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Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach attracts 114,000 spectators

The Breitling Jet Team performs during the 12th

The Breitling Jet Team performs during the 12th annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach in Wantagh on Saturday, May 23, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

This year's Bethpage Air Show, which kicked off Long Island's Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, drew enthusiasts of daredevil aerial ballets and vintage planes and even offered a boat versus aircraft race.

Falling spins and rolls, upside-down salutes and top-speed formations of jets sometimes only a dozen or so feet apart delighted first-timers and long-timers -- opinions sometimes divided over which Jones Beach performances were the more enthralling.

Stephen Swope, 38, of Shirley admired Sean Tucker, a stunt pilot who performed twice -- and twice mimicked a helicopter by getting his plane to nearly stand still in midair, in addition to pulling off a dizzying series of rolls and somersault-like maneuvers.

"He's fantastic, he's just fantastic," Swope said. "I've been doing this show for eight years and he's the best performer -- he's crazy -- I love it," said Swope, who runs the public address system.

For others, the choice of a favorite was not as clear-cut -- and there was no reason to choose, as the show began with stunt pilots performing vertical and horizontal combinations of rolls and dives and ended with the Air Force Thunderbirds executing maneuvers that included "head-on" passes at 1,100 mph.

Frank Grillo, 22, of Rocky Point said, "The little guys do cool things that the jets can't do, but they're impressive enough."

Kathryn Rouillard, 29, of Brooklyn, who came with her father, Rick Rouillard of Freeport, summed up one of the most prominent aspects of watching the Thunderbirds, the fastest and loudest by far. "There's like a shock factor. The sky is clear and then here they come, out of nowhere."

Another jet fan was not put off by the ability of all the pilots to fly so close to the beach.

"Get them close -- the closer the better," said Crystal Tarango, 21, of Shirley.

Vertical diamond and curving fan patterns were featured by both jet teams -- the Thunderbirds and the Breitling Jet team from Dijon, France, which made its debut.

The French team ended its routine with a special crowd-pleaser, trailing fireworks instead of smoke.

The chartreuse Miss Geico speedboat with its massive engines appeared to tie the first heat and then win the second heat in her race along the shore with two aircraft. All three vessels had a top speed of about 200 mph.

Those draws and the attraction of a sunny day at the beach were slightly offset by the cooler temperature.

About 114,000 people came, according to George Gorman Jr., the parks department air show coordinator, who hopes Sunday's warmer weather will bring out a bigger crowd for the air show, which runs from noon to 5 p.m.

Still, attendance topped the first day of last year's show -- 81,000 -- a tally dampened by an overcast morning.

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