The 2019 Atlantic City Airshow
The 2019 Atlantic City Airshow was held on Wednesday August 21st in the skies above the famed Atlantic City boardwalk. The airshow was re branded after sixteen years from Thunder Over The Boardwalk to the Atlantic City Airshow, A Salute To Those Who Serve.
The show name may have changed however it still remains a world class event. The airshow once again featured the United States Air Force Thunderbirds as the headliner as well as another World Class International Demonstration team. This year featured the Royal Air Force Red Arrows on their North American Tour.
The airshow also featured the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team. The Golden Knights traditionally open the airshow with a National Anthem flag jump and return just before the headliner with their mass exit show.
One of the features of the Atlantic City Airshow that makes it a favorite of many is the amount of aircraft and performers performing in the event. The large amount of aircraft allows for a quicker pace as well. Unlike airport based shows, the remote location allows for acts to be stacked nearby and ready in a minutes notice to head into the show box. The advantage here is the launching and recovery aircraft rarely impacts the airshow.
Historically the first flyby of the Atlantic City Airshow features the New Jersey Air National Guard with a flight of four F-16’s from the 177th FW (Fighter Wing). The 177th FW is stationed at nearby Atlantic City International Airport where they have been since 1958. In addition to the 177th FW having been actively involved in Operation’s Noble Eagle, Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, they defend the continental United States by providing air cover for the Eastern Air Defense Sector. The Vipers of the 177th FW recently changed their red tail stripe to black with New Jersey in white lettering and still featuring the distinctive ‘Jersey Devil’ head and ‘AC’ tail code.
Next in the show box was the New Jersey Air National Guards KC-135R of the 108th WG (Wing) stationed at New Jersey’s Joint Base McGuire – Dix – Lakehurst (JB MDL). The 108th WG provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft as well as aircraft of allied nations. In addition to their primary air refueling mission, the Wing supports an Intelligence Squadron and a Cyber Operations Squadron. The 108th Wing KC-135R Stratotankers have a distinctive black tiger stripes adorning the entire tail with an orange tail stripe, with New Jersey in black letters. Their motto is “Victory Through the Sky” , and they deliver.
After the solo passes by each flight, both units join up for a composite pass of the KC-135R in the lead and the F-16’s off of the Stratotanker’s wings and boom.
The Air National Guard is always well represented at this airshow. This year was no exception with additional units participating from both Pennsylvania and Delaware. All of of these units can routinely be spotted training either over the Warren Grove bombing range in New Jersey or transiting the coast to military training areas off of the coast.
The Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 193rd SOW conducted a flyby in their unique EC-130J Commando Solo III. One of only four EC-130J Commando Solo III aircraft in the entire United States Air Force, it is exclusively operated by the 193rd SOW. The EC-130J is a specially-modified C-130J Hercules which among its many capabilities can conduct psychological operations known as PSYOPS. The Commando Solo is a flying broadcast center that conducts military information support operations and civil affairs broadcasts in AM, FM, TV, UHF, VHF and military communications bands. It is easily distinguished from other C-130 airframes by several unique external features. The tail has a an ‘X’ antenna mounted on it. The outboard stations on the wings are adorned with two extra large blade antennas and two oversized pods packed with more antennas. Less noticeable is a smaller pod integrated under the modified tail equipped with a 500 foot reel antenna. After the flyby the aircraft headed off shore to its normal training area located 200 miles off of the coast of New Jersey. Here the aircraft crew can utilize its broadcasting abilities without interfering with continental United States broadcasts.
Lee Leets is a veteran of the Atlantic City airshow. Lee fly’s a beautiful and distinct T Mk 1 Shorts Tucano. His aircraft still maintains its former Royal Air Force black and yellow demonstration colors. Lee kept the crowds entertained with a combination of reverse Cuban eight’s, four point, double aileron and snap roll maneuvers. Lee is a former U.S.A.F. T-37 and T-38 pilot and was trained to perform in airshows by Hall of Fame and Airshow Legend Patty Wagstaff.
