BRUNSWICK, Maine — Harry Dixon, 89, sat Saturday morning in the shade of an American Legion booth and watched Randy Harris maneuver his Skybolt 300 over the runway of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
Only two hours into the 2012 Great State of Maine Air Show, Dixon’s “World War II Veteran” cap had drawn several strangers over to thank him for his service — which included landing on the beach in Normandy, France, on June 14, 1945, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and marching across France, Belgium and Luxembourg until the war ended.
Holding the hand of his friend, Thelma Lever, also of Lewiston, Dixon awaited the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the main attraction at this year’s air show.
When the jet team took to the skies over thousands of spectators, his patriotism would surge, Dixon expected, as it has at previous air shows in Brunswick.
“They remind me of the paratroopers and gliders” that landed half a lifetime ago.
Nearby, sitting cross-legged on the tarmac, Veterans and soon-to-be enlisted airmen were among the fans who poured into Brunswick Landing on Saturday morning, eager to marvel at the Thunderbirds and other performers at the Great State of Maine Air Show.
Throughout the day, skydivers, stunt planes and walls of fire kept the crowd on their feet, cheering as patriotic songs such as Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be An American” accompanied the spectacle.
Not far from Dixon, Kyle Cote and Tyler Ellis, both 18, sat on the tarmac proudly clad in navy blue U.S. Air Force T-shirts.
Both would participate Saturday afternoon in a formal enlistment ceremony, as part of the Air Force’s Delayed Enlistment Program.
Graduates of Old Town High School, Cote will leave for Lackland Air Force Base on Nov. 27, while Ellis awaits his assignment.
He enlisted, he said, “because college was not for me, and the Air Force has shorter deployment times.”
Lisa Cote, Kyle’s mother, was with him when he decided to enlist.
“I was like, ‘Good for you,’” she said, beaming at her son.
Six-year-old Bodhi Ellis sat cross-legged beside his brother, watching the planes and explosions of fire. He shrugged his shoulders when asked about his brother’s plans, but was excited about the fire display.
“That was cool,” he said.
‘It’s crazy busy’
As in 2011, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the civilian entity charged with redeveloping the former Navy base, which formally closed May 31, 2011, hosted this year’s air show.
This year, tickets and parking will help to pay for the $879,000 cost of the show, MRRA executive director Steve Levesque said.
But around Brunswick Landing, cars filled area parking lots, including popular drive-in Fat Boy and the Cooks Corner shopping center, where spectators gazed skyward throughout the day for a glimpse of the jets and performers such as the Misty Blues All Woman Skydiving Team.
At Dunkin’ Donuts, not far from the entrance to the former base, extra staff and extra doughnuts were on hand to handle the 13 percent increase in business the franchise saw during the 2011 show.
“It’s crazy busy,” manager Nehemiah Campos said.
Local hotels saw nearly 600 room nights booked for performers and their teams alone, according to Levesque.
“Steve,” who answered the phone at Days Inn on Friday morning but declined to give his name, said no one was available to speak about the economic impact of the show on the motel “because we’re so busy preparing for it. We’re going to be sold out tonight.”
Even local nonprofit organizations staff concession booths at the show, and share a percent of the proceeds — which last year totaled approximately $25,000, he said.
And while Fat Boy has been jammed with cars for years during the Blue Angels air shows, that doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in sales, manager Jamie Alexander said.
But even if all the patrons buy is a cheeseburger while waiting for the planes, “we won’t kick them out” if they stay.
The restaurant closes down during the show, and employees watch from atop the building.
“I love it,” Alexander said. “I miss the jets that used to come in — the different people.”
John and Kathy Bearce, who drove down from Dexter on Saturday morning for the show, spoke proudly of their two sons, Mathew, 28, and Cory, 20, who both serve in the Air Force.
Their sons enlisted “to get an education and to serve their country,” John Bearce said.
But as the Bearces and others entered Brunswick Landing on Saturday morning, they were greeted by members of Greater Brunswick Peaceworks holding banners urging an end to the “obscene” air shows that “indoctrinate our children,” Karen Wainberg said.
She said the shows “glorify war” — wars that “are not for our freedom, or a freedom of other people, but to extract resources and have power and domain over others.”
Last year, Hurricane Irene curtailed the show by one day, and even cut into the Saturday’s performance.
Still, rain insurance allowed the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to break even, ensuring another show this year.
This year, fog on Saturday morning gave way to blue skies and an occasional breeze — overall “pretty awesome,” Levesque said Saturday afternoon. While no estimate on ticket sales will be available until midweek, he anticipated “good numbers.”
Whether that means a profit — and perhaps a 2013 air show — is still up in the air.