Atlantic City Boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Airshow report written on August 22, 2004.

With word getting out around New Jersey about an airshow similar to what one can see in Fort Lauderdale or Myrtle Beach, people flocked to the Jersey shore to see one of the finest airshows in the state. The Chamber of Commerce in Atlantic City officially started the Atlantic City Airshow last year as a last minute effort for the centennial of flight celebration. The 2004 show was a build-up of the 2003 show and also coincided with the 150th Anniversary celebration of the city of Atlantic City, which I was totally unaware of. The show, called the "Thunder Over the Boardwalk" Atlantic City Airshow, officially came to being in late April when then the Thunderbirds announced they would make a return appearance over the Boardwalk, along with the Golden Knights and a show dominated by military demonstrations and flybys and several civillian performers. With David Schultz Airshows taking care of most of the coordination and lineup production, Howdy McCann would be taking over announcing duties from Gordon Bowman-Jones, who announced the 2003 event. Howdy was joined by Pinky Kravitz, who is one of the commentators for WOND 1400 AM, who simulcasted the narration over the radio airwaves. WOND did not take into consideration the acts because they had done station identifications and inserted commercials in the beginning, middle, and near the end of a lot of the acts, including the Thunderbirds! It got very annoying when watching a demonstration and then hearing a commercial break happening in the middle of the demo, with people around you asking "What's that maneuver called?" all the time.

Since the show was in the middle of August, two factors played out in terms of the crowd size and the weather. The crowd size would be much larger over last year's show because more college students would have the time to take in the Jersey shore and an airshow at the same time. The weather factors in because it would be a typical New Jersey summer day - hazy and humid with the threat of thunderstorms at any time during the day. The airshow venue along the Atlantic City Boardwalk is much different than any other show site. For one, you're on the beach, which changes what you can bring to the show. Beach shows allow you to bring whatever you'd bring to spend a day down the shore with the added element of an airshow. Coolers were allowed and encouraged, as you'd be spending the day on the sand. There were no static displays, but there were two tents set up by the Army and Air Force Reserve with their respective recruiters on hand. Local Boy Scout troops had set up areas along the Boardwalk selling programs and one tent had stuff from the 177th Fighter Wing (t-shirts, prints, coins, hats, etc.) and artistic prints. There was also all of the casinos, the restaurants, and the gift shops (selling AC-related airshow stuff that I'm aware of) strewn about along the Boardwalk.

I made my way down the shore and was set up by 8:30 am, with the beach in and around show center filling up really fast as showtime was getting closer and closer. Jim Beasley Jr. made several passes down the beach in the P-51D Mustang Bald Eagle to give a pilot report, since there was low clouds and haze covering the aerobatic box. The Horizon Blue Cross blimp made several passes down the beach after Beasley left and the blimp was also the opening flyby. By the time he came by for his pass, the clouds had let up somewhat for the Golden Knights to do a streamer pass and set up for their jump, which was to take place a little later in the morning. After the blimp returned to Bader Field, the Vultures were in for their demonstration. The Vultures consisted of six Vans RV-8 aircraft, a LongEz and a VariEze and the six aircraft flew in a figure eight pattern over the Atlantic Ocean in different formations to various pieces of music. They flew a very nice performance, which ended with a missing man formation by the Vans RV-8s.

After the Vultures exited the show area, the FAA Technical Center at Pomona made a single pass in their Convair 240. I have been waiting a very long time to see that aircraft in flight, and when he made the pass, it made me wonder what kind of engines it has. I figured the CV-240 was powered by radial engines but it sounded like turboprops. As the Convair 240 exited, the Golden Knights took the stage and one jumper came down from 4,500 feet carrying the Stars and Stripes, with the national anthem being sung as he made his way down to the beach. After he landed and grabbed the microphone, the rest of the Gold Demonstration Team had exited the C-31. The jumpers performed a bomb burst and set up for individual approaches into the target area, with two of the jumpers linked together, separating over the ocean before coming in to land on the beach.

A few minutes after the last Golden Knight jumper landed, a flight of four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, based at Atlantic City International Airport, made a flyby to open the airshow. Compared to last year, the four F-16s flew in a tighter formation, flew slower (as evident by the speed brakes extended on each aircraft), and were a little louder, mainly because we had a good breeze blowing from the ocean throughout the entire day. As the F-16s exited, a KC-135E Stratotanker from the 108th Air Refueling Wing from McGuire AFB, also part of the New Jersey ANG, made a pass down the beach with the boom up. After the KC-135 left the immediate area and set up for another pass, the 305th Air Mobility Wing from McGuire AFB was represented with a KC-10 Extender making a flyby. The KC-10's pass was somewhat of a flat pass, with the boom extended, as most KC-10 flybys are flown. The KC-10 was followed by a C-141B Starlifter, also from the 305th. The C-141 dipped its wings in its flyby, with Howdy stating that it would be the last flyby for that particular aircraft, as all of the C-141s left in the Air Force inventory are being retired by 2006.