New to the Atlantic City Airshow this year is Vampire Airshows de Havilland DH-115, the Worlds Oldest Flying Jet Fighter. The de Havilland Vampire is the worlds first single engine jet fighter and truly a unique and historical aircraft. This aircraft is owned and piloted by Jerry ‘Vlad’ Conley. The Vampire brings speed, jet noise, aerobatics, and a profile that grabs the audiences attention while performing rolls, Cuban eights, shark tooths, inverted flight and high speed passes.
The Tucano and Vampire joined together in a formation they named the ‘British Legacy Flight’ and lead the RAF Red Arrows into the airshow box for their Atlantic City debut.
Officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows North American Tour 2019 arrived a day earlier after conducting a pass along the Atlantic City boardwalk. The team arrived before a small invited crowd at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport. They later joined the activities of the Tuesday practice show and performed their show for those along the beach.
The Red Arrows North American Tour 2019 is the largest tour the squadron has ever undertaken. The tour brought 108 team members including the pilots and support crew to the United States and Canada. The Red Arrows performed over 20 dynamic displays and iconic flypasts of well known landmarks.
The tour was documented in a four part series entitled the “Red Arrows Take America”. The series originally only available in Great Britain is now available for viewing on popular Internet video sites.
The Red Arrows normally travel with ten (10) BAE Systems Hawk’s, however for the teams North American Tour they brought twelve (12) Hawks and one (1) Airbus Atlas A400M aircraft for support.
The BAE Systems Hawk T1 is derived from the Hawker Siddely Hawk first developed in 1974. The Hawk T1 is in it’s 40th year with the Red Arrows. The Hawk T1 also serves in a modified version with the United States Navy and Marine Corps as the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) T-45 Goshawk. This versatile aircraft has trained more than 20,000 pilots around the world.
The Red Arrows aircraft are essentially the same as those flown in advanced flight training, with the exception of their trademark smoke generating modifications and a slightly uprated Rolls Royce Adour power plant. The Red Arrows engine has a faster response time than the standard engine the trainer version is equipped with. The Reds Hawk has a maximum takeoff weight of 5,700 kilograms, with an available 5,200 pounds of thrust and capable of reaching an altitude of 48,000 feet and a top speed of Mach 1.2 .
The Red Arrows Hawks are well known for their distinctive red, white and blue smoke. The smoke also serves a safety role. The smoke allows the pilots to judge wind speed and direction, enabling them to locate other aircraft when different sections of the team’s formation are several miles apart.
The smoke is created by injecting diesel into the jets hot exhaust, vaporizing it at more than 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The basic vapor color is white. The red and blue trails are made by mixing diesel with a dye stored in a pod on the aircraft in separate compartments. At the precise time, the pilot selects one of three buttons on the control column to release the liquid. There is a capacity for one minute of both blue and red smoke and five minutes of white smoke.
There are three types of display the Team Leader can elect to fly for a demonstration. There is the Full display that is flown with the clouds being above 5,500 feet, thus having the formation avoid entering the clouds at the top of the loop. The Rolling display is flown when the clouds are below 5,500 feet and above 2,500 feet. This display substitutes wing overs and rolls for the loops. The third is the Flat display which is flown when the clouds are below 2,500 feet consisting of a series of flypasts and steep turns.
The 2019 display contains twenty-one maneuvers with the Reds 6 – 9 break being perhaps the most thrilling. Each season’s display is different and contains new moves and formations which is choreographed by Red 1. This year a maneuver called the ‘Apollo’ was added to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Moon landing by Apollo 11.
Reds 1 to 5 comprise the front section of the team’s formation, known as the ‘Enid’. The Enid is a nod to a series of children’s adventure novels written by English author Enid Blython known as ‘The Famous Five’. The Enid performs the teams close formation maneuvers.
