The 2021 Atlantic City Airshow, “A Salute to Those Who Serve”
Don’t miss the 2022 Atlantic City Airshow on Wednesday, August 24, featuring the US Air Force Thunderbirds, US Army Golden Knights, and returning for the first time in five years, the US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet “Rhino” team will take part. But in the meantime, here is what went down at last year’s show.
It has been a while, and it was fantastic to attend an airshow amongst fans, friends, performers, and vendors.
The Greater Atlantic City Chamber presented the return of the Atlantic City Airshow, “A Salute to Those Who Serve,” presented by GEICO on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.
When the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce changed the name of the airshow several years ago, they also decided to change the mission and reach “Those who serve.” Michael Chait, President of the Chamber of Commerce, estimates that as many as 40,000 veterans attend their airshows and require services. The Chamber of Commerce decided to add these services to the vendors and recruiters lining the famed boardwalk. It has been a perfect match so far with services being offered to veterans by the Wilmington VA Medical Center, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled America Veterans, the NJVet2Vet hotline, the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the National Guard transition assistance program and the GI Go Fund.
The 18th Annual event again featured the United States Air Force (USAF) Thunderbirds as the headlining act.
“We are thrilled to host the 2021 Atlantic City Airshow. We are so grateful for our partners and supporters who have returned to help make all the moving parts of this event come together and run smoothly,” said Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Michael Chait.
Perhaps it was fitting that two Tropical Storm systems threatened the airshow formally known as ‘Thunder Over the Boardwalk.’ As the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred skirted to our west, Tropical Storm Henri gained strength to our southeast, causing a front to stall over the show skies.
On Monday, the performers arrived at the Atlantic City Airport at the New Jersey Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing (FW) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ramps. The Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce and the 177th FW allowed invited media and guests to access the Air National Guard ramp for the USAF Thunderbird arrival.
Due to the real-world high demand for the USAF C-17A Globemaster III, the Thunderbirds used two C-130 Hercules aircraft to fly from Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Unlike the US Navy Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds do not have a dedicated transport aircraft. The Thunderbirds are transported by fleet aircraft, which are not put on display, nor do they perform in the airshow. Unfortunately, the airshow attendees didn’t see a very special C-130 take part in the airlift of the Thunderbird support squadron. The Thunderbirds utilized two C-130s, including a C-130J from the 41st AS known as the ‘Honeymoon Express”. It is one of five specially painted C-130 Hercules in that command. This heritage scheme honors the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron’s ‘Honeymoon Express,’ which led the first mass airdrop in the Pacific during World War II on an airfield at Nadzab, Papua New Guinea.
A unique aspect of the Atlantic City Airshow is that the public is invited to attend the practice show the day before the scheduled airshow. While practice day forgoes many of the planned flyby’s, it did feature the Thunderbirds site survey flight in the early morning and practice later in the afternoon. The remainder of the practice flights and flybys follow the show schedule, released to the public during the preceding week.
Another advantage to attending practice day performances is that it allows you to see the demonstration, which may vary due to weather or aircraft availability on show day. The Thunderbirds have six show profiles they can fly depending on the number of aircraft available and the cloud ceiling. On practice day, the Thunderbirds flew a six-ship low show, while they flew a six-ship high performance on show day.
On show day, the morning began with a marine layer of fog that shrouded the boardwalk casinos turning the Ocean Casino into a structure at home in a Star Wars movie.
The show kicked off with the US Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights flag jump, and National Anthem before a mass exit show from their C-147A. The C-147 is a militarized version of the De Havilland DHC-8, 315 Series, commonly referred to in civil aviation as the Dash 8.
The New Jersey Air National Guard traditionally opens the flyby portion of the show. The flybys began with two General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcons of the 177th Fighter Wing (FW) at Atlantic City International airport. The F-16 pilots and crews affectionately refer to it as the ‘Viper.’ The 177th FW was followed closely by their NJ ANG counterparts of the 108th Wing (WG) in their Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker based at nearby Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL).
The Hard Rock Casino’s Augusta AW139, NBC 10 Philadelphia’s Bell 206 Sky Force 10 helicopters quickly followed the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center Cessna 560XL Citation. The pace quickened as the Air Boss directed multiple aircraft into the show box. At the same time, the KC-135 and F-16 were repositioned for a composite Wing pass.
