Navy officials are dispatching an F-18 fighter jet to perform in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach this weekend, officials said, sweeping in to fill a talent void created when the Pentagon grounded its fleet of Raptor jet fighters over safety concerns.
The switch came as officials investigated reports that another featured craft -- a World War II-era B-29 bomber -- had a "hard landing" Thursday at Republic Airport.
The grounding of the Raptors, announced over concerns about pilot oxygen supply, had clipped the wings of a third high-octane act that organizers hoped would dazzle an audience of hundreds of thousands over Memorial Day weekend.
"We still have an outstanding air show," said George Gorman, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which organizes the air show with Bethpage Federal Credit Union. "We had our fingers crossed and we were hoping the Raptors would still come, but we kind of expected they wouldn't."
The mishap concerning the last operational B-29 Superfortress, though, will not scuttle the plane's appearance.
The show had lost some star power because two elite squads were deployed elsewhere. The Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy's Blue Angels encountered scheduling conflicts keeping the aerobatic teams away.
The show will feature the Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, the A-10 Thunderbolt East Demo Team, F-18 Super Hornet, John Klatt, Sean Tucker, GEICO Skytypers, David Windmiller and American Airpower Museum Warbirds. First-time performers include Mike Goulian, the Wounded Warriors Flight Team, Iron Eagles and a World War II bomber formation that includes a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 and the B-29 "Fifi."
Thursday, World War II veterans John Stubel, 93, of Garden City and Walter Oelerich, 84, of Farmingdale, gazed at the hulking B-29 Superfortress at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale and reminisced about their days in the war.
"I flew in the bombardier's seat, right up in front . . . You see everything," said Stubel, a former mechanic, said as he recalled the time he tested a B-29.
Oelerich, who was on Iwo Jima for 28 days in 1945, praised the craft, saying it saved his life since the Enola Gay and Bockscar -- both B-29s -- dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki three days apart in 1945 that together instantly killed more than 100,000 people and hastened the war's end.
He would have been in the invasion force attacking Japan and said he was sure he would have died there. "I'm here today because of it."
The Jones Beach show runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For details, go to jonesbeachairshow.com or call 516-785-1600.
-- With Gary Dymski