2006 Thunder Over the Boardwalk Airshow

Atlantic City Beachfront, New Jersey

Wednesday August 23, 2006

Airshow report written on August 20, 2006.

I am going to break tradition a little bit with this airshow report since there really isn't a performer at Atlantic City's Airshow that I haven't seen in the past.  Over the last three years, Atlantic City has grown from a place that had not hosted an airshow in over ten years (the last airshow was held at the Atlantic City International Airport) to a world-class airshow held along the famous Jersey Shore and the even more famous Atlantic City Boardwalk.  In 2003, the first Atlantic City "Thunder Over the Boardwalk" airshow was held and was welcomed by a crowd of more than 250,000 people.  The Thunderbirds and Golden Knights helped bring in the crowds, which also got treated to demos by the A-10, F-15, F-16, and F-14, along with flybys from the KC-135, KC-10, C-141 and many more aircraft.  The show was a big success and it was agreed that there would be a 2004 show.

While the 2003 crowd was kept down because the show was held on a Wednesday (and was put together in less than four months), the 2004 show was also held on a Wednesday in August, but pushed ahead by two weeks.  The Thunderbirds returned, along with the Golden Knights, the A-10, F-15, F-16 and F-14 demos, and a whole slew of flybys were scheduled as well.  Crowd size doubled in part because of two reasons - word got around about the Atlantic City airshow (which was planned in almost the same time frame as the 2003 show) and since the show was moved to the middle of August, that opened up an entire new demographic group that could attend - college students.  Many students had not gone away to their respective colleges and universities by the time the 2004 show came around.  The 2004 show also provided a farewell to two aircraft that had attended the 2003 show.  The last F-14 Tomcat demonstration in the Delaware Valley took place in Atlantic City, with VF-101 tearing up the boardwalk with the mighty Tomcat and the C-141B Starlifter made its last New Jersey airshow appearance with a flyby, as all of the active duty Starlifters were retired the following month.  The Thunderbirds also closed out the 2004 show for the first time.  There was no doubt that there would be a 2005 show.

The Thunderbirds had agreed to perform at the 2005 show, which was scheduled for a Wednesday, but it was scheduled for the last day of August.  The lineup looked very promising, with aerobatic performers being added to the lineup, which included demonstrations by the A-10 and F-15.  John Klatt, Michael Hunter, and Kirby Chambliss made their Atlantic City debut as well as a demonstration by the AV-8B Harrier.  However, with the very active hurricane season and the remnants of Hurricane Katrina knocking on the door near Atlantic City, many flybys were cancelled because of the weather and deployments to the areas of the country affected by Katrina.  Atlantic City was supposed to get a bill of bad weather for the show, but the weather stayed inland and a strong ocean breeze kept hazy skies over the beach for the third year in a row.  Making matters worse, the strong wind kicked up the sand and the sea spray, making it a nightmare for everyone - fogging up lenses on cameras and glasses alike, which is the reason why you don't see any videos from the 2005 show on my site.  The show was still a success despite the weather, and more than 250,000 people showed up.  Plans for the 2006 show were already underway.

When the jet team schedules were released in December 2005, Atlantic City was placed on the Thunderbirds' schedule for August 23.  The Golden Knights and the Black Daggers had also signed on to perform (both parachute teams were signed on for 2005 but were unable to jump because of the winds).  The aerobatic performer lineup looked solid, with Michael Hunter, John Klatt, the Skytypers, Kirby Chambliss, and Sean Tucker signed on to perform over the Boardwalk.  Kirby was somehow replaced by Greg Poe, who I would have done the performer brief for, but was regretted to add more military aircraft to the lineup.  Air Combat Command provided their largest participation in the airshow, with the new F-15E Strike Eagle Demo Team, the Viper East Demo Team, a B-2 Spirit flyover, an F-22 Raptor flyover, and the QF-4E Phantom in the Heritage Flight.  In the end, Sean Tucker, Michael Hunter, and the Skytypers were the only civillian performers, with Jim Beasley doing a short aerobatic display in his Mustang.

In March 2006, rumors began to speculate across the ICAS Message Boards and the Fence Check Forums on the "To Be Announced" date of August 23 listed on the Blue Angels' schedule.  Were the Blue Angels scheduled to do a flyover somewhere?  Are they coming to Atlantic City?  Those questions remained unanswered for a couple of weeks.  The Blue Angels had the previous weekend scheduled for Chicago, and it seemed somewhat feasible that they could perform at Atlantic City.  Ultimately, the rumor was true - the Blue Angels had confirmed they would be at Atlantic City!  The August 23 date had promised a crowd size equal to that of the 2004 show, but with the Blue Angels confirming their appearance, I predicted that there would definitely be more than half a million people in attendance for the airshow.  The Black Daggers were dropped from the schedule, but that was ok since I knew I was going to see them at Lancaster the following Saturday.  The only thing that would hurt the 2006 show would be either an event that would prevent the airshow from going forward or the show being rained out.

