2009 Thunder Over the Boardwalk Airshow
Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Airshow report written on August 21, 2009.
For the seventh straight year, Atlantic City played host to a fantastic airshow over the Boardwalk. Since its inception in 2003, which was planned and put together in a span of less than four months, Atlantic City's airshow has grown from a small start-up show to one of the largest and most popular beach shows in North America. The 2009 show was no exception, and once again, was held on a Wednesday. Many people have asked me why this show is on a Wednesday and if it will ever be on a weekend. Truth be told, having the show on Wednesday actually benefits the city, the casinos, and all of the performers, and in the end, benefits the spectators. Since most people who will be reading this airshow report are not from New Jersey or neighboring states, I will take time to explain most of the reasons behind a Wednesday show:
ECONOMICS. Most visitors who go to Atlantic
City do weekend trips, and demand for hotel rooms in all of the casinos goes up
on Friday nights and Saturday nights. Those rooms go up in price on those
nights (which basically applies everywhere else in the world). During the
week, it is actually cheaper to go to Atlantic City and be able to get a cheaper
room at one of the hotels or casinos. That rule is nonexistent during
airshow nights (Sunday night through Wednesday night the week of the airshow)
because of the show's popularity. Oh yeah - look at how much many casinos
charge for parking. I usually park at Trump Plaza, and on Tuesday, they
wanted $20 for parking and $30 for parking on Wednesday. Trump One
cardholders pay $5. 'Nuff said right there. All of the other
businesses along the boardwalk benefit in some way on airshow day due to the
giant crowds that Atlantic City pulls in.
PERFORMERS. I've been told that Atlantic
City will always be a Thunderbirds show. Most airshows only get one or two
single ship demonstrations, while Atlantic City gets at least two single ship
demonstrations as well as a large contingent of military aircraft doing
flyovers. Most military bases with aircraft based and within 200 miles of
Atlantic City ordinarily are flying training missions and can utilize the
airshow as part of their training (think timing).
SPECTATORS. Try driving down to Atlantic City and/or any of the shore points in New Jersey on a Friday or Saturday. If the weather is supposed to be beautiful, the drive can take double or triple that of what it'd normally take if there were no traffic. Now put a major airshow at one of those shore points and I'm sure you get the idea. A Wednesday show limits some of that shore traffic, but there's still going to be a lot of traffic into and out of Atlantic City just for the airshow.
Because of the recession, the airshow lineup and timetable was reduced quite a bit, but the lineup was still absolutely impressive. It should also be noted that even with the economy in a recession, the amount of sponsors for this year's show was actually larger than for the 2008 show! The crowds for the 2009 show were conservatively estimated at 750,000 - much larger than the 600,000 estimate for the 2008 show, and that's just the Wednesday crowd. Word is getting around about the Tuesday practice show, which is open to the public, and I'd estimate about 5-15% of the Wednesday crowd was in attendance for Tuesday. The numbers for Wednesday are amazing, considering that around 5 am thunderstorms rolled through Atlantic City and the forecast for the day predicted at least a 40% chance for storms - typical for the shore and the Delaware Valley for the summer. The worst of the weather we had for the airshow were low clouds when the Golden Knights made their first jump, and as a result, they had to jump from 4,000 feet. It cleared out for the remainder of the show - keeping all of the threatening clouds over land and clear and hazy over the aerobatic box.
The performer lineup for the 2009 show was outstanding, with the Thunderbirds and Golden Knights highlighting the show. Military demonstrations included a combat search and rescue demonstration from the 106th Rescue Wing, an A-10 demonstration, an F-16 demonstration, and a Super Hornet demonstration. The Coast Guard also provided a search and rescue demonstration, and Rob Holland, the Red Eagles, Tim Weber, Josh Wilson, and the Horsemen rounded out the aerobatic lineup. All of the New Jersey-based military aircraft made flybys, as well as an E-2C Hawkeye, two C-130s from Niagara Falls, a CH-46 Sea Knight, two A-10s from the Pennsylvania ANG (representing one half of all of the A-10s based at Willow Grove), and four F-22 Raptors. Chopper 3 from KYW-TV, the NJ State Police, and the FAA Tech Center also provided flybys, and there was also a Heritage Flight and a Legacy Flight. Quite an impressive lineup for an airshow lasting slightly over four and a half hours.
