U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds to headline 2019 Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach… This will be the seventh time the Thunderbirds have performed at the Memorial Day show.
By Joan Gralla — Whether Memorial Day skies will be sunny and clear is one of many unknowable factors, but the list of performers for this year's Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach already is taking shape.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds plan to return for the 16th annual show on May 25 and 26, officials said Friday.
This will be the seventh time the Thunderbirds have headlined the show at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, said George Gorman, deputy regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“We are thrilled to welcome back the United States Air Force Thunderbirds to Long Island,” Gorman said in a statement. “Since the show began in 2004, millions of air show enthusiasts have traveled near and far to help celebrate our nation’s military and the Memorial Day holiday weekend. We look forward to another spectacular show this May.”
The Air Force’s precision flyers, whose name reflects the Native American heritage of their first home base in Arizona, typically alternate with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. The Thunderbirds now make their home at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base.
The Navy’s aviators performed last year and have taken the unusual step of already committing to performing at Jones Beach for the 2020 Memorial Day weekend show, Gorman said.
The 2019 military performers include another U.S. team: the Army Golden Knights parachuters. The Canadian Forces' Snowbirds are taking a break after dazzling the crowds at last year’s show. Though the air show is free, the usual $10 per car parking fee applies.
The military views the air shows as crowd-pleasing events to raise recruiting and showcase the talent and technology they need taxpayers to keep funding, experts say, sometimes with a few assists from social media. In recent weeks the Thunderbirds have posted about organizing their hangar and shown off midair smoke plumes. Last year's show ended a day early due to rain, only the second time a show day had been canceled.
This year’s show again will feature stunt pilots Lt. Col. John Klatt, Matt Chapman and Sean Tucker, who will make his first appearance flying with at least one other pilot instead of solo, officials said. The Westhampton Beach-based 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard, the Farmingdale State College aviation team and the GEICO Skytypers also will take to the skies, Gorman said.
Larry Arken, the Skytypers’ flight lead, said: “We wouldn’t miss it; it’s one of the premier shows in the country.”
Skytypers member Ken Johansen, 52, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, died a few days after last year's air show when his World War II-era plane crashed in Melville. Johansen lost control of the plane shortly after taking off from Republic Airport in East Farmingdale to go to a Maryland air show, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report.
Other performers honored the former Navy pilot by flying a “Missing Man” formation, Arken said, and the team dedicated the first show it performed after the crash to Johansen.
“We’re starting fresh,” Arken said. “He’ll always be in our hearts, no doubt about that.”