Ahead of this weekend’s Bethpage Air Show, a Republic Airport runway was temporarily outfitted with an emergency version of the giant cable system that catches the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels jets when they land on aircraft carriers.
The mobile “arresting gear” was tested late Wednesday afternoon by the first Blue Angels pilot, flying an F-18.
“You’ll see the cable actually act like the brakes on the car,” explained Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Sandberg, 25, who led the installation.
The arresting gear, which is permanently installed at all military bases, is only used in emergencies at air shows.
The responsibility of correctly installing the gear weighed heavily on the Air Force’s 819th RED HORSE squadron.
“I know how nerve-racking it is,” said Staff Sgt. Bryon Wilant, 29, who was part of Wednesday’s team and has led previous installations.
The squadron, officially the Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, spent nearly a week installing the equipment.
The arresting gear consists of the thick metal cable stretched across the runway, which is connected to what the team calls “purchase tape.” This is wound around two giant spools located on opposite sides of the runway.
The term purchase is used because, in military parlance, pilots “purchase” tape when they land.
A “dead man,” a 10-foot-long anchor that resembles a casket, is buried into the ground to hold the cable in place, along with numerous 2-foot-long metal stakes.
Each squad has five electric power producers, who also can handle emergency generators, and four “dirt boys,” who “just do all the earthwork,” Sandberg said.
With the installation work completed well before the Blue Angels arrived, there were a few moments to relax in the sun and mull New York behavior, before the final pretest checks.
“Once we get into the actual serious portion of our job; it’s serious, we take our job serious,” Wilant said.
The Blue Angels jet circled the airport before landing — without using the cable — because it had not yet been tested, Sandberg said.
Once the jet had landed, the pilot lowered the tailhook and powered up for a “fast taxi” down the runway, snagging the cable. The test was conducted a little slower than usual, at about 81 mph.
After the air show, the RED HORSE squadron will reload the gear into the tractor trailer that conveyed it to the Farmingdale airport from their base in Montana.
Their four-day drive was briefly halted at the George Washington Bridge, Sandberg said.
The military, it seems, does not equip its vehicles with EZ Pass transponders.
The toll collector, deeming the Air Force pickup truck he was in to be a commercial vehicle, demanded $15.
Sandberg, however, only had $8 in cash; his persuasiveness prevailed.
The annual air show, held Saturday and Sunday at Jones Beach from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., also features civilian stunt pilots along with the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, and the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds.