REPUBLIC AIRPORT – THE OTHER JONES BEACH AIRSHOW

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Story and photos by Bill Sarama

The Jones Beach Airshow for 2024, also known as the Bethpage Airshow, was an “Over the Beach” Airshow held at Jones Beach State Park on Saturday and Sunday, May 25th and 26th, as a part of Fleet Week New York, usually held every Memorial Day weekend. Jones Beach, as the crow or plane flies, is an ocean beach about 10 miles south of Republic Airport which is in Farmingdale, LI, New York. The Airport is still noted for being the past location the Republic Aviation Company, that became famous for building all of those great fighters in World War 2 and during the Cold War. Republic finally ended its aviation career with the A-10 “Thunderbolt II”, or the “Warthog” as we know it, in the early 1980’s. Fairchild Aircraft, after taking over Republic, and to be then known as Fairchild-Republic here at the Republic plant, attempted in 1985, to win a USAF contract to build its twin-tailed T-46 Trainer here at the Republic plant, after the A-10 line was completed. The contract was cancelled by the USAF due to budget cuts in 1986 after just four aircraft were built. There is a T-46 on display at the nearby Cradle of Aviation Museum in Hempstead. With no future work, Fairchild-Republic soon closed and the plant was totally demolished by the end of the 80’s. It’s now the giant “Airport Plaza” shopping center at the far north end of the Airport. But all was not lost from this demolition of the Republic plant. One Republic flight line hanger was saved from demolition. That surviving Republic Hanger, later in the 1990’s, slowly became the home of the “American Airpower Museum, that now has about 25 military warbirds, many of which restored to flying status, some of which will fly in the Jones Beach Airshow later today. More on the AAM later.

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The Jones Beach Airshow is also called, and officially titled, as the “Bethpage Airshow”. Here is why: The Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, as it was originally called, and later the Grumman Aerospace Corporation, had its headquarters and main plant in Bethpage, Long Island, about 10 miles north of Republic. Grumman in Bethpage was noted for such famous aircraft as: the F4F Wildcat, the F6F Hellcat, the TBF Avenger, the F7F Tigercat, the F8F Bearcat, the F9F Panther, the F9 Cougar, the F11 Tiger, the A-6 Intruder, the E-2 Hawkeye, the C-2 Greyhound, the EA-6B Prowler, the F-14 Tomcat, and even the Apollo Lunar Module, 6 of which successfully landed on the moon! Grumman also built the Gulfstream Business aircraft, now a separate company. For much of the Cold War, Grumman was the largest corporate employer on Long Island. Grumman was often referred to as the “Grumman Ironworks”. Initial aircraft assembly took place at the main plant in Bethpage and final assembly and testing taking place at the 6,000 acre National Weapons Station in Calverton, LI, NY, in eastern Long Island. In 1994 Northrop bought Grumman for $2.1 billion to form Northrop-Grumman. The Bethpage plant was demolished and became a residential and office complex. The Calverton plant facility is mostly still there and has become a business and industrial complex. The runways are closed but still exist. There is a Grumman Memorial Park near the entrance with an A-6 and an F-14 on concrete elevated mounts.

By show day, the American Airpower Museum ramp had all of its own flying warbirds and many visiting warbirds lined up to fly in the Jones Beach flying show. Because Republic is so close to Jones Beach, it became the staging area for many of the aircraft that performed at the Airshow. The “Warbird Parade” aircraft were all at the Museum ramp, including the two A-10C Warthogs of the USAF Demo Team that would later perform over the beach. They were at the far south end. This was quite appropriate since those two Hogs in fact were built at the once nearby Fairchild-Republic plant factory right here at Republic. But the big draw for the Locals and why Republic has become “The Other Jones Beach Airshow”, is the Blue Angels. Yes, they would do their spectacular 45 minute flying show over Jones Beach, but the six Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets and “Fat Albert”, the Marine C-130J Super Herc support plane were staging out of the south end of Republic at the FBO Ramp. And here in Long Island, the Locals love the “Blues”. Many Locals come just to see the Blues launch and 45 minutes later, recover after doing their Break For Landing, a 7.5G Tactical Carrier Burner Break over the runway Threshold over the south end of the Active. Similarly, “Last Chance” is at the south end of the Active very close to the perimeter road where everyone parks and the Blues go into a Burner Launch very close to the fence line by the road. “New Highway” is the local narrow two lane road that circles the perimeter of the fence line right near the two Actives at the south end. The local neighbors start getting here early about 8 AM just to get a get a good parking spot to see the Blues launch and recover. They fill up both sides of New Highway and if you’re not here by 8:30, you’re out of luck to get some prime real estate to see the launch and recoveries of the Blues and the other show performers staging out of Republic. All the parked cars along the narrow perimeter road near the south take-off point on the Active take on a Tail-Gate air show feel with tail gate parties, music, “Top Gun” sound track music, and even hot dog, pizza and soda trucks, if you didn’t bring your own.

