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Memorial Day Air Show at Jones Beach, Long Island dazzles crowd

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The annual Memorial Day Air Show at Jones Beach on Long Island is one of the premier events, and this year, the 11th annual event, was one for the ages.

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Less than ideal weather conditions kept crowds to only about 70,000 on Saturday, May 24, but they more than made up for it for Sunday, when over 200,000 flocked to the beach and boardwalk for a dazzling display of prowess and courage.

One of the surprises this year was seeing the USMC V-22 Osprey, demonstrating its unique capabilities of transforming from an airplane-style aircraft, capable of flying 345 mph, to a helicopter, capable of hovering, landing vertically, and flying backwards (seems a bargain at only $70 million apiece). Announcer Robert Reider notes that the critical component is the pilot's left thumb, which is crucial to switching the rotors from helicopter to aircraft mode, so crucial that the "backup" to a pilot losing the use of a left thumb is compensated by having a second pilot. Another surprise was that it was commanded by a female pilot.

Always a particular thrill are the GEICO Skytypers, who use vintage WWII military-style training craft to demonstrate tactical maneuvers, in some cases, with planes coming at each other from opposite points, as well as their precision flying. The team flies six SNJ-2 aircraft, the Navy’s version of the Texan T-6, a WWII training plane.

New this year was a race between two of the Skytyper planes against Miss Geico Powerboat (the powerboat won).

There was also a remarkable demonstration by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachutists, who cannonball out of their mother ship, falling at a rate of 120 mph before they open their chutes, then have to get into a precision "traffic pattern" flowing one behind the other to the landing target. There are also fabulous demonstrations by the US NAVY Parachute Team “The Leap Frogs” and the 106th Rescue Wing SAR Demo, demonstrating how they do a rescue at sea.

There are thrilling displays of aeronautical aerobatics by Sean D. Tucker – Aviation Specialties: Oracle Challenger III, a specially designed biplane, the most powerful in the world, that Sean makes do the most mind-boggling stunts like the inverted "frisbee turn" and the hooey loop (he first started doing aerobatics because he was afraid to fly and now has clocked 21,000 hours and is now recognized as a "Living Legend of Aviation."); Matt Chapman Airshows: Embry-Riddle Eagle 580 (performing his "waterfall" maneuver, among others, David Windmiller: Bethpage Waterfiller Zivko Edge 540 (David is a Long Island native); and John Klatt Airshows Screamin’ Sasquatch.

Then you have the incomparable stars of the show, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who keep your heart pounding through all the maneuvers - whizzing by at more than 300 mph in their F18 Hornets with only 18 inches separation between the planes during their famous "Diamond 360" maneuver, and then hurtling at each other at 400 mph. (See story and slideshow).

The air show also pays homage to America's heritage and Long Island's flying heritage, with an inspiring parade of historic planes, B-17 Yankee Lady and the American Airpower Museum Warbirds, their stories told by the incomparable Air show announcer Rob Reider. This year, he told the story of the Doolittle Raiders, 16 planes which mounted the most audacious raid on Japanese cities, which though relatively little damage was inflicted and all the planes lost (largely because the group was forced to take off 400 miles further because they had been detected by Japanese), caused Japan to shore up its defenses with equipment that might have otherwise been deployed to the battle. "To this day, it is the raid that all others are measured against," Reider said.

Each year, I listen with fascination to the announcer (in his 10th year), Rob Reider, who informs the uninitiated about positive and negative G-forces ("like a vise on the brain") and the fascinating details about the maneuvers, calling the event like a hockey game; and am awed by what the Airboss, Wayne Boggs, must manage - especially this year, with commercial air traffic unusually close to the show area.

Inspired by the air show? Continue your experience by visiting The American Airpower Museum located at 1230 New Hwy, Farmingdale, NY 11735 (Republic Airport). Long Island has a rich aviation history - many of the planes in the show were built by Grumman and Lockheed Martin, were bsed at Republic Airport. Indeed, Roosevelt Field shopping mall was built on where Charles Lindberg took off on his historic cross-Atlantic flight to Paris.

Over Memorial Day Weekend the museum hosts events including Flybys and flight demonstrations with the museum’s WWII era aircraft such as the B-25 Mitchell and P-40 Warhawk; a chance to see upclose historic WWII aircraft such as the C-47 Skytrain and P-47 Thunderbolt; a chance to experience the American Airpower Museum’s bomber simulator.

The experience at the air show is not confined to the Jones Beach event. The Yankee Air Museum stages flight experiences in their B-17 Yankee Lady out of the American Airpower Museum. To secure your seat visit Yankeeairmuseum.org

Also, visit Long Island's Cradle of Aviation Museum, Long Island's air and space museum, including the Jet Blue Sky Theater Planetarium which offers realistic close-up views of Earth, star fields and planets, taking you on an exhilarating flight through a virtual re-creation of our universe. Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, 516-572-4111, Reservations 516- 572-4066, www.cradleofaviation.org.

See also:

US Navy Blue Angels wow crowd at Memorial Day Air Show at Jones Beach, LI and slideshow

Karen Rubin, Long Island Eclectic Travel Examiner

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