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Planning begins for next year’s air show at Jones Beach

AIRCRAFT:  Six FA-18 Hornets. THE SHOW: The six

AIRCRAFT:  Six FA-18 Hornets. THE SHOW: The six jets fly in a diamond formation, close formation and in perform breathtaking Top Gun-style head-to-head maneuvers. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Will there be enough smoke oil, can the jets be securely stored in hangars, will there be at least 30 vehicles for the team and their gear, and where will the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, whose lives partly depend on staying fit, work out?

Though it’s not yet winter, the painstaking operational planning for the 15th Memorial Day air show at Jones Beach began Tuesday.

Navy Lt. Dave Steppe, 32, and Lt. Andre Webb, 31, posed the above questions and many more on a conference call with officials who run the air show after computer problems kept them from flying from Rhode Island to the meeting at Farmingdale’s Republic Airport.

“I’m trying to make this as stress-free as we did last time,” said Steppe, events coordinator for the team, “to try to put on the best show yet — not only for the Blue Angels but for the public.”

The Blue Angels, whose F/A-18 jets top 1,200 mph, in the past have drawn the show’s biggest crowds ever since an unexpected opening in their summer schedule allowed them to perform in the first show in 2004, officials said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard, Marine and Navy recruiters, the state parks department, state and park police, the East Famingdale Fire Department, Republic Airport, and the show’s sponsor, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, all sent representatives to the meeting.

A flawlessly prepared AnnMarie Agostinello, the parks department’s Blue Angels coordinator, provided myriad details on everything from hotels to supplies, including decals for the team’s vehicles.

Some requirements revealed the complications and hazards of holding an air show in one of the busiest U.S. air spaces.

A number of Kennedy flights likely will have to be rerouted, though this year the show can go back to starting at 10 a.m. and finishing at 3 p.m., two hours earlier than last year.

Webb, of Lawton, Oklahoma, who was recently selected to join the elite flight team, recalled how he’d hoped to join the team after seeing the 2016 Jones Beach performance, and said: “I’m very excited to come to the show, I had a great time other than the traffic, and I don’t have to worry about that.”

He added: “I’ll tell my family to walk.”

The many precautions include not just having medical personnel on hand and keeping boaters out of the performance area but installing temporary arresting gear, similar to that used to snag the jets when they can land on carriers, at both Republic and Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield, Massachusetts.

The Blue Angels will honor a few “key influencers,” a dedicated firefighter or revered principal, for example, with demonstration flights, but alternates also should be on hand.

One honoree, Steppe recalled, “got in the cockpit and started screaming, ‘Get me out, Get me out!’ ”

The success of past Blue Angels performances at Jones Beach has built trust, freeing officers from drilling down into every safety measure, such as the exact placement of ocean buoys.

And they will accept the 80-foot-long vessel used in their last show as the “centerpoint,” the pilots’ main point of reference, instead of the 100-foot-long ship usually required.

Webb concluded: “You guys do this every year; it’s a fantastic show, we all love it . . . Thank you for staring at the phone for an hour.”

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