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Blue Angel makes cool return to Long Island

Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cheng and Lt. Ryan Chamberlain

Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cheng and Lt. Ryan Chamberlain land their U.S. Navy Blue Angel at Republic Airport in Farmingdale. (Dec. 11, 2013) Credit: Johnny Milano

A gleaming Blue Angel touched down at Republic Airport Wednesday, marking the official return of one of the elite aircraft to Long Island after the cancellation of last year's air show at Jones Beach.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angel F-18 was scheduled to arrive Tuesday morning at the airport in Farmingdale for a site visit and meeting with agencies to plan the 11th Annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach on Memorial Day weekend.

But the plowed runways at Republic remained empty as the jet was kept on the ground in Baltimore by the icy conditions across the Northeast, said Republic director Mike Geiger.

"Unfortunately the F-18 doesn't come with very good de-icing equipment," said Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, who flew the jet to the airport with Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cheng. "Just like the demonstration is concerned, safety is our No. 1 priority."

Wednesday's conditions were more optimal: sunny and frigid. "The colder the weather, the better the plane performs," Geiger said. "There's more air when it's cold, so the engine and the wings work better and you get a better lift."

As he stood on the frosty, wind-whipped runway, Chamberlain mused that the air show seemed to be far away.

"It's hard to believe this is going to be a beach show next year, because it's about 30 degrees out here, but everybody's excited to come back to the New York area," he said.

The Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, which fly in the aerial acrobatics air show in alternate years, have historically staged at Republic Airport for the shows and visit the airport each winter to plan logistics.

The pilots met with about nine state, federal and local agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard, to plan the air show, said state Parks Department spokesman George Gorman. "This is the preseason meeting. They go through all the logistics for the airport, and then they go visit Jones Beach," Gorman said.

Cheng said he was especially eager for Jones Beach, where he saw the air show while applying to the Blue Angels. "We keep talking about it as one of the cities we're looking forward to in 2014," Cheng said.

Last year, federal budget cuts forced the cancellation of the military air shows after April 1, including the Thunderbirds air show performances at Jones Beach.

Geiger said he was eager to see the jets return to Farmingdale. "It's wonderful when you see them come in here," he said. "We probably get about 10,000 people come to the airport just to see the planes here."

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