The New Jersey Air National Guard composite wing pass included the KC-135 in the lead with the refueling boom extended. The Vipers were positioned off the refueling boom and the stratotanker’s wings.
ChefPitts Airshows Clemens Kuhlig, the builder, pilot, mechanic, and inspector of the Pitts S1S, was a late addition to the show and wowed the crowds with his razor-sharp performance.
This year’s line-up had a C-17A Globemaster III demonstration and a scheduled C-5M Super Galaxy flyby. Unfortunately, they were scratched just days before the airshow with the ongoing evacuation of Kabul, Afghanistan.
The show was full of medical helicopters, a three-ship New Jersey State Police flyby of two AW-139s, and a Bell 206 LongRanger III.
This year also featured a first-time appearance by three USAF Northrop T-38C Talons of the 80th FTW out of Sheppard AFB, Texas. The T-38 is a mainstay of flight training for the USAF. The T-38s conducted several flybys of the beachfront.
The New Jersey Army National Guard 1 – 150th Assault Helicopter Battalion demonstrated Special Patrol Insertion and Exfiltration (SPIES) and Fast Rope Infiltration and Extraction (FRIES) with members of the 177th Fighter Wing’s 227th Air Support Operations Squadron. The demonstration consisted of two Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters staging from the former Bader Field Airport behind the show center.
The Geico Skytypers opened their performance with the sky-typing of the American Flag over Boardwalk Hall. They again performed an entertaining demonstration with their WW II-era U.S. Navy SNJ-2 trainers. It was unknown at the time, but this became the last airshow demonstration by the Geico Skytypers due to the loss of pilot Andy Travnicek and his aircraft just days later in preparation for the Great Pocono Raceway Airshow in Pennsylvania.
The MV-22B Osprey is a tilt-rotor V/STOL aircraft designed as the medium-lift replacement for the CH-46E Sea Knight assault support helicopter. The Osprey can operate as a helicopter or a turboprop aircraft and offers twice the speed, six times the range, and three times the payload of the CH-46E it replaced. Although this is the second time this airshow has secured a Bell Boeing MV-22B Osprey demonstration, this was the first time with a two-ship demonstration. And what a difference it made! The two aircraft demonstration multiples the complexity of these aircraft flying in close proximity to each other.
David Windmiller pilots the Zivko Edge 540 aircraft powered by a custom-built engine of Penn Yan Aero with a thrust ratio of 1:1. When fans and aficionados ask what type of plane that is, he responds with “one cool airplane.” David is an Atlantic City airshow regular and once again outdid himself.
The USCG Eurocopter MH-65D Dolphin helicopter search and rescue demonstration is another crowd favorite at Atlantic City. The nearby US Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City sent two MH-65 helicopters to the show. Each deploys a rescue swimmer who winches a swimmer in distress from the Atlantic Ocean before passing along the beachfront, skimming the waves.
In 1998 the USCG Air Station Atlantic City was formed by consolidating Brooklyn, NY, and Group/Air Station Cape May, NJ. The Atlantic City facility is the newest and largest single airframe unit of Coast Guard Air Stations. The Air Station is comprised of ten MH-65D Dolphin Helicopters. The Coast Guard is currently in the process of upgrading all MH-65Ds to the MH-65E configuration.
Air Station Atlantic City maintains two MH-65D Dolphin helicopters on a 30-minute response status. Both aircraft can be quickly airborne and en route at speeds more than 145 knots. The MH-65D Dolphin typically carries four crew, consisting of two Pilots, one Flight Mechanic, and one Rescue Swimmer. The Rescue Swimmer is a certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who can be lowered out of the helicopter to assist personnel in distress. The Dolphin can also deliver dewatering pumps to sinking vessels, hoist victims from the sea with its rescue basket, and MEDEVAC injured persons with a rescue litter for delivery to local hospitals. The helicopter’s radius of action extends out to 150 nautical miles. Air Station Atlantic City also provides multiple aircraft and crews to protect our Nation’s Capital on a 24-hour, seven-day-per-week basis.
Next up was the Ironman of the Atlantic City Airshow. He has performed in as many Atlantic City Airshows as the Thunderbirds. However, he holds the record for the number of performances and types of aircraft flown in this show. Jim Beasley Jr., who has been flying historic fighter aircraft for twenty years, has only missed performing at this show in 2005. He has performed with the Horseman and USAF Heritage Flight demonstration teams and a two-ship P-51 demonstration with Andrew McKenna. He also has flown single ship demonstrations (often in the same airshow) with the P-51 Mustang, Mk18 Supermarine Spitfire, and SNJ Texan over the beach at Atlantic City.
