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Air Force Thunderbirds amaze the thousands in closing Bethpage Air Show

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds roar over the

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds roar over the Jones Beach fire tower Sunday in the Bethpage Air Show. Credit: Todd Maisel

The roar of F-16 fighter jets bursting into view from above, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, closed the Bethpage Air Show in fitting fashion Sunday with head-scratching maneuvers and ratcheting up the wow factor for thousands below, already awed after a day of acrobatic tricks.

Willie Binford, 29, of Bay Shore, tried to make sense of what she'd just witnessed — Thunderbird pilots seemingly on a collision course before peeling off in opposite directions to fly and perform another day.

“When they flew by one another," Binford said as she plopped down on a folding chair to wait for Jones Beach to empty out, "You think they are going to get each other. But they don’t.”

It wasn't difficult Sunday to find spectators — regulars as well as newbies to the Jones Beach spectacle — with similar reactions.

Under mostly sun-splashed skies and with temperatures topping out in the low 80s, an estimated crowd of 187,000 turned out to watch pilot after pilot defy the odds and perform flawless stunts.

Crowd size for Sunday climbed considerably from Saturday's show when, with similar but significantly cooler conditions, state parks officials estimated 114,000 spectators attended. Parks officials estimated that, including Friday’s practice day, 368,000 attended in total.

With a performance they had described before the two-day show as something akin to stunt pilots doing the tango, Sean D. Tucker and Jessy Panzer of Team Oracle didn't disappoint, Joe Bracciodieta said.

In fact, from where Bracciodieta sat Sunday, the pair's intricate and dazzling display was the show's highlight.

“It’s a tradition," Bracciodieta said of his family's mostly annual late-spring pilgrimage. "We usually go every year. It kicks off summer.”

As every year, the 2019 version of the Bethpage Air Show had plenty of music blasting from a massive sound system to accompany the various performances.

The Thunderbirds made their entrance to the perfectly appropriate strains of "Thunderstruck" by the Australian rockers AC/DC. The white-and-red Air Force F16 Fighting Falcons had another pitch-perfect musical offering during their performance — Lou Reed's anthem to risking it all and letting loose, "Walk on the Wild Side."

The team sped by overhead while performing moves like the Calypso Pass, in which an inverted jet races past an upright one. At one point, a single plane made a 15,000-foot vertical climb before becoming a faint sparkle in the sky. 

All the booms and roars from the Thunderbirds and other pilots proved a bit much for some folks on the sand. Many covered their ears and gasped as they squinted upward in the midday sun to see the show.

Not everyone was undone by the noise.

“I thought it was kind of cool,” said Mateo Silva, 8.

Mateo and his dad, Joe Silva, have seen previous air shows and watched this year's version from a bench on the crowded boardwalk. 

For Cyril Tozer, 95, and his friend Ed Massey, 69, both of Ridge, the show meant more than a day at the beach watching airplanes do tricks. Tozer, a British Army veteran, fought in World War II. Massey, 69, is a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran. 

“I think they’re doing an excellent job, really,” both in the flight show and in paying homage to the military, said Massey, who has attended a few times. “I think a lot of people forget.”

At 17, Tozer was on the beach at Dunkirk in 1940 when Allied troops were trapped and miraculously evacuated. During his time in the British Army, he was decorated three times for injuries suffered during the war.

Seeing it for the first time, he had one word for the air show: “Fantastic.”

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