Through azure skies, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels swooped into Republic Airport in East Farmingdale on Thursday, arriving for this weekend’s annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach.
Their performance often is the most popular one at the show, which this year also features vintage planes, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds and top U.S. stunt pilots.
Security again was intensified for the 15th annual show with the addition of drones, more plainclothes officers and surveillance cameras and searches of delivery trucks.
After landing, Cmdr. Eric Doyle — call sign “Popeye” after the Gene Hackman character in the “The French Connection” movie — said serving in the Navy as a Blue Angel was “the ultimate.”
The Memorial Day weekend show naturally has special significance.
“We try our best to represent all of them,” the team’s boss said, standing by his No. 1 F/A-18 Hornet. “That’s honoring the men and women currently [serving] and all of those who have gone before us and made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Doyle, whose biography lists him as a native of League City, Texas, said his 22 years of flying began with him “watching jets like this when I was 5 years old — and my dad was a pilot.”
The combat veteran, with more than 3,000 flight hours and 600 aircraft-carrier landings, said the ability to fly just 18 inches apart at hundreds of miles an hour is far from the only criteria for becoming a Blue Angel.
Discipline and a willingness to painstakingly analyze each flight — and accept criticism — are crucial.
“Some flights don’t go as well as we want them to. The only way to get better is to highlight your mistakes — we don’t pull any punches.”
How many spectators turn out — and which highly hazardous aerobatics are performed — hinges on the weather.
Saturday might be the most promising; clouds, showers and possibly thunderstorms could appear “mainly” after 2 p.m., according to the National Weather Service office in Upton.
On Sunday, showers and thunderstorms are “likely,” it said.
The air show runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days.
Although thunderstorms would ground the Blue Angels, the level of visibility determines which of three shows they perform.
The high show, which requires clear skies, is the most demanding and can include a fleur de lis and line abreast loops, with five jets in a row, experts said.
Even the low and flat shows, however, when the cloud cover is lower, can offer crowd favorites such as diamond rolls, sneak passes and opposing horizontal rolls.
Doyle was unfazed.
“In the few air shows this season, we’ve seen the predictions have been for really bad weather; at the end of the day, we do a high show.”
If clouds do roll in, “We can put on different versions of the show, I wouldn’t say it degrades the show,” he said.
He and Maj. Denis Bandet, the Snowbirds team lead, agreed there are pluses and minuses to flying over Jones Beach.
The Blue Angels perform in a 5-mile circle, half of which will be over the Atlantic, Doyle said. Both aviators agreed the air over water can be quite smooth.
“The challenge is with the depth perception,” Bandet said.
For reference points, pilots rely on boats, white caps — and sometimes even look at the shore, he said.
Doyle also noted flights over water can be trickier: “You can’t use a wave as a checkpoint.”
When Bandet first flew at the Bethpage Air Show in 2012, he was on a wing. Focusing on the CT-114 Tutor jet next to him deprived him of taking in the park’s full panorama.
As the Snowbirds boss in his second stint, he now flies first. “Today was the first time I got to see the vastness of the beach,” Bandet said. “It’s phenomenal, what a beautiful area.”
Jones Beach has another benefit. Huge throngs can stretch out along 6.5 miles of shore. Said Doyle: “You have a limitless crowd line — that’s motivating.”
This year’s lineup
The 15th annual Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach runs Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and is headlined by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
- Military performers: In addition to the Blue Angels, the show features the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.
- Performances are scheduled from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.
- Civilian stunt pilots: Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle, Matt Chapman, Screamin’ Sasquatch presented by John Klatt Airshows, David Windmiller.
- Additional performers: the GEICO Skytypers in World War II planes, American Air Power Museum Warbirds with their vintage World War II aircraft, flybys by the B17 bomber “Yankee Lady,” a Hercules HC-130 combat search and rescue plane and the SUNY Farmingdale State College Flying Rams in seven of their 22 college-owned planes.
- The show is free; the regular $10 parking fee is charged. Empire Passports will be accepted. Toll plazas will be closed — cars can pay directly in the parking field.
- For more information, go to bethpageairshow.com or call 631-321-3510.