He returned with his P-51D Mustang this year known as ‘Bald Eagle.’ The paint scheme, including the invasion stripes marking Bald Eagle’s wings and fuselage, stand out as prominently as they did to soldiers on the ground 75 years ago. The bright yellow nose identifies Bald Eagle as a member of the 361st fighter squadron. This nose design was unique to the fighter group and inspired their nickname, the Yellowjackets. The eight Nazi emblems near the cockpit symbolize Bald Eagles’ wartime victories and Fighter Ace Lt. Robert Eckfeldt’s wartime victories.
The F-22 Raptor is a fifth-generation fighter incorporating radical maneuvering capabilities, the ability to fly at supersonic speed without afterburners, and unprecedented pilot situational awareness, making it the most dominant and advanced air superiority fighter in the world. USAF Major Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson is the current F-22 Demonstration Commander and Pilot. Major Gunderson delighted the crowd with a high show demonstration which consisted of twelve maneuvers that feature only a fraction of the Raptor’s combat capabilities.
Upon conclusion of the F-22 demonstration, Jim Beasley Jr. rejoined with Major Gunderson to create the extremely popular Air Force Heritage Flight, a tradition Jim Beasley is a founder of. In 1997, the Heritage Flight program was started as a one-time event to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the US Air Force. The demonstration was so popular with the public that it remains twenty-four years later. The Heritage Flight Foundation now performs between fifty and seventy demonstrations per year.
The US Army Golden Knights demonstration section consists of twenty-six members who travel around the United States, performing at various events supporting Army recruiting. The Golden Knights were supported by their Aviation Team, Team 6, which operated their C-147 Bombardier aircraft.
From high above the crowd at twelve thousand five hundred feet, the Golden Knights begin their Mass Exit Demonstration with precision free-falling. With jumpers away and smoke on, the Golden Knights rapidly approach speeds of 120 MPH. Eight of the Golden Knights join together in a formation before reaching nine thousand feet, using their arms, body, and legs as flight controls. The ninth jumper is the Golden Knights photo/videographer circling the formation. The jumpers separate and land precisely onto targets in the jump zone in the center of the capacity beach crowds.
The headliners for this year were the United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron and the Thunderbirds. They return with their first new demonstration in nearly forty years, and it is an E-Ticket ride!
The Thunderbirds describe their 2021 demonstration as “Where Grace Meets Power.” According to the Team, the new demonstration is a mix of six aircraft performing formation flying and solo routines. The four-ship Diamond formation showcases the precision and training of US Air Force Pilots and the gracefulness of the F-16. The two Solo pilots display the power and maximum capabilities of the mighty F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The redesigned aerial demonstration and ground performances are a positive change that the squadron committed to during the lost demonstrations of the 2020 season.
“We are very excited about our show and ground performance changes,” said Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbird Commander and Leader. “One of our main goals was to look at our show sequence and enhance the design with the crowd experience in mind.”
The show revision required hard work, historical research, and coordination with the air show industry, Thunderbird Alumni, Air Combat Command, and Headquarters Air Force. Every Thunderbird team member played a valuable role in meeting and achieving the goal of redesigning a compatible presentation, safe and engaging for air show attendees observing the new demonstration.
The most noticeable changes to the performance are the reordering and implementing of new maneuvers during the aerial demonstration. The new show sequence now follows seven distinct themes that focus on increasing crowd excitement, tapping into the emotions of onlookers, and gradually showcasing the maneuvers’ complexities.
The Thunderbirds delivered an action-packed demonstration that leaves you wanting more. I checked the time, hoping there was much more to come in this fast-paced, high-energy performance. I welcomed and appreciated the update the Thunderbirds made to their show. I went to practice on Tuesday without learning the sequence of the maneuvers, and I could experience all the surprises, thrill, and awe of the first time I encountered the Thunderbirds. Well done!
I wish to thank Michael Chiat of the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce and the Atlantic City Airshow’ A Salute to Service’ and Senior Master Sergeant Andrew Moseley and Senior Airman Cristina Allen of the 177th FW Public Affairs Office for their assistance as well.