With a week away, I had watched the weather carefully each day until the airshow day.  The last time the two teams performed together at a public show (not counting Dayton 2003, as the Snowbirds were there too) was at Andrews AFB in 2000, which was an almost complete washout.  I feared the same thing for Atlantic City, but as the days drew closer, every weather website was forecasting the best weather possible for show day - abundant sunshine.  More and more people from all over the country who knew about the show and weren't going to make it decided at the last minute to book flights and drive six or more hours to see the best airshow in New Jersey.  Tuesday's practice show was supposed to have clear skies, but high clouds prevented the clear skies from prevailing all day.  I wasn't complaining, as it was the first time it wasn't hazy over Atlantic City!  Both the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels got to practice on Tuesday and the Thunderbirds even took some of the Blue Angels up on Tuesday's!  The Blue Angels returned the favor on Wednesday by putting a two-seater in the #4 position and letting a Thunderbird pilot get a ride.  The 2006 show certainly had the best lineup one could ask for at an airshow, with 85% of the displays being military aircraft!

I had made sure that I wanted to get to Atlantic City nice and early on show day, getting there around 8:30 in the morning.  I recommended that everyone I know who would be attending to arrive no later than 9, and most took that advice.  For the first time that I can remember, the schedule David Schultz put on his site was verbatim to how he had everything run.  Flybys were on time.  Demonstrations were on time.  Even when they were ahead of schedule, they placed the gaps in accordance with the schedule so that everything would fly by or demo when it was scheduled.  Both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds put on spectacular displays, with 50% of the crowd I asked saying the Blues put on the better show while the other half said the Thunderbirds put on the better show.  One of the performances I was looking forward to the most was the F-22 Raptor.  Lt.Col. Michael "Dozer" Shower provided Atlantic City with the now standard "Dozer" profile, which features a sneak peak at the demonstration profile from behind the crowd.  Dozer formed up for the second Heritage Flight, which included the F-22, F-15E, F-4, and P-51.

The weather was absolutely perfect.  It was practically clear over the ocean, while partly sunny skies appeared inland.  There was a little breeze, which somewhat helped cool down everyone, but it didn't help my sunburn at all.  Crowd estimates were said to be upwards of over 600,000 people on the beach and the boardwalk, making the 2006 show the largest attended event held in Atlantic City.  This was the best airshow ever put together at Atlantic City as well as the best airshow I've ever attended in New Jersey and the best of 2006.

Will both teams return next year?  I can't tell you for sure.  I can tell you that the underlying reason why the Blues came was because this would be the show where both teams have their annual reunion and flyoff - they just happened to fly a public airshow at the location as well.  The Snowbirds had absolutely no way of attending, since they had to fly from Western Canada to attend the show and then fly to Ontario for another show.  Nothing in the world (except maybe Thunderbirds plus a foreign jet team, excluding the Snowbirds) could top this year's lineup.

The only things that plagued this year's show was the same things that plagued the 2003, 2004, and 2005 shows - the PA system.  I recommend that there should be a lot more speakers set up going towards the beach and loud enough so that anyone at the water can hear the system.  The simulcast is still plagued with commercial breaks at inappropriate times, and in my opinion, the main sponsors of the show should set aside money to WOND so that they can cover the airshow without having to break for commercials.  Finally, with the sound system, a private, discrete, unannounced FM band should be set up to sync up with the PA system so people wouldn't have to deal with commercials.  This FM band would not be publicly announced anywhere, either by word of mouth or on the Internet other than "yeah, there is an FM band simulcasting what the announcer is saying but you have to find it yourself".

Many thanks to David Schultz Airshows, the 177th Fighter Wing, Lt.Col. Michael "Dozer" Shower and everyone involved in putting together a massive airshow like this one.


Military Demonstration Teams

  • USAF Thunderbirds
  • US Navy Blue Angels
  • US Army Golden Knights

Tentative Military Demonstrations

  • 177th Fighter Wing
  • B-2 Spirit Flyby
  • C-17 Globemaster III Flyby
  • F-15E Strike Eagle Demo Team
  • F-16 Fighting Falcon East Coast Demo Team
  • F-22 Raptor Flybys
  • HH-65 Dauphin & HH-60 Jayhawk SAR Demonstration
  • HU-25 Guardian Flyby
  • KC-135E Stratotanker Flyby
  • KC-10A Extender Flyby
  • P-3C Orion Flyby
  • QF-4E Phantom II Flybys

Civillian Demonstrations

  • Sean Tucker
  • Michael Hunter
  • Jim Beasley, Jr.
  • The Skytypers
  • USAF Heritage Flight

Participating Organizations

  • David Schultz Airshows
  • FAA Tech Center (Global 5000 and Boeing 727)
  • New Jersey State Police (S-76A SWAT Demo)

Announcer: Howdy McCann

Gates Open: N/A - Beach Show

Showtime: 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM

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