Red’s 6 through 9 complete the team’s rear formation that is known as the ‘Gypo’. The Gypo perform the more dynamic maneuvers of the display.
Red 6 (synchro leader) and Red 7 (synchro 2) are known as the synchro pair. They perform the highly popular opposing maneuvers during the latter part of the teams performance.
Red 10 is the team supervisor, is a fully qualified Hawk pilot who flies the tenth (reserve) aircraft when the Red Arrows are away from their base at RAF Scampton. Red 10’s duties include the co-ordination of all practices and displays and acting as the team’s ground safety officer. Red 10 often flies TV cameramen and photographers for air-to-air pictures of the Red Arrows and also provides the commentary for all of the team’s displays.
While the pilots are known as ‘Red’ 1 through 11 the team is also known by the names ‘Blues’ and the ‘Circus’.
The support team is known as the ‘Blues’ for their distinctive display coveralls. They are made up of mechanical transport, logistics, avionics, photographers, weapons technicians, survival equipment fitters, mechanical technicians and the dye team.
The ‘Circus’ is a team of support crew who fly in the rear seat of the teams jets during the season. Just as the Pilots are known as ‘Red’ 1 through 11, the team members are known as ‘Circus’ 1 through 11, which denoted which pilot they fly with. The ‘Circus’ comprises the Junior Engineering Officer , the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) for Circus, mechanical, avionics, and weapons technicians and photographer. They accompany the aircraft on transit flights but not during the display.
The Red Arrows posted to their social media feeds after their performance in Atlantic City; “It was fantastic to display in front of the crowds at Atlantic City, New Jersey today. We are overwhelmed by the reception we have received.”
The following day the the Red Arrows participated in a unique formation photo mission around New York harbor with the F-22 and F-35 demonstration teams as well as the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds.
A signature each year of the Atlantic City Airshow is a surprise flyby. This year Airshow Boss David Shultz arranged for a B-52H Statofortress of the 2nd Bomb Wing out of Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Other flybys for the airshow included a C-17 of the 436th AW from Dover Air Force Base, a FAA Cessna 560XL Citation Excel that flew in from Washington D.C., helicopters from the New Jersey State Police and WPVI Channel 6 Philadelphia.
The U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City has ten (10) MH-65D ‘Dolphin’ helicopters assigned to the station. The air station maintains two helicopters in a 30 minute response status 24 hours a day. Both can be quickly airborne and in en route with speeds exceeding 145 knots. The air station conducted a rescue swimmer demonstration of their abilities from two MH-65D helicopters.
Atlantic City has a roster of premier performers that keep the airshow exciting all day long. This year featured Greg ‘Wired’ Coyle and his T-33 ‘Ace Maker’, Mike Wiskus Pitts S-1 the ‘Super Stinker’…
and Jim Beasley Jr. in his P-51 ‘Bald Eagle’ and the Geico Skytypers.
The airshow concluded after a full day of thrilling performances with the headliners, the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds. I was at the 177th FW ramp when the U.S.A.F. Thunderbirds arrived two days before earlier. As Thunderbird Five, Lead Solo Major Matt Kimmel exited his aircraft I was able to spot a unique feature on his uniform. As he walked over I asked him about the boots he was wearing.
Major Kimmel explained we are lucky enough to have a specialist from Omaha Nebraska who has been doing shoes and boots for our team and custom fitting them for years. We actually have our number on the side of the boots. I keep the six on there, because they’re my first boots that I had on this team. I was six last year and I think you just get attached to certain boots and hold onto them. They are kind of good luck charms, so I’m still number six, but (he says laughingly) not many people were supposed to see that.
