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Bethpage Air Show rehearsal draws tens of thousands

Friday’s fine weather freed the Memorial Day weekend sky dancers to pull off some of their most demanding maneuvers.

The rehearsal for the15th anniversary of the Bethpage Air Show this Memorial Day weekend took place at Jones Beach on Friday. (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

Elite performers at Friday’s rehearsal for the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach soared, tumbled, hammer-headed, rolled, dove and just basically awed their record audience.

“We will thrill you today, coming at each other at 1,000 kilometers an hour,” about 600 mph, Canadian Forces Snowbirds Lt. Michele Tremblay told reporters after a few performances.

She referred to closing speeds; her team’s 1960s era trainer jets — with no automated systems — have a top speed of 350 mph, so two flying toward each other meet twice as fast.

Several officials underlined Memorial Day’s somber nature.

“This is our way of saying ‘thank you,’ to all of those who were in the service,” said Wayne Horsley, Long Island regional director, state parks.

The fine weather freed the sky dancers to pull off some of their most demanding maneuvers at the practice run for the 15th annual show.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the Snowbirds, the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, and stupendous stunt pilots — such as Sean D. Tucker, Johnny D!, Matt Chapman, and John Klatt — and others will be aloft from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday’s forecast is the more promising, though there is a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, “mainly” after 3 p.m., the National Weather Service office in Upton said.

Thunderstorms, naturally, ground performers.

On Sunday, rain is likely before 3 p.m., the NWS said.

Sunday’s dim forecast may explain why 82,000 came Friday — nearly twice the 47,000 rehearsal record set in 2016 that also featured the Blue Angels, officials said.

Some fortunate folks got an even earlier preview.

On Thursday, the Blue Angels practiced over the beach for about three hours estimated George Payne, 48, of Levittown, who is working on the soon-to-open Boardwalk Cafe.

The sneak pass overs were particularly memorable.

“They would come through, the guys would be working . . . and the tools would go flying,” Payne said.

Some of the acts will be familiar, such as the show-starting SUNY Farmingdale Aviation team’s slow circle that mirrors the first-ever pilots’ flights. Some performances, including the Republic Airport-based GEICO Skytypers, are new.

“You’ll notice, it’s a lot more personal, right in front of your face, a lot more dynamic,” said pilot Jim Record, explaining the Skytypers team felt they were spending too much time too far away.

Viewers will see “a lot more breakups and meetups, and a lot more crosses, in front of show center.”

The F-22 Raptor will be flown by Maj. Paul Lopez, call sign “Loco,” as “he’s crazy about what he does,” said Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois and Staff Sgt. Israel Davila.

His stunts include twists and turns, some used in combat — and the tail slide, they said.

“You’ll see him kind of float in the air; he’s actually able to go backward,” Dubois said.

And, noted Davila, thanks to the jet’s exceptional power, he can perform one of the tightest possible loops — if conditions permit.

U.S. military jets cannot fly unless there is a minimum ceiling of 1,000 feet with visibility of at least 3 miles, said Wayne Boggs, the show’s air boss, who controls all flights.

Which of the three shows the Blue Angels perform — the high, low or flat — differs with these variables.

Even the flat show, performed when conditions are minimal, still has plenty of rolls, crosses and passes, he said.

The main difference? “There’s just no vertical movement; everything is on a horizontal plane.”

Only the most seasoned stunt pilots take to the air when the visibility is reduced, he added.

“We do have performers that are more comfortable performing in those parameters and some that are not.”

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, 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.

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