Look to the skies: High-flying stunts at the Bethpage Air Show


It’s the moment we’ve been eagerly awaiting: Memorial Day weekend has arrived. Besides the observances, parades and barbecues, for so many of us, that annual trek to Jones Beach to watch the action overhead during the Bethpage Air Show is a beloved tradition not to be missed. This year’s extravaganza, on Saturday and Sunday, May 27-28, is helmed once again by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The distinguished squadron, back for their 9th headlining appearance, is joined by other elite military pilots including the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team, the U.S. Marines F-35B Demonstration Team, the U.S. Navy F-18 Growler Legacy Team, and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod Team. 

The Thunderbirds, “America’s Ambassadors in Blue,” demonstrate the extraordinary capabilities of the F-16 Fighting Falcon — the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter jet. The elite military pilots proudly showcase the capabilities of the $18 million,19,700-pound fighter aircraft, which can travel at speeds up to 1,500 mph. Grace meets power in this mix of six aircraft performing formation flying and solo routines. Flying only a few feet from wingtip to wingtip, observers can glimpse the superb skills that all fighter pilots must possess.

Other renowned civilian performers include the always popular Skytypers and their flight squadron of five vintage World War II aircraft. Mike Goulian, North America’s most-decorated aerobatic pilot. Folds of Honor Biplane with Ed Hamill. The American Air Power Museum Warbirds. Long Island’s daredevil pilot David Windmiller. The Warbird Thunder team. The Civil Air Patrol. And the Farmingdale State College Flying Rams, who will fly several of their 22 college-owned aircraft.

The Skytypers, an air show favorite, combine the best of old and new. The team uses five of the remaining World War II-era NA SNJ planes left in the world, meticulously restored with the latest technology.

“These were Navy scout planes used on missions in World War II and the Korean War,” explains Larry Arken, Skytypers’ flight leader. “We’ve modernized them and give them plenty of TLC. We have to take care of our warbirds. They’ve got quite a military history. They’ve landed on aircraft carriers and as fighter trainers they trained the Greatest Generation.”

The Farmingdale-based Skytypers are, of course, a familiar sight along beaches in the northeast with their skytyped messages generated at an altitude of 10,000 feet with puffs of smoke in dot matrix-style letters. Those messages will be on full display during the show, following their aerobatic routine.

“We like to think of this as the largest text message in the world,” Arken says.

Each message is two miles long and as tall as the Empire State building. Visible for 30 miles, they can be seen by 4 million people, according to Arken.

His planes’ flying maneuvers also command attention in their five-ship formation.

“We fly low, at 500 feet,” Arken says. “We’re known for our precision skills that involve 18
minutes of dynamic maneuvers. We’re always improving our planes and refining our routines.”

His team is a close-knit group of five pilots, with decades of military and professional experience.

“I like to say once you check in you never check out. The camaraderie of our team is what makes us special,” he says.

“We’re thrilled that this is our 20th year with the show. It’s so important to us as it’s our home show. For many of our friends, it’s the only time they get to see us (perform). We are always excited to be here and put a smile on people’s faces. It’s great fun to fly down low and see everyone on the beach. This is an awesome weekend, and all the performers are great at what they do.”