The Navy’s Blue Angels are once again set to headline the...

The Navy’s Blue Angels are once again set to headline the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach on Saturday and Sunday. Credit: Ed Betz

When pilot Larry Arken skytyped his first message above Jones Beach, it marked the beginning of the first Bethpage Air Show, with fighter jets, assorted vintage warbirds, stunt pilots and a Memorial Day weekend tradition that has endured for 20 years.

But even with the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels soaring over the packed beach in 2004, Arken had modest expectations for the fledgling air show with about half the acts then than it has now. 

“It was a small air show,” said Arken, 65, of Northport, who has typed messages in the sky by way of white smoke for nearly 50 years. “It started getting legs and was successful in year one.”

“There are a lot of air shows, some big, some small and some premiere air shows in the country,” he said. “I never thought Jones Beach would raise to that bar, but it did.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • This year's Bethpage Air Show marks 20 years since the first performances wowed crowds at Jones Beach.
  • Aviation experts consider it among the top five air shows nationwide. Last year's three-day attendance totaled 351,000.
  • Eleven performers are scheduled for two shows. Both shows are free and run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Parking is $10.

This year's show marks 20 years since the first Bethpage Air Show, which shattered a Memorial Day Sunday attendance record with a crowd of more than 184,000 spectators packed on the beach. Arken and the Skytypers, who have become a staple of the show, are returning, along with the Blue Angels, prepping to perform in their 10th show. Also flying are the World War II-era “warbirds,” based at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale.

Eleven performers are scheduled for the two shows. Both shows, weather permitting, will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday with admission covered by the $10 parking fee per car. Organizers urge attendees to arrive as early as possible to grab a good spot on the beach or watch from the Jones Beach boardwalk.

Aviation experts consider the event to be among the top five air shows nationwide. Last year's attendance totaled 351,000, including more than 67,000 people who watched the unofficial rehearsal on the Friday before Memorial Day. 

Arken, who joined his father’s skytyping business when he was 17, said Long Island state parks officials asked him to be part of the first Jones Beach show as one of the hometown acts.

He and his team of skytypers typically leave trails of paraffin smoke, creating messages and images such as a flag with patriotic themes.

Messages are about 2½ miles long and can be seen for more than 30 miles, Arken said, adding that each letter is more than 1,200 feet tall, or about as tall as the Empire State Building.

The U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team is scheduled to...

The U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team is scheduled to drop in on the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach on Saturday and Sunday. Credit: Barry Sloan

Patriotism and paying tribute

Patriotism and paying tribute to military veterans have been mainstays of the show since the beginning, and this weekend will be no different, said George Gorman, the state parks department's regional director for Long Island.

“We were hoping it would be an annual event,” Gorman said when asked to recall the show's beginnings. “We were hoping it would be as successful as we have today.”

Park officials will monitor parking lots and vehicles on the Meadowbrook and Wantagh parkways in an effort to keep traffic moving smoothly, officials said. Flying drones from the beach is prohibited. 

Rain or low cloud cover has led to cancellations or delays in past years. The extended forecast by the National Weather Service calls for temperatures in the 70s with partly sunny skies and a slight chance of rain Saturday.

Other scheduled performers include the 106th Air National Guard Rescue Wing; the A-10C Thunderbolt Air Force demo team; the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team; the Navy’s F-35C Demo Team; and the Warbird Thunder Airshows, an aerobatics team in World War II-era aircraft. All pilots except the F-35 take off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale.

Civilian performers also include the Farmingdale State College Flying Rams and aerobatic pilot Michael Goulian and stunt pilot David Windmiller, 60, of Melville.

Windmiller flies in a Zivko Edge, a custom lightweight single-wing plane capable of executing difficult acrobatic maneuvers including somersaults and cartwheels. 

'I’ll keep climbing'

Windmiller said the air show has grown over the past 20 years and constantly inspires him to improve his skills.

“My specialty is gyroscopic maneuvers and doing tricks engineers think are impossible. I get to do things people never thought we could do,” said Windmiller, who learned to fly an airplane at 14 and tries to pilot one daily.

“Every year I start practicing, wondering if I’ve reached my peak, but I significantly improve every year,” he said. “I’m not sure how long I’ll keep climbing that ladder, but I know I keep improving and this will be my best performance.”

The show's national stature is no surprise, Windmiller said.

“We all knew it was going to be big. New York didn't have an air show and New Yorkers don’t always get to see what airplanes are capable of,” Windmiller said. “It’s a good time of year, if the weather is good, and it’s a fun place to be for hours, hanging out at the beach.”

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