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But there’s other stuff launching out of Republic besides the Blues. The “Skytypers” are actually based full time here at Republic and did a close-by 5-ship launch with their five SNJ-5 Texans. The A-10C Warthog demo team was based near the Museum ramp and launched later in the day. The US Army Golden Knights parachute team were here and their De Havilland Dash-8 jump plane, now designated as a C-147A, took off early for the Flag Drop. There were also two stunt planes also staging out of Republic: David Windmiller and his red mono-wing Zivco Edge 540 and Michael Goulian and his Goodyear / Whelan Extra 330SC yellow mono-wing. The Farmingdale State College Aviarion Team “Flying Rams” formation team went up early with their five GA multi-engine planes. The “Warbird Thunder Airshows” Team had two SNJ-5 Texan trainers that took off for the beach. The 106th Rescue Wing, NYANG, was NOT at Republic! They are based at Gabreski ANGB at Westhampton Beach in eastern Long Island. They came down with a HC-130J Combat King II Herc and HH-60G Pave Hawk helo and did a rescue demo over the beach. They flew down to Jones Beach from their Base in the Hamptons, about 100 miles to the east. The US Navy F-35C Lightning II Demo Team staged out of the Islip/Long Island  MacAuthur Airport further east too. 

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Walking the Museum Ramp: We got to the American Airpower Museum ramp early on Saturday and saw the static warbirds and the flying warbirds (F) that would launch later for the “Museum Warbirds Flyover”. On the Museum’s north ramp was their olive drab C-47B Skytrain (F) with Invasion stripes. In the Museum Hanger was a striped down 1949 North American AT-6D Texan undergoing restoration. hanging from the ceiling was a P-51D Mustang replica. Missing was the Museum’s big Consolidated PBY-6A Catalina that’s undergoing remote full restoration to actually get it airworthy again. Near the entry fence was an SNJ-5 with no wings and due for restoration. Outside was their Republic F-84E Thunderjet in SEA camouflage and “New York” on the tail band.

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Continuing down the ramp were some great warbirds on view: First by the Hanger door was the Museum’s prime possession, its North American RB-25J “Miss Hap”, a Mitchell bomber (40-2168) in a gleaming silver gloss shiny bare metal finish (F); next, a matt grey T-34 “USAF” Mentor (F); then a fully restored Grumman EA-6B Navy “Prowler” with VAQ-120 on the tail, now a Museum static aircraft; next a P-51D-20NA Mustang “Jacqueline” in a beautiful silver finish with Invasion Stripes and a checkered nose with 12 Nazi “Kill” symbols (F); then a yellow “Marine” bi-wing open cockpit N2S-3 trainer “Radial Rhapsody” (F); next a 1941 red bi-wing WACO UPF-7 trainer (F); then another prized Museum flying warbird, its Curtiss P-40M Warhawk “Jackie C” in a green-brown camo with beautiful Sharknose artwork (F); next, a visiting private 1942 Curtiss P-40N-5-CU Warhawk “American Dream” in olive green camo with another great Sharknose (F); then a matt silver SNJ-5 trainer “Thunder Pussy” with a red band and a “02” inside (F); next a 1945 Grumman TBM-3E in Navy blue sitting for now with its wings folded (F); next the Museum’s North American AT-28D-5 “Nomad” Trojan in SEA Vietnam camo and an “AD” tail designation (F); then the Museum’s static A-10A Warthog (80-247) in original standard low-viz grey; next a beautiful Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatross Czech trainer in a gloss SEA camo finish with a Czech national roundel (F); next to it was another L-39C in gloss white color scheme with “NAVY” on the fuselage (F); next the Museum’s third L-39C in an Aggressor USSR gloss camo with a Red Star on the tail with an “02” on the nose. and the last warbird on the flight line, the Museum’s static Republic F-105 D “Thunderchief” still in SEA colors.

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But there’s more here! Finally, at the far south end of the Museum ramp, was the USAF A-10 Demonstration Team from the 355th Wing out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, that came east with two specially painted up A-10C Warthogs for the Jones Beach Flying Show. Few people realized that 2024 is the final season for the A-10 Demo Team. The USAF announced recently that the entire Warthog fleet will be retired by 2029. The A-10’s started being sent to the AMARG Boneyard in February, but not these guys! USAF Major Lindsay “MAD” Johnson, the A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team Commander and pilot, was here at Republic to fire up her Hog later and “Head For The Beach” to do a great CAS flying performance over the beach at Jones. (BTW – Major Johnson is a woman and has been driving Hogs for a long time!)

The primary A-10C demo Warthog (78-652) was fully painted up Vietnam in SEA 3-tone warpaint in a dull matt finish looking like it just got in from Da Nang. The engine pods had a yellow band with “Memphis Belle” written on them. The nose had a list of POW’s and MIA’s from Vietnam. A white “DM” was on the vertical stabilizer like the tails in Nam. The second back-up A-10C Warthog was in a single tone olive drab green like that of the WW2 Jeeps. It had a white “DM” on the tail. It was really eerie for many of the ground crew looking at these Birds. They were built in 1978 and 1980 right here at the nearby Fairchild-Republic plant only about 1,000 feet away from where they were parked today!

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It was a nice ramp walk at the American Airpower Museum ramp to see those flying warbirds all neatly lined up ready to do a flyby over the Beach later. I left early and the air show tailgaters were still partying along the Republic perimeter fence line! It was a fun morning! See you in 2025 for another Jones Beach Bethpage Airshow!

An amendment to this article corrects the staging airport for the F-13 Demo Team.

BILL SARAMA

(6/17/24)

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