DOVER AIR FORCE BASE – THE BASE & THE HISTORY

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Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy

Dover Air Force Base In Maryland had its first Air Show in eight years - "Thunder Over Dover; Celebrating Our Heritage" - on August 26th - 27th, 2017. It was no small event with over 70 airplanes on the Hot Ramp and the Static Ramp and drawing over 150,000 plane-crazed spectators each day. (see Photorecon.net 10/23/17) There was enough to please everyone,not only with the Thunderbirds, but also with 6 hours of flying in the air, and ramps packed with heavy metal haulers, current fighters, a "Bone", helos, a "Reaper", little "Noisemakers", white "VIP'ers", light Cessnas, Gliders and a collection of great Warbirds. We go to these air shows and we are awed by the great planes on the ground and in the air, but these airports and bases we visit hold some interesting secrets and that is not only what goes on there now but also the history of these airports, many of which have a long story going back to the early days of Flight. Dover AFB is no exception. Let's leave the ramp and take a little trip backwards and see what goes on here now and also have a quick look at the early days of Dover.

McDonnell Douglas/Boeing C-17 Globemaster III

A) The Base: Dover Air Force Base is a big Air Mobility Command (AMC) base off of Delaware Route 1 in Dover Delaware. As you come in, it looks like a brand new base with many new buildings, hangers, housing, support facilities, rebuilt runways and a new double-tiered 10-story high control tower near a new Fire and Crash. It all looks brand new but Dover got its start in December of 1941 as a P-41 Thunderbolt pilot training base and anti-submarine patrol base in World War 2. Dover AFB has grown to become the largest Aerial Port complex on the East Coast providing "Wings Over Dover - Providing Excellence Since 1941" as stated by Col. Ethan Griffin, Commander of the prime tenant, the 436th Airlift Wing, here at Dover. It supports nearly 10,000 active duty, reserve, civilian and dependent personnel, executing the diverse mission sets of 18 major on base units, including the 436th Airlift Wing (AMC), the 512th Airlift Wing, AF Reserve Command (AFRC), the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Command, the Joint Personnel Effects Depot, the Armed Forces Medical Examiners System, the various Support Commands and facilities, and the Air Mobility Command Museum with over 35 historic aircraft on public ramp display at the south end of the field off of Route 9.

Lockheed Martin C-5M Super Galaxy

Dover is home to about twenty-five C-17A Globemaster III and C-5M Super Galaxy heavy lift cargo aircraft and their accompanying cargo warehouses and support facilities and special cargo equipment. The C-5 Galaxy is one of the largest aircraft in the world and the largest airlifter in the Air Force inventory. The aircraft can carry a fully equipped combat-ready unit to any point in the world on short notice and then provide the supplies required to help sustain the fighting force. The C-17 Globemaster III, the newest and most flexible aircraft to enter the airlift force, is capable of rapid strategic airlift delivery of troops or cargo to main bases or austere forward bases as well as providing airdrop missions and world-wide MedEvac missions. Dover operates the largest and busiest Air Freight Terminal in the Department of Defense. It is a jumping off base not only for their own aircraft but also other transient AMC aircraft and DOD Air Freight Charters heading to Europe, the Middle East, Southwest Asia and other worldwide destinations. The 436AW is an active AIr Force unit. The 512AW, commanded by Col. Craig C. Peters, is an AF Reserve "Associate Unit" called the "Liberty Wing" with 1,600 reservists attached, and is a support unit of the 4th Air Force headquartered at March Air Reserve Base, Calif. The 512th AW uses active duty host aircraft and equipment for training and works side-by-side with the active duty 436th "Eagle Wing" crews. The 436AW has two active duty flying squadrons - the 3rd AS operating only the C-17 and the 9th AS operating the C-5 - and the 512AW has two AFRC flying squadrons - the 325th AS and the 709th AS. B) A Tough Special Mission: Dover AFB also has a very somber mission associated with America's current combat roles around the world. The Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs located at Dover AFB, is the DOD's largest joint service mortuary facility and the only one located in the continental United States. It is the AFMAO's mission "to fulfill the nation's sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor and respect to the fallen [in combat] and care for, service and and support the families". A solemn dignified transfer of remains is conducted upon arrival at Dover AFB from the arriving USAF aircraft to a transfer vehicle to honor those who have died in combat. That vehicle then goes to the AFMAO'S facility for positive identification, dignified storage, autopsy if required, reunion with family members and then later transported to their final destination as determined by the family. There are facilities for family members in the Carson Center Building. At least two Kalitta Air Falcon Jet charter aircraft for family and transfer use remain on stand-by at all times at the south ramp near the AMC Museum to fulfill the above combat mortuary mission. The Carson Center also has the capability to handle mass body arrivals at one time such as the Johnstown mass murder and military air crashes.

Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

C) The History: Dover Air Force Base comes with an interesting history. Construction of the "Municipal Airport - Dover Airdrome" began off of Bay Road, the future DE-1, in March of 1941 and the airport opened on December 17th 1941. It was converted to a US Army Air Corps airfield just weeks after the December 7th 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of WW2. Dover was actually a sub-base of Camp Springs AAF, Maryland (Andrews AFB) from 1943 to 1945. The first military unit arrived at Dover AAF on December 20th 1941 - The 112th Observation Squadron of the Ohio National Guard flying anti-submarine patrols equipped with Stinson L-1 / O-49 Vigilant and the North American O-47 observation aircraft. They performed coastal patrols over the Atlantic for German U-Boats and over Delaware Bay and the approaches to Philadelphia. In early 1942, three B-25 Mitchell Bomber squadrons arrived with the 45th Bombardment Group, again with the local anti-submarine patrol mission. Runways were lengthened to 7,000 feet in April of of 1943 and in September of 1943 Dover gave up its ant-sub patrol mission and Dover AAF became a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt training base with the arrival of the 83rd Fighter Group replacement training unit (RTU). In 1944 the Air Technical Service Command chose Dover as the site to engineer, develop and test certain classified air-launched rockets. After a period of post-war inactive care-taker status, Dover was re-activated in August of 1950 for the Korean War. On February 1, 1951, the 148th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard arrived at Dover with their P-51D Mustangs after relocating from the Reading, Penn. Municipal Airport. It was assigned to the 113th Fighter-Interceptor Group as part of the Air Defense Command (ADC) with an air defense mission for Southeastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, South New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

Lockheed F-94 Starfire

In September the squadron upgraded to the jet propelled and air-intercept-radar equipped Lockheed F-94 Starfire aircraft. However, ADC was experiencing difficulty under the existing wing base organizational structure in deploying its fighter squadrons to best advantage. Accordingly, in February 1952, it inactivated the 113th Wing and its elements and reassigned the 148th FIS to the 4710th Defense Wing which was organized on a regional basis. On 1 November 1952, the 148th was returned to the control of State of Pennsylvania and its personnel, equipment and mission were transferred to the new 46th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron which was simultaneously activated at Dover AFB. Later, in 1956, as the ADC prepared for the implementation of the Semi-Automated Ground Environment (SAGE) Radar command and control system, the 4710th was moved to Illinois and the 46th FIS squadron at Dover was reassigned to the New York Air Defense Sector incorporating and under the direction of the SAGE Radar Control Center located at Stewart AFB in Newburgh, NY (the blockhouse for which still exists Stewart Airport!). In April of 1952, the primary mission of Dover AFB was transferred to the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) and became home to the 1607th Air Transport Wing (Heavy) from 1953 to 1966. On 1 February 1952, the 80th Air Base Squadron was activated at Dover to provide housekeeping duties for the four tenant units that had arrived on base by that date. They were the 148th FIS, the 1737th Ferry Squadron, Detachment 1909-6 Airways and Communications Services and the 9th Weather Group.

Douglas C-54 Skymaster

On 1 April 1952, the 80th ABW primary responsibility was supporting MATS at Dover and Dover became under the jurisdiction of "Atlantic Division" (MATS) headquartered at Westover AFB, Mass., later assigned in 1958 to the "Eastern Transport Air Force" (EASTAF) working out of McGuire AFB. In 1953, Congress appropriated $25M to upgrade runways and facilities to transform Dover AFB into a supplemental East Coast Port of Embarkation for MATS and as a Foreign Clearing Base for ferrying flights headed to Europe, the Caribbean and countries to the North. The 1607th ATW was composed of the 1st Air Transport Squadron (ATS) Heavy flying the C-124A Globemaster II and the 21st ATS Medium flying the C-54G Skymaster airlift aircraft.

Douglas C-124 Globemaster II

On 1 May 1954, the first Douglas C-124 Globemaster II aircraft arrived at Dover and they were assigned to the new separate 40th ATS(H) at Dover. In 1955, C-124 units such as the 15th, the 20th and the 31st ATS squadrons were relocated from Westover AFB, Mass. when MATS closed its facilities there. When the Douglas C-133A Cargomaster arrived at Dover in 1957, the 39th ATS was re-designated a C-133 unit along with the 1st ATS. The later 1950's saw many ATS squadron number changes with Dover absorbing many C-133 and C-124 units and aircraft. Dover became a major hub for C-54G medium lift and C-133 and C-124 heavy lift aircraft until 1966. These aircraft examples are currently on public view at the AMC Museum at the south end of the Base. The 1607th ATW(H) flew many critical world-wide military and humanitarian missions out of Dover with their C-133 and C-124 aircraft, the most critical of which was in support of the build up for the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962, when history now proved that the US and the Soviet Union were within 36 hours of a nuclear confrontation before a stand down was finally negotiated.

Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

On February 1, 1965, MATS announced that Dover AFB was selected as one of four bases where the Lockheed C-141A Starlifter would be tested under a program called "Lead the Force". The first C-141A arrived at Dover AFB on 18 August 1965 and was assigned to the 20th ATS. On 8 January 1966, the 1607th ATW(H) was discontinued and the current 436th Military Airlift Wing (MAW) / 512th AW (AFRC) was activated when the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was replaced by the Military Airlift Command ( MAC). The various Air Transport Squadrons and Troop Carrier Squadrons at Dover were all re-designated as Military Airlift Squadrons. As of 8 January 1966, there were 70 heavy transport aircraft assigned to Dover AFB, with over 8,000 military and civilian personnel on base. Its C-124 Globemasters, C-133 Cargomasters and new C-141 Starlifters maintained a D-Day state of readiness to airlift men and material for the United States and allied military forces whenever and wherever needed.

Top to Bottom: Curtiss C-46 Commando, Kaman HH-43 Huskie, Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar

The airlift aircraft lineage at Dover included: C-45 Expeditor ('49, '55 to '57); C-47 Skytrain ('49 to '51); C-46 Commando ('55 to '57); C-119 Flying Boxcar ('57); C-54 Skymaster ('53 to '57); C-124 ('66 to '69); C-133 ('66 to '71); C-141 ('66 to '73); the HH-43B Huskie rescue helicopter ('65 to '71); C-5 Galaxy ('71 to present) and the C-17A Globemaster III (2007 to Present). In 1971 the 436th AW started replacing the C-141 Starlifter and the C-133 Cargomaster with the new C-5A Galaxy, the largest heavy lift aircraft in the free-world. In 1973 Dover became the first all C-5A equipped Wing in the USAF, trading in its last C-141's to Charleston AFB for their C-5's. In the years since Desert Storm in 1990 the Military Airlift Command morphed into the current Air Mobility Command (AMC) and now serves as the only combat ready C-5 Galaxy airlift wing capable of performing both air drop and special operations procedures in support of tactical forces and national objectives. The Wing's 436th Operations Group is the Air Mobility Command's main active-duty heavy-lift organization, flying missions world-wide and currently supporting active major combat operations in both Southwest Asia and in Afghanistan as well as the Africa Theatre. In 2007, the Wing and its Associate 512th Airlift Wing supplemented their all C-5 Galaxy fleet with the new C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. Also in 2007 Dover started receiving the up-graded C-5M Super Galaxy heavy lift aircraft. Now Dover has about 15 of each aircraft type assigned to the 435th / 512th fleet.

Top: Northrop F-89 Scorpion, Bottom: McDonnell F-101 Voodoo

Dover was not just a home for "Heavy Metal". Dover AFB also had a rich heritage of assigned fighter squadrons up to and including the Cold War including: the 365th Fighter Group and the 83rd FG in 1941 with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts; the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in 1950, flying the P-51D and the F-86F Sabre; the 46th FIS, 1952 to 1958, flying the Lockheed F-94 Starfire at Dover for the ADC and responsible for the defense of Southeast Pennsylvania, South New Jersey and Delaware and Maryland and tied into the New York Air Defense Sector "SAGE" C-3 system at Stewart AFB; the 98th FIS, 1956 to 1963, flying the F-89D Scorpion and Mcdonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptors protecting again the Philly / DE / MD / NJ local Air Defense Sectors; and finally the 95th FIS, 1963 to 1973, flying the Convair F-106A Delta Dart maintaining 24/7 5-Minute Alerts both at Dover AFB and at Atlantic City Airport, with all aircraft armed at the time with Genie air-to-air nuclear-tipped missiles.

Convair F-106  Delta Dart

The F-106 was the last interceptor fighter based at Dover AFB. Until 2015, Dover AFB still had the 8 Alert Barns that housed the F-106 Alert aircraft still intact at the south end of the airport right by the parking lot for the AMC Museum. They were torn down in late 2015. The Museum has many of the historical heavy-lift transports and two of the assigned FIS fighters on public display on its ramp. The Museum is on Route 9, about one mile east of the DE Route 1 Exit. The are about 35 planes on view at the Museum including a C-5A repainted in its grey and white 1975 original colors. That C-5 has the distinction of not only being based here at Dover AFB but also being the only USAF aircraft that ever launched a Minute Man missile out its rear ramp doors while at 20,000 feet as a test of that launch system capability. A Minute Man Missile is on display right next to that grey and white C-5A Galaxy. The Museum is located right between Dover's two active runways - 1/19 at 9,600 feet and 14/32 at 12,900 feet. The Museum parking lot provides great viewing of flight operations up close at Dover. Take a ride down to Dover and walk around the Big Planes -- it's a lot of fun!!!  

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