The Bethpage Air Show soars again Memorial Day weekend over South Shore skies, where the Air Force Thunderbirds are back for their fourth appearance. If it's a sunny weekend, more than 200,000 pairs of eyes will be locked north along the long stretch of sand at Jones Beach to see astonishing aerobatics by military and civilian performers, says state parks spokesman George Gorman Jr.
NEW THIS YEAR
There's even a touch of Continental charm amid the traditional All-American lineup: The Dijon, France-based Breitling Jet Team, in its air show debut, performs a 22-minute routine with a "European flavor," team captain Jacques "Speedy" Bothelin says. The seven European flying aces, zooming around in L-39 C Albatros jets, perform a coordinated ballet flying as close as 10 feet apart, at speeds over 435 miles per hour.
"Something happens every 10 seconds," Bothelin says. One of the team's specialties is an Apache roll, a maneuver Bothelin described as "four aircraft in formation and the fifth one barreling around." Their finale is a bit of old-world artwork -- skywriting with smoke trails of vaporized, environmentally friendly oil.
Says Bothelin, "We try to draw some drawings in the sky for the kids."
A LATER START
This year's show begins at noon on Saturday, two hours later than the traditional 10 a.m. start, and ends at 5, also two hours later. But otherwise it's status quo for the 12th edition of one of the state's largest public events.
While the Blue Angels are sitting this one out -- they're scheduled instead at the International Air Show in upstate Rochester -- the Thunderbirds pick up with a 45-minute routine featuring 40 maneuvers, including formation flying and solos.
"We pride ourselves on the opposing passes," says Capt. Nick Eberling of Ashburn, Virginia, who leads the demonstration squadron's F-16 Fighting Falcons. In opposing passes, two jets begin at four miles apart and zoom toward each other with a closing velocity of 1,100 miles per hour. "At the last moment we'll roll up not to hit each other and split up at 15 feet apart at show center," Eberling says.
A RACE BY AIR AND SEA
The show also features a half-mile race along the shoreline, pitting the Geico Skytypers' World War II-era, open-cockpit trainer planes against the Miss GEICO, an offshore catamaran. Two GEICO Skytyper pilots will break away from the team's low-altitude precision flying demonstration and swoop down to just above the deck of the Miss GEICO. Although one craft is in the water and the other is in the air, the race is actually evenly matched with both craft capable of a top speed of over 200 miles per hour.
Also up there in the skies: the United States Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, and civilian performers Sean Tucker; Lt. Col. John Klatt of the Air National Guard; the John Klatt Airshows Screamin' Sasquatch Jet Waco Aerobatic Team; warbirds from the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, and aerobatics pilot David Windmiller of Melville.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Want to avoid gridlock before and after the show? Here are some strategies for dodging people and parking woes:
1. PICK A SPOT. Gorman suggests watching from fields 1, 2 and 6, or field 5 on Zach's Bay. "You'll still have an outstanding view," Gorman promises.
2. ARRIVE BY WATER. Show-going boat-owners can raft up in Zach's Bay, but if you don't own a watercraft, try Freeport Water Taxi. The Nautical Mile-based tour boat operator will take 28 passengers each day to watch from the bay just north of the Jones Beach Water Tower. ($35 adults, $25 ages 5-13; 516-521-7744)
3. TRY YOUR LUCK. It's an open secret: Many air show performers do practice runs over Jones Beach from noon to 5 p.m. Friday. It could be a good excuse to hit the beach early and get your Memorial Day weekend started.
WHEN | WHERE Noon to 5 p.m. May 23-24 at Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh
INFO 631-321-3510, bethpageairshow.com
ADMISSION $10 vehicle use fee