Summer unofficially kicked off at Jones Beach on Saturday with an estimated 100,000 spectators swarming the shores and boardwalk for the 19th annual Bethpage Air Show.
The much-anticipated annual spectacle launched minutes after 10 a.m. with Mike Goulian in an Extra 300 plane leaving a trail of white smoke as he circled a team of parachute jumpers from the U.S. Army Golden Knights. It ended around 3 p.m. with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds thrilling the crowds with their tight formations.
In between, the throngs were treated to all kinds of aeronautical feats.
Two World War II-era aircraft performed barrel rolls and a figure-8, showcasing their precision. “It’s a really tough maneuver … it’s a roll and a loop!” announcer Rob Reider said.
HOW TO GET THERE
Jones Beach parking lots open at sunrise Sunday. There are designated handicap parking stalls in every parking field. Arrive early to secure a spot.
From points west: Take the Long Island Expressway east or Grand Central Parkway east to Northern State Parkway east, to Meadowbrook Parkway south, to Jones Beach State Park. Or, take the Belt/Southern State Parkway east to Meadowbrook Parkway south to the state park.
From eastern Long Island: Take the Northern State Parkway west or the Southern State Parkway west, to Wantagh Parkway south, to the state park.
Take the LIRR to the Freeport station. From there, take the N88 Nassau Inter-County Express (NICE Bus) to Jones Beach. Visit their website for hours and fees.
Source: bethpageairshow.com, bethpagefcu.com
The crowd gasped and applauded as the two planes drew large hearts in the air.
The show, also scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, is intended to honor all those who served in the military. If all goes as planned weather-wise Sunday — the forecast calls for clear skies and highs in the 70s — it will be the first time in years that the event will go off without a hitch. The past two years, some performances were canceled due to lightning or rain. The 2020 air show was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
George Gorman, regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, put the estimated crowd size at 100,000 Saturday and said possibly even more will drop in on Sunday.
“This is a great weekend. It’s a beautiful day. We are doing very well,” he said.
Jones Beach parking lots will open at sunrise Sunday, as they did Saturday, according to the air show's sponsors. As of noon Saturday, Fields 2 and 6 were full, the state Department of Transportation tweeted, with "moderate" traffic still headed to the show.
The boardwalk was packed by showtime, and a kaleidoscope of umbrellas had popped up along the crowded beach.
Priscilla Andryauskas, 28, of Seaford, sat on a picnic blanket with her cousin Chris Carter, 38, of Far Rockaway. Andryauskas said she and her cousin have been attending since they were kids.
"I’m proud of the veterans and their service. This year is great because it shows everyone can come together after COVID and enjoy each other with record crowds," Carter said. "It’s like one big party.”
“It’s amazing to watch,” Andryauskas said. “It’s wild.”
Some frequent attendees said nothing compares to the roar of the planes.
“The best part is the noise. They sneak in from behind and you get that explosive sound. You can hear and see it,” said Ralph Bottiglieri, of Stony Brook.
“You can feel it,” said Neil DeRosa, 67, of Massapequa Park.
There were plenty of crowd-pleasing moments, including a chance to hear a rarity, according to Reider: The unique sound of a vintage P-51 Mustang that, among its tricks, climbed and twisted in the air before descending low over the shore.
"I'd love to get a ride in one of those. ... It's an unmistakable sound," said Peter Mockler, 66, a Navy veteran who said he's been coming for at least 10 years.
Other aircraft produced ear-splitting noise: Fighter jets from the Navy F-18 Growler Legacy Team cut across the sky with deafening roars.
Later, stunt pilot David Windmiller, of Melville, spiraled on a descent and flew upside down.
Windmiller even communicated from the cockpit, explaining it was meaningful to participate and have his youngest son watching from below.
"It's an incredible honor to be here," he said, adding he heard fans cheering for him from the ground.
The famed Thunderbirds capped the day with their exhilarating demonstration. Flying in formation, seemingly wingtip to wingtip, the squadron displayed its mastery.
For many, the main draw was the chance to experience the aircraft up close and witness the proficiency of the pilots.
Mary Jean Roamer, 57, who was there with a large group of friends, said the event makes her feel patriotic. “Watching the planes go by is very inspiring," she said.
With John Asbury