Atlantic City, NJ Airshow 2021
Story by Daniel O Myers, Photos by Daniel O. Myers and Richard Roth
Just about every aspect of American life has been affected by the scourge of Covid-19. Not the least of which had been air shows- when nearly all 2020 events were canceled. With vaccinations on the rise and cases on the decline, air shows are coming back, including the mid-week Atlantic City “Thunder over the Boardwalk.“
With the cancellation of last year’s show due to the pandemic, air show fans from the greater four-state area surrounding Atlantic City were eager to get back to the beach and boardwalk. This year’s show, the18th annual, honored front-line healthcare workers in “A Salute To Those Who Serve.” More than one hundred healthcare workers from across the state were guests of honor in the city’s Chamber of Commerce corporate beach-chalet. With the American national anthem playing, the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team opened the show with an American flag jump followed by their nine-member team Mass Leap from 12,000 feet. The last jumper to hit the ground presented a lucky healthcare worker with a team baton.
Since it’s inception, the show has showcased New Jersey’s local military units. The fixed-winged flying got started with Atlantic City’s own NJ ANG 177th FW F-16C Fighting Falcon two-ship flyby followed by a McGuire AFB NJ ANG 108th WG KC-135R Stratotanker. Orbiting in front of the crowd, the jets then joined up on the tanker’s boom for a composite wing flyby. Unfortunately, due to the urgent evacuation of Afghanistan, McGuire’s C-17A Globemaster-III demonstration and Dover AFB’s 436th AW C-5M Super Galaxy flyby were canceled for deployment. But that didn’t slow the flying activities. An FAA Tech Center (located at Atlantic City International Airport) Citation flew by before Brooklyn, NY’s David Windmiller in his Edge 540 and Paul Dougherty from Bethel, PA, Christen Eagle Aerobatics wowed the crowd.
The air was then filled with whirling flights of helicopters by NBC Philadelphia Chopper 10, Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and local medical facilities along with a three-ship formation flyby by the NJ State Police. In their UH-60M’s, the NJ Army National Guard performed their breath-taking, daredevil SPIES/FRIES demonstration.
The blades continued to turn when USMC VMM-774 performed a precisely choreographed 15-minute, two-ship MV-22 Osprey demonstration. At show center, the two tilt-rotor aircraft tightly weaved their way through the airspace. The pair flew high-energy profile maneuvers similar to those flown during their combat training. While the USMC doesn’t use dedicated demo pilots, those selected to perform at air shows are the squadron’s most proficiently experienced. The grand finale` to the rotary displays commenced with the annual crowd favorite- the U.S. Coast Guard Search & Rescue demonstration. To the roaring applause of the beach audience, up front and close, two MH-65D’s deployed, then recovered their rescue swimmers before continuing on to their routine mission of saving lives.
Fixed-wings returned to the air when the GEICO Skytypers six SN-J’s formation aerobatic WWII planes trailed smoke, that filled the sky and beach too! Making their debut appearance at Atlantic City was a flight of three USAF 80th FTW “EURO” T-38 Talons from Sheppard AFB, TX. The 80th FTW instructor pilots and their 201 aircraft, host the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. They have trained more than 7,500 combat pilots from fourteen allied NATO countries. All three T-38 pilots participating in the air show were New Jersey natives.
With much anticipation, from behind the crowd, the USAF F-22 Raptor took show center. Pilot, “Cabo” Gunderson exhaustively demonstrated the capability of his 5th generation stealth fighter with multiple after-burner passes that cracked the air as it echoed off the city’s skyline. The F-22 last performed in Atlantic City in 2015. Prior to the F-22, Jim Beasley Jr. in his P-51 Mustang zipped through the air with multiple high-speed passes. The P-51 was the last generation of high-performance military propeller aircraft. The newest and oldest then joined on each other for the USAF Heritage Flight.
Each year, Air Boss David Schultz has an unannounced show surprise. With perfect timing, “TABOR 11,” a flight of two NJ ANG 177th FW F-16’s returning home from Europe, were called in to fly past the crowd. The 177th had been deployed overseas for the past few months. Their air show flyby was a special opportunity for the public to welcome the unit home!
Flying low with after-burners blazing in their sparkling red, white and blue F-16C’s, the headlining USAF Thunderbirds closed out the show with spectacular precision.
For eighteen years, the Atlantic City show has been drawing hundreds of thousands of people to the beaches and boardwalk. The public got to see non-stop flying from a variety of military units and civilian performers flying excellent profiles, while listening to the show narrator being broadcast on local talk radio stations WPG 95.5 FM and 1450 AM. Through out the show, the air bosses made sure there was always an act in front of the crowd. For 2021, the skies over Atlantic City were once again filled with the sounds of propellers, rotary blades and jet engines. It’s good to be back!