Memorial Day Action Over Jones Beach, New York
Since its inception thirteen years ago, setting new attendance records has been the annual norm for the Jones Beach, NY Bethpage Air Show. Sponsored by The Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the show has taken place every Memorial Day Weekend since 2003. In 2012, the show featuring two jet teams (U.S.N. Blue Angels and the Royal Canadian Snowbirds) as well as the ACC F-22 Raptor Demo set an all time attendance record for any event held at Jones Beach. With perfect air show weather forecast, three jet teams and the ACC F-16 Demo on the schedule, 2016 was expected to break all previous attendance counts.
Created by master builder Robert Moses in 1920, the world famous Wantagh, NY State Park is home to 6.5 miles of wide expansive Atlantic Ocean white sandy beaches. Located less than twenty miles from New York City, the Jones Beach Air Show is one of the largest annual events held on Long Island and experienced show goers know to get there early. Most of the crowd congregates at show center, staking out their own piece of beach, which for one weekend a year becomes more valuable than Manhattan real estate!
The 13th annual show opened with the U.S. Army Golden Knights landing with the Canadian and American flags on a section of cordoned-off beach at show center. While Sean Tucker circled overhead and the national anthems from both countries played; an enthusiastic crowd honored those currently serving in the military, their families as well as military veterans.
With Rob Reider announcing and Wayne Boggs Air Bossing, the flying began at 10:00 am with a flight of four single and multi-engine Piper aircraft from nearby SUNY Farmingdale Aerospace. Annually, the American Airpower Museum sends a large contingent of warbirds to fly early in the show. Unfortunately, due to a fatal accident the night before to one of their pilots, Bill Gordon flying in a P-47 Thunderbolt, the Airpower Museum instead held a memorial service on Saturday at Republic Field. On Sunday, the museum flew a C-47 with twoT-6s.
The show continued with a mix of exciting civilian and military performers. Competition aviators Matt Chapman and David Windmiller wowed the crowd with precise aerobatics, demonstrating why they are world champions! The audiences worked up an appetite for Jack Link’s beef jerky watching John Klatt zoom around in his Screamin’ Sasquatch Jet Waco. John used every inch of the show box as he repeatedly shot skywards in his high performance bi-plane, then dived down towards the ocean before skimming the water’s surface. Locally based GEICO Skytypers annually thrill the crowd with close formations and high speed passes in their classic SNJ-2 WW-II trainers. Before departing back to their home at nearby Republic Field, just off shore, the solos raced the Miss GEICO Speedboat across show center.\
As GEICO departed, another annual crowd favorite took center stage. The 106th RSQ based at Gabreski Field on Long Island demonstrated to the crowd what they do best- Search and Rescue. To an arousing applause, these local heroes flew by in a KC-130 plane and UH-60 helicopter.
Continuing their 2105 North American tour into 2016, Breitling was the first of three jet formation teams to perform. For most of those gathered on the beach, this was the first time seeing the Swiss family- owned close-formation precise-demonstration L-39 jet group fly. The crowd was clearly impressed and especially liked the finale head-on, bomb-burst with flares!
Returning from 2012, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds put on another memorable show. Their final maneuver paid tribute to U.S. veterans- serving past and present. Following the Snowbird’s performance, the crowd was treated to a sneak peak of the U.S. Air Forces’ newest stealth jet fighter. The F-35 Lightning-II made a pass in front of the crowd pursued by the U.S. Air Force Combat Command F-16 Viper Demonstration. Pilot Major Craig “Rocket” Baker lived up to his call sign as he rocketed is F-16 through an exhilarating full after-burner routine that rocked the Park’s skyline with cutting knife-edge passes and tight high-G turns.
“Rocket’s” demo concluded when he joined with the F-35 and P-51 for the renowned “Heritage Flight.” The resounding three-ship formation was especially impactful to the audience on Memorial Day weekend.
In between flying acts, beach-goers were invited to stroll the boardwalk and patronage the numerous boardwalk vendors, eat at one of the many concession stands and visit one of Jones Beach’s State Park historic sites. The park’s oceanfront setting and natural environment also offered weekend visitors fishing from the beach or a swim in the ocean. At the west end, the NY Army Guard was proudly displaying some of their military vehicles and helicopters.
By 3:00 pm the audience anxiously awaited the show’s feature attraction- the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Although flight leader and commanding officer, “Boss” Ryan J. Bernacchi, is in his first year, he has the team looking as sharp and crisp as experienced veterans. The “Blue’s” Saturday performance seemed to exceed everyone’s expectations! Unfortunately, on Sunday a large fog bank rolled in off the ocean covering the beach, obscuring any visual references and forcing the team to cancel their routine.
An estimated 453,000 were in attendance for the 2016 Memorial Day weekend show making it the largest performer lineup and most well attended Jones Beach air show ever! Next year the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds will return to headline the ocean-front show, which will no doubt continue to set new records.