Immediately behind the C-141 was a single C-130E Hercules from the 913th Airlift Wing, based at NAS/JRB Willow Grove in Pennsylvania. The C-130 flyby was supposed to be a two-ship but ended up being a single ship. After the C-130 exited, the KC-135E and two of the F-16s from the 177th joined up on each wing of the KC-135 for a NJ ANG flyby. The KC-135 was still in the clean configuration and still had the boom retracted. After the three aircraft departed, the C-130 made one more flyby, concluding with a climb as he exited the show area. A flight of three Coast Guard aircraft were called into the airshow area and I had figured it would be the HH-65 Dauphin, the HH-60 Jayhawk, and the HC-130 Hercules, but it was actually a pair of HH-65 Dauphins and the HH-60 Jayhawk for their simultaneous Search & Rescue Demonstrations. The HH-60 Jayhawk was situated just north of Ocean One Pier (which was being rebuilt) and the two HH-65 Dauphins were situated south of the pier, with one due south and one closer to show right. The Dauphins were based at CGAS Atlantic City while the Jayhawk came from CGAS Cape Cod, MA. After the helicopters performed the SAR, they departed for a go-around and a flyby.

After the helicopters made their final pass, an HC-130H Hercules from CGAS Elizabeth City in North Carolina made a flyby down the shore line. I was a bit skeptical that David Schultz Airshows would actually get this flyby because the large majority of HC-130 airshow appearances, whether or not it was for the flying display or the static display, get cancelled. Atlantic City was supposed to have an HC-130 flyby last year, but it cancelled at the last minute. As the HC-130 departed, the C-17 Globemaster III was inbound for its demonstration. It was my third C-17 demo for the year, which is very impressive considering I hadn't seen a C-17 fly this many times in one airshow season. This was also a very unique demonstration, consisting of a high speed opening pass, a dirty pass and minimum radius turn in the dirty configuration, and a high speed pass with a vertical climb and turnout to exit the show area, which included dipping the right wing for a little bit before climbing. The C-17 demo was provided by the 437th Airlift Wing out of Charleston AFB in South Carolina.

Air Combat Command owned the next several time slots, with all three single ship East Coast Demonstration Teams in attendance for the second year in a row. Captain Matt Kouchoukos took the first of the time slots with the A-10 Thunderbolt II from Pope AFB in North Carolina. Capt. Kouchoukos' demonstration seemed louder than previous demonstrations, mainly because of the wind direction and the casinos behind us, which reverberated the sound back to the beach (not so as much of an echo). After Capt. Kouchoukos left the show area, it was time for Major Geoff "Hack" Hickman to enter the stage with the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Hack represents the Viper East Coast Demo Team, based at Shaw AFB in South Carolina. Hack flew the F-16 demo at Andrews AFB back in May and he flew it way too far from the crowd line. Hack flew the F-16 pretty far from the crowd, but he used a lot more afterburner in the performance, making his demonstration at Atlantic City several times better than the one at Andrews. Hack was able to pull a lot of vapor out of the air!

After Hack concluded his performance with the F-16, he joined up with Capt. Kouchoukos in the A-10, Major Bret "Slam" Anderson in the F-15 Eagle, and Jim Beasley, Jr. in the P-51D Mustang Bald Eagle to fly one of the nicest Heritage Flight formations I have ever seen. The formation made two passes down the beach and the third pass from head-on, performing what looked like a missing man formation, with the F-15 breaking away, then the rest of the aircraft breaking formation. The other three aircraft headed back to ACY while Major Bret "Slam" Anderson took the stage for his demonstration with the F-15. Slam represents the F-15 East Coast Demo Team, based at Langley AFB in Virginia. Slam doesn't fly the F-15 quite as good as Deuce does, and between the two pilots, I've noticed Slam is a little conservative on the afterburner while Deuce uses the afterburner very liberally. Slam flies a great demo but it lacks afterburner usage in certain areas.

As Slam was leaving the show area, Jim Beasley, Jr. came from the right in the P-51D Mustang Bald Eagle for a little aerobatic display. Jim flew a nice display with the Mustang, which included an eight point roll, which I have never seen done with any P-51. I suppose I'm happy he didn't fly Frenesi, since that P-51 is a lot less photogenic in tricky situations. After Jim flew his aerobatic performance, a C-5 Galaxy from the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover AFB in Delaware made a flyby. The C-5's flyby was a bit unique since he had his right wing dipped and flew by with its distinctive annoyingly loud engines roaring overhead. After the C-5 left, the Golden Knights' C-31 Friendship made a pass over the beach, dropping streamers for their jump later on in the day. As they left, it was time for one of the few civillian acts to put on their show. It was a CF-104D Starfighter from the Starfighters Demonstration Team, flown by Rick "Comrade" Svetkoff. He put on a nice display with the Starfighter, but the main problem with it was because of the haze. If you couldn't follow the Starfighter (and many people couldn't because of its size), you could relate each of its passes as a sneak pass.

