-20), the De Havilland UV-18B Twin Otter (the on-base Parachute Team Jump Plane), the TG-15A (Schempp-Hirth Duo Discus sailplane) and the Piper PA-18 Cub – all for cadet flight training. Once the TG-16A was safely recovered, the C-17A Globemaser III from the 15th AW (AMC-PACAF) from JB Pearl Harbor-Hickham launched and held to the west. Now it was the appropriate time to start the “Man vs C-17 Plane Pull” competition on the ground. That didn’t turn out too well for the Man – I think the C-17 won!!!

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Now it was time to launch the “Prowlers of the Pacific” with their 4-ship Pacific warbirds ACM routine – one was a “Green Meatball” bad guy, the Jap Nakajima B5N “Kate” Torpedo Bomber, actually a replica B5N built in 1969 for the movie “Tora Tora Tora” made from the airframe of SNJ-4. The other “Prowlers” included three blue Warbird good guys – the Goodyear FG-1D (F4U) Corsair; the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Dive Bomber and the Grumman FM-2 Wildcat. The 1940’s background music made you feel like you were back at the time of the Pacific War. The 4-ship was a joint effort by the CAF Dixie Wing and the CAF West Texas Wing. Glad they brought the old birds up to Maryland from Texas. It was a great air battle and that Jap plane didn’t make out too well! The Warrior Flight Team took off next with their 2-ship Aero L-39 “Albatross” Czech trainers and held to the east.

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The C-17 came back in from its hold and exited the USASOC “Black Daggers” jumpers parachute team from 12,000 feet in a Full Combat Free Fall demonstration – 6 jumpers in full combat gear with weapons, oxygen bottle, and a loose combat ruck sack hanging below their feet before they hit the ground. Impressive as a Special Ops Insertion demo. After the team landed exactly on target, then the SOC troops mingled with the kids for some fun photo ops with all the combat gear. Inbound from their hold, the L-39’s rejoined the Box and gave us a fine ACM Demo – ” Vandy-1″ with Mark “Crunchy” Burgess on the stick (an ex F-14 guy) and “Roman-86” with Bill “Pilot” Mills flying (an actual F-18 driver). After a series of TAC Turns, a one circle fight, a two circle fight, and a Rolling Scissors dual, the F-14 guy “smoked” the F-18 guy. Both recovered with a Carrier Break over the deck and a 3-Wire Trap: Well Done Warriors!!!

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The C-17 Jump plane came in for a high speed pass and a combat short field landing and back- up maneuver. Jerry Conley was up next with his beautifully restored green camo De Havilland DH-115 1946 RAF twin-tail Vampire jet demo. Jason Wall was in next with his green and white S2S Pitts for a nice aerobatic show. Then a Dover C-5M Super Galaxy did a “Heavy Metal” low demo followed by the Local Star from Delaware – the B-25J Mitchell Bomber “Panchito” doing a few laps around the field. “ChefPitts” (officially it’s one word), Mr. Clemens Kuhlig, who really was a restaurant chef before he got the flying bug, now went up with his custom Pitts S1S for a bit of stunt flying. At Nalls took the Show Center Stage next with his RAF British Sea Harrier (SHAR) AV-8B for a neat Jump Jet Demo – a high pass, fast pass, dead stop, up, down, sideways, circular, backwards, all ear drum busters if you were right in front. Art is a local guy who keeps his SHAR and black L-39 at California, MD, near PAX. Finally the T-Birds launched a 3:55 after a USAF Enlistment Ceremony. Their Announcer was something new – a pleasant calmer female voice. It was CAVU day so we got the High Show. My favorites – the Sneak Pass, the High Bomb Burst with the Rejoin, the Flat Bomb Burst. After the Tactical Landing Break, there was a full “Last Chance Check” at Taxiway Bravo, before final parking, a bit unusual for sure. Then at 1700 it was over. Hurry up and get into that traffic jam!

But, “It’s Never Over Till It’s Over (as Yogi Berra once said). I had a nice dinner at the new Olive Garden in town, stayed overnight in Dover, and headed out the next morning to New Jersey to catch the Collings Foundation “Wings of Freedom” Tour on Sunday at Monmouth Airport in Wall, NJ, on the Jersey Shore near Mannesquan. Their traveling 4-ship contingent included: a) a Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress (44-83575), delta “A” tail squadron marking and “909” nose art; b) a Consolidated B-24J Liberator (44-44052) “Witchcraft” with hundreds of B-24 crew member names written on the the entire port side of the fuselage; c) a North American TF-51D Mustang (44-84655) “Toulouse Nuts”, W VA ANG 655, 167th Ftr. Sq., W VA ANG; d) a North American B-25J-15-KC Mitchell Bomber (44-28932) “Tondelayo” with girl nose art and Jap kill flags on nose. By Sunday at 1300 in New Jersey it was really over. I headed north to home after a great airplane chasing weekend! See everybody at the next Air Show!!!

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