Major Kimmel was asked to explain the difference in the engines that the Thunderbird F-16’s use compared to those the 177th FW F-16’s are equipped with. He said, primarily the U.S. Air Force in terms of the F-16’s have four different blocks and they all have different engines. So there is block 40, block 42, block 50 and block 52. We have block 52 aircraft which is equipped with a Pratt and Whitney 229 engine. The block 52’s engine moves pretty good, we have plenty of thrust especially for how light we are. There is over 29,000 pounds of thrust available and the jet itself weighs somewhere between 21,000 and 22,000 pounds, so it has just tons of thrust. Ours are also a little bit louder than the jets stationed here at Atlantic City.
Major Kimmel started in the F-16 community and has remained there for about ten years. Some of our team members are from other weapon systems like the F-15E . Next year on our team we will have a F-15C and even a F-22 pilots. We take from all of the fighter communities.
Major Kimmel and I discussed how the F-16 compares to other aircraft in the Air Force for use by the Thunderbirds. Major Kimmel said, my personal assessment is that the F-16 is probably one of the best airshow aircraft that is out there. We have a two seat version so we can fly people along with us. It’s light, maneuverable and it is somewhat easy to work on. And like you said, it still represents a huge part of the Air Force. It is actively engaged in combat and deployed all across the world. It is the backbone of the United States Air Force in my opinion as a Viper guy.
How is it when you come to Atlantic City? We love coming here, the people here are always super nice to us in Atlantic City. We have beautiful weather and the crowd gets to hang out on the beach, so its always a good time.
Air Boss David Schultz of David Schultz Airshows explained the difficulty of holding an airshow at a remote site such as Atlantic City. It is a different level of complexity he explained. We have ground staff at multiple staging airports and multiple Airboss spotters atop the Atlantic City high rises giving us a complete view of the airspace. Atlantic City has has four different holding points and we utilize six to nine airports for staging as well. We stage aircraft in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and as far away as Barksdale, Dyess and Offutt Air Force Bases. We also need to coordinate with McGuire (AFB) for tanker support for those aircraft to transit to and from the airshow. David Schultz said, one of the benefits of a remote site such as Atlantic City is we don’t have to coordinate with commercial air traffic. There is a lot of behind the scenes electronic communications. In this day and age of satellite comms it makes it easier to contact the aircraft that are airborne beyond our 200 mile range.
Dave Schultz was asked what can you share about the upcoming 2020 airshow? We are very excited about the return of the ACC (Air Combat Command) A-10 Demonstration Team with their WW II inspired paint scheme. This year being the 75th Anniversary of the end of WW II, we are focusing on getting warbirds for Atlantic City. We are still working on the flybys for this year and expect to start finalizing our list in another month or so.
Is there a large surprise act for this year? Well there isn’t anything along the Blue Angels, Red Arrows or Snowbirds teams available this year. However there are a couple of possibilities still out there that we are looking at.
The Atlantic City Airshow is a community partnership between the Greater Atlantic City Chamber; the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the City of Atlantic City; the 177th Fighter Wing of the N.J. Air National Guard; South Jersey Transportation Authority; FAA William J. Hughes Tech Center; The Atlantic City International Airport; and David Schultz Airshows, LLC.
I would like to thank the following people who made all of the behind the scenes access to the performers and aircraft possible. Chief Master Sergeant Raynaldo Morales, Command Chief of the 177th FW for access to the Thunderbirds and 177th ramp. Senior Master Sergeant Andrew Moseley, Senior Airman Cristina Allen and Captain Baton of the 177th FW Public Affairs Office who arranged for interviews and ramp access as the aircraft were marshaling. Ms. Karen Martin Atlantic City Casino Reinvestment Development Authority manager of media relations. Ms Martin hosted the media to a show center chalet and helped with all of our logistical needs. Michael Chait, Vice President of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber who host the Atlantic City Airshow. Mr. Rick Breitenfeldt FAA Communications Director of the William J. Hughes Technical Center for granting me access to the show hot ramp and the performers for a behind the scenes look at the air show. Corey Beitler of the online aviation newsletter Distelfink Airlines for his assistance.