Right on time.

At 7:28 a.m. Saturday, Duncan Aviation Chairman Robert Duncan landed his caramel colored, plaid six-seat Citation with a delegation of Special Olympics athletes from Columbus, Ohio.

The crowd of about 100 cheered, clapped and whooped from behind a fence as the athletes stepped off Dove 1 and into the muggy Nebraska morning.

Each athlete was greeted at the steps of the plane with a http://journalstar.com/special-section/special-olympics/scene/article_40bee10a-91e8-11df-b8f0-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">high-five and applause.

And them came another Citation.

And another.

And another -- and they kept coming in about every two minutes until 4:30 on the dot, http://journalstar.com/news/local/article_d890cfc6-91dd-11df-ba6b-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">when all 800 athletes in the airlift for the 2010 Special Olympics National Games were accounted for.

It was a massive undertaking put together by Cessna, FAA and other volunteers http://journalstar.com/special-section/special-olympics/scene/article_cd07cb0e-906c-11df-a17d-001cc4c03286.html" target="_blank">over the past two years.

The plane ride was a first for many passengers of the 165 Citations that brought athletes to Lincoln on Saturday.

Some athletes bounced off the planes with huge smiles, some were shy, others were not.

Midmorning, one Michigan teen deplaned, saw the welcoming group, sprinted toward the nearest volunteer and gave him a huge bear hug.

That's the way most of the day went -- right on schedule, smooth and emotional.

Dove 159, the last plane, pulled onto the tarmac at exactly 4:30 p.m.

Support vehicles honked as it rolled past.

"It went off without a hitch," said Will Dirks, Cessna vice president of flight operations. "These people -- volunteers, FAA, Cessna, but most of all the athletes, are the spirit of the airlift.

"They are why we do it."

http://journalstar.com/special-section/special-olympics/scene/article_07035d6e-91da-11df-a318-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">Some spectators arrived at the airport as early as 6:15 a.m. to save seats and wait for Dove 1.

http://journalstar.com/special-section/special-olympics/people/article_7c523324-91f8-11df-a5f3-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">Families waved at their kids coming off the planes. They cried happy tears, held signs.

Some just stood in awe.

Amy Schantz's three boys were up against the chainlink fence, gazing into the sky, watching the planes land.

"Holy moly, that's a big one!"

"They love planes," Schantz said. "Anything with engines, they're into."

Schantz said they weren't going to stay all day -- to her boys' dismay.

The heat was getting to be too much.

Even as early as 7 a.m., the heat and humidity were noticeable -- and it got hotter as the day moved on.

The heat index reached into the 100s throughout most of the day, leading Red Cross volunteers to hand out plenty of water bottles to volunteers and athletes on the tarmac and some spectators in the stands.

Lincoln Fire and Rescue officials said one volunteer was transported for a minor case of heat exhaustion.

No athletes fainted or had medical problems during the 10-hour-long airlift.

Athletes deboarded planes, were greeted by the crowd as they walked through a tunnel of volunteers cheering them on and "Sirius," the Husker tunnel walk song, blared in the background.

Inside the Duncan hangar, clowns, bands, dance troupes and DJs entertained athletes and coaches as they waited for shuttle buses to transport them to their dorms at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

UPS workers loaded baggage onto brown trucks and transported them to the dorms.

At Abel Hall, athletes settled into their new rooms for the next six days and were the first to eat at the newly renovated Abel Dining Center.

But not everyone was part of the 165-plane airlift -- nearly 1,000 athletes flew into terminals at Omaha's Eppley Airfield and the Lincoln Airport.

Donna and Rick Boone were helping the Alaska team get their luggage off the baggage claim in the Lincoln airport.

The couple, among the 2,000-plus reserve volunteers that weren't assigned jobs, was called Friday night to help out.

Donna Boone had volunteered for Nebraska Special Olympics before and wanted to volunteer again.

Rick Boone wanted to volunteer because co-workers had told him stories from the 2006 National Games.

"My buddy worked relays and he said one of the guys dropped the baton on the handoff," Boone said. "Everyone stopped, helped him pick it up and started back up again.

"These athletes are something special. Winning isn't everything -- it's about the teamwork, the camaraderie."

Back over at the tarmac in the afternoon, actor and honorary chairman of the airlift http://journalstar.com/special-section/special-olympics/people/article_7bd54650-9204-11df-861e-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">Harrison Ford touched down Citation Dove 160 with athletes from Albuquerque, N.M.

He stayed very briefly, speaking to the media for about a minute before heading back to his olive-colored Cessna to take off.

"I'm honored to be a part of this airlift," Ford said.

http://journalstar.com/special-section/special-olympics/scene/article_16330e88-9202-11df-afab-001cc4c002e0.html" target="_blank">Downtown Lincoln was bustling with activity: Athletes' families registered, picked up their credentials and a gift bag at the Downtown Holiday Inn, and Team Nebraska held a rally at the Embassy Suites.

Christy Champoux, director of the Special Olympics family service center at the Holiday Inn, said she and her two daughters checked in people from all across the U.S.

"They're curious about Lincoln," Champoux said. "They want to know where to eat and what to see.

"We point them to the local greats like Runza and Val's."

Lincoln hotels are booked solid, according to officials. Haymarket restaurants and Lincoln mainstays like Valentino's were busy, but not on a wait, as of 6 p.m.

Champoux said families expressed a lot of interest in visiting Morrill Hall and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, which is currently displaying five Special Olympics quilts.

In a nearby conference room at the Holiday Inn, about 2,000 credentials waited for out-of-town volunteers to pick them up.

Around 8 p.m., families with credentials hanging around their necks wandered the Haymarket.

On the UNL campus, athletes wandered in packs -- members of the Minnesota delegation wore their maroon and gold, Ohio delegation members wore their gray T-shirts and Florida sported light blue shirts -- as they made their way to the dining halls.

The games begin bright and early Sunday with practices beginning at 7 a.m. and a tennis demonstration by Nebraska native Andy Roddick.

The games will have more than 471 hours of competition.

By next Saturday, the athletes will return, medals around their necks, for the flights home.

Meanwhile, Dirks, the Dove coordinator, will be in planning meetings to make next weekend's departure airlift even better -- if that's even possible.

"There's always something we can do better," Dirks said. "But today was a good day."

Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120 or at jpascale@journalstar.com.

Special Olympics airlift

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