The Blue Angels take to skies at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach.  Credit: Newsday/A.J. Singh

As far as Long Islanders are concerned, summer arrived at Jones Beach on Friday, and so did the air show.

With clear, sunny skies and warm temperatures, a record crowd of 106,000 hit the beach at the state park to avoid the weekend masses and watch the rehearsal for the 20th annual Bethpage Air Show on Saturday and Sunday.

While the rehearsal was not widely broadcast, park officials said, the tens of thousands in attendance showed that the secret is out.

Park officials said the crowd shattered last year’s record of 67,000 people attending Friday’s rehearsal. Last year’s three days of the air show, including the rehearsal, topped 419,000 people, officials said. 

By midmorning Friday, parking lots were filling up, and the beach and the Jones Beach boardwalk were packed with Long Islanders thirsty for a taste of summer. Saturday is predicted to be dry but cloudy, and Sunday will be mostly sunny, but cooler than Friday. 

“We were thinking we could beat the crowd for the practice day and it’s a nice day, so it looks like everyone came out,” said Theresa Orlando, 42, of Oceanside, with her 4-year-old daughter Victoria. “We love seeing the planes come every year. It’s always just a bit more open on Friday and we get the best views of the show and just a little bit better parking.”

The rehearsal Friday featured a preview of Saturday and Sunday’s official air show, which may include more stunts set to music and narration of the program.

But on Friday, there was no shortage of theatrics in the sky. Fighter jets like the U.S. Navy’s F-35C demo team and the Blue Angels’ famous F/A-18 Hornet roared over the beach.

Other performances included the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team jumping in tandem over the beach, at times free-falling at 120 mph, usually from about 13,000 feet, and landing carrying flags for the Army and the POW/MIA flag.

Skytypers and acrobatic planes also did flips and combat maneuvers while painting the sky to anthems like “America the Beautiful” and drawing a heart with their exhaust trails.

Alisha Budd, 36, and Peyton Scholl, 16, both of Islip, came to watch the performances Friday, awaiting the Blue Angels to cap off the afternoon.

The biggest draw of the air show headliner? “The noise,” they said, referring to the thunderous rumble as the jets fly by.

“We’re fans of the Blue Angels, but they mix it up every year with new things,” Scholl said.

“We come back every year and we were looking forward to it,” Budd said. “There’s less of a crowd today. It will be even more crowded Saturday and Sunday.”

State park officials said they monitor traffic on the parkways heading to Jones Beach and the parking lots to control crowds and limit capacity during the air show weekend. Parking lot activity is shown in real time on the air show’s app and website. There were no major traffic delays Friday, officials said.

Each day of the official air show could draw nearly 200,000 people, said George Gorman, regional director of Long Island state parks.

Along with the 20th anniversary of the air show, it was the 95th anniversary of Jones Beach State Park and the 100th anniversary of New York State Parks.

To celebrate the anniversary, Jones Beach commissioned Stop and Shop to make a 1,000-pound cake, using a graham cracker crust to signify the sand and 100 pounds of Rice Krispies treats shaped like a sand castle.

The 15-by-20-foot cake was made with 700 dozen eggs and more than 1,000 pounds of sugar before it was served to 8,000 people on the boardwalk.

The first air show 20 years ago was planned to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Jones Beach and to commemorate Memorial Day weekend for veterans.

“We salute those who have given their lives to our country and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Gorman said during an anniversary celebration.

In a news conference following the air show rehearsal, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman encouraged residents to honor veterans on Memorial Day with two 50-second moments of silence at noon and 6 p.m. Monday, when sirens will go off throughout Nassau.

With Scott Eidler

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