The most anticipated performance of the day (other than the Thunderbirds) was the F-14 Tomcat demonstration. Flying the Tomcat were Lieutenants Anthony "Opie" Walley and Joe "Smokin" Ruzicka from VF-101 in NAS Oceana. The demo wasn't quite as good as the one put on in Rhode Island a couple months ago, mainly because it is a staged demonstration and the fact that the high speed passes could not be flown in the attitude they are normally flown, but Opie and Smokin managed to throw the Tomcat around so they could squeeze a lot of vapor out of the air, which they managed to do on a number of occasions during the performance. After the Tomcat's demo was a series of U.S. Navy flybys, with the first two being from a P-3C Orion and an S-3B Viking from VX-1 in NAS Patuxent River in Maryland. The P-3's first pass was a double photo pass, showing the topside and the bottom side of the aircraft, followed by a topside pass by the S-3B Viking. Both aircraft returned for a second pass, which was a nice treat, considering many of the flybys David Schultz Airshows coordinates are single pass flybys.

The P-3's second pass was rather unique. The crew dipped the wings like on the first pass, but when the right wing was dipped, its bomb bay doors were closed. As the crew leveled out and began to dip the left wing, they opened the bomb bay doors, so one can get a peek inside (which would have been rather difficult). The doors closed as the aircraft began to level out and the right wing was dipped, repeating the above sequence of events. It was a great way to show the profile of the aircraft. Not to be outdone by the P-3, the crew of the S-3 performed a topside pass, leveling out to perform a minimum radius turn and departing to the south. I would not classify that as being a flyby, but more of a small demonstration. P-3C Orion and S-3B Viking demonstrations are very rare to come by, as the crews from VP-30 and VS-24 (VP-30 handles the P-3 demonstrations and is based out of NAS Jacksonville, Florida and VS-24 handles the S-3 Viking demonstrations - which are usually two-ship demonstration - and is based out of NS Mayport, Florida) perform at usually two or three other show sites besides their own.

It was at this time that the weather became somewhat questionable. As I stated earlier, it was a typical summer day in New Jersey, with the threat of thunderstorms possible at any time during the afternoon. Two dark clouds, one out over the ocean (the main reason why the lifeguards called everyone out of the water, as the waves were getting very choppy) and the other more inland, posed a threat to the remainder of the airshow. We did get a few raindrops during the next performance, which was from a brand new MH-60S Knighthawk from NAVSTA Norfolk in Virginia. The Knighthawk is designed to replace the Navy's CH-46 Sea Knights, providing assistance in the roles of Vertical Replenishment, Combat Search and Rescue, Special Warfare Support, and Airborne Mine Countermeasures. I had assumed this would be another Search & Rescue demonstration, but the crew of the Knighthawk did not do that. They began by approaching from behind the crowd, repositioning to return to show center, lower the rescue winch and fly the US flag (which blew off because of the wind and downdraft caused by the helicopter), and repositioning to fly a 360ยบ turn around a specific point.

The US Army Golden Knights were back for their second jump of the day. Had the weather been ideal, the Golden Knights would have performed their full show, consisting of the traditional baton pass, the cutaway demonstration, the diamond track, and the diamond formation and bomb burst. The team would have had to jump out at an altitude of at least 10,500 feet to do the full show, but because of the threatening clouds (which pushed the show, which was on time and going by the schedule order for most of the day, behind schedule by several minutes), the Golden Knights had to jump from 6,000 feet. This jump had the team performing another mass exit and individual landings, just like they did in the morning. After their show was completed, Doug Dodge took the stage in the Yellow Book Pitts for the second to last act of the day. Doug's performance was shortened to accommodate the Thunderbirds, as time pressed closer and closer to Thunderbird showtime. For some strange reason, Doug flew the Pitts really well, better than I've seen him fly at other show sites - probably because he was the only person flying a real aerobatic display!

Before you knew it, five hours had gone by, seeing many pieces of military hardware fly by, scream by, and hover by, and it was time for the Thunderbirds to close out the show. Again, the weather was playing games with us, but somehow allowed for a high show to take place, with some maneuvers repositioned to avoid the low cloud deck approaching from show right. The Thunderbirds looked great, but they were relegated to a five-ship performance because Major Todd Canterbury, Thunderbird #5, was out on sick leave. He wasn't sick, but spent time welcoming a new addition to his family. One would think that half of the display would be cut out, but Captain Scottie Zamzow, Thunderbird #6, fine-tuned the display so that the diamond pilots would fly their performance in the normal order and Scottie would do a double-duty - flying Todd's maneuvers as well as his. Scottie did real well with that, and had everything flow through smoothly. However, the Thunderbirds did not perform the high bomb burst because of the clouds. The closing pass was with the stinger formation as they headed back to ACY, thus concluding the 2004 version of Atlantic City's Airshow.

I had spent time after the show hanging out with the Thunderbirds, mainly Thunderbird #8, followed by dinner with friends of mine from New York before heading home. Those thunderstorms we were expecting during the afternoon arrived at night in full force, so we were very lucky with the weather!


Military Teams

Tentative Military Demonstrations

Tentative Military Flybys

Civillian Demonstrations

Participating Organizations

Announcer: Howdy McCann

Atlantic City Airshow Homepage

David Schultz Airshows' Atlantic City Airshow Page