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Prep begins for Jones Beach air show

Lt. Col. John Klatt of the United States

Lt. Col. John Klatt of the United States Air National Guard flies over Jones Beach. (May 25, 2011) Credit: AP

Hundreds of thousands of fans will gather at Jones Beach to watch the choreographed maneuvers of aircraft at the Bethpage Air Show this weekend.

A different kind of dance -- no less complicated -- is already under way at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, where employees from the FAA, SheltAir, American Air Power Museum and New York State have been working for months on the logistics of putting dozens of performing aircraft in the sky on time -- while maintaining day-to-day operations at one of Long Island's busiest general aviation airports.

It started in earnest last week, when employees from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the agency in charge of the show, arrived at Republic to help coordinate deliveries of oxygen and smoke oil for the planes and hotel arrangements for the crews. Badges were printed for Civil Air Patrol members who will provide extra security for the weekend, when 5,000 or more spectators will line the airport's New Highway fence, pressing in to get a better view of the planes, which this year include A-10 Warthogs and the only B-29 Superfortress in the world still flying.

By Friday, most of the civilian aircraft performing in the show will have arrived, and about 23 of them will be parked on "Charlie Ramp" outside SheltAir. Technically known as a fixed-base operator, the company acts as a hybrid service station-concierge-valet for pilots and their aircraft. Manager Leonel Rivera will have 50,000 gallons of fuel on hand just for the performers. A street sweeper will clear the tarmac of tiny debris -- pebbles or pen caps can get sucked into an aircraft engine and damage it -- and a small fleet of "lektros" will tow aircraft into place on the tarmac.

On Saturday, when the airport handles more than 800 takeoffs and landings, Rivera's team will have as little as 20 minutes to gas up and prep aircraft. "It's a little like flight operations on an aircraft carrier," he said.

As busy as Charlie Ramp gets, little changes in the airport control tower, said FAA spokesman Jim Peters. Controllers will route incoming traffic into a steady stream with 3 miles' distance between aircraft; outgoing traffic is separated too.

Business doesn't mean stress, he said. The controllers "probably like this period of activity because there's a lot more planes coming in, and that's what they do."

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