With regards to some of the flybys, this was the second year in a row where the New Jersey Air National Guard sent in a KC-135R Stratotanker rather than a KC-135E. Reason being is that the 108th Air Refueling Wing has finished converting over to the R-model this year and is retiring its last E-model in September 2009. The wing went from approximately twenty KC-135E aircraft down to approximately eight KC-135R aircraft. One of the E-models was actually retired to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB a week and a half before the Atlantic City show and it was bittersweet and sad knowing that the Es are being silenced over New Jersey. To my knowledge, McGuire AFB and the 108th ARW had one of the highest dispatch rates with their Es and from what I understand, has some of the worst R-models in the entire Air Force. There is no word on the single C-135B that is based there, and I'm sure I won't find out its status because its mission is classified and I've heard stories of people getting arrested for taking pictures of that aircraft. There is also word of at least one white C-32 based on the 108th's ramp that might be taking over the C-135B's mission, but again, might also be on a need-to-know basis.
The 2008 show featured as a surprise, four F-22 Raptors making a pass over the shoreline. The Raptors were in the area and were scheduled to cross-train and dogfight with the F-16s of the 177th Fighter Wing. Many airshow fans wanted the Raptors back, and they returned for 2009. The F-22s broke formation and each performed an unrestricted climb with copious amounts of vapor coming off each jet. The KC-135R played tanker role during that training mission, and I'm sure the KC-10 did too. At the rate the Atlantic City show is going, I imagine there will be four F-22s in the next show and they will fly a similar mission following their flybys. As I said above, the is the perfect show for any military unit or aircrews to simply do a flyby or two and include it in a standard training mission. I could come up with a laundry list of units and their aircraft that could be included in next year's show, but it's not necessary to waste time listing them here and it's also not worth sending me an e-mail with ideas (in other words, DON'T SEND ME YOUR IDEAS!).
Among the aerobatic acts featured at Atlantic City were the Horsemen, Josh Wilson, and Rob Holland. This was the third and final time I would have a Horsemen show for the 2009 season and once again, I was very impressed by the team. Jim Beasley Jr. was supposed to have his Spitfire in the airshow but from what I understand, the Spitfire has an unusual repair that needs to be completed, which precluded from it's appearance over the Boardwalk. As a result, Josh Wilson was able to get his Yak-50 into the show. Josh had told me the weekend before Atlantic City that he included a new maneuver or two in the act, and I think it looked pretty good. He also seems to be establishing a "trademark" of sorts in his routine, as I've seen pictures of him flying by the Pier either waving or giving a signal. He told me some good news regarding the act, and that is the fact that he will be bringing the act closer to the ground coming next airshow season. Currently, Josh's aerobatic hard deck is 500 feet, and he will be able to bring it down to 250 feet for the start of the 2010 airshow season. Keep an eye out for him as he has an act that looks great even with the 500 foot hard deck! Rob Holland actually managed to add Atlantic City to his schedule about six weeks prior to the show day and now has one heck of an aerobatic performance. However, his Wednesday display was cut short due to a major airframe issue. He landed safely at Atlantic City International Airport and later that night showed me the culprit. I did catch his Tuesday practice and he has such an amazing new aerobatic routine. That's all I'll say...
The single ship demonstration teams were at the top of their game at Atlantic City. It's tough to say that an A-10 demonstration can be good, but Captain Johnnie "Dusty" Green actually flew a great demo on Tuesday as well as on Wednesday. Major George "Dog" Clifford also flew two fantastic F-16 demonstrations, especially on the heels of the fantastic demos I saw him fly at Rhode Island. The Super Hornet demo team from NAS Oceana put on three fantastic demonstrations over the two days, with two of the demos actually pulling a cone of vapor out of the air during the high speed pass. The Thunderbirds helped to close out the show, and they looked pretty good, despite the haze moving in during their performance. In the seven years that the Atlantic City airshow has been put on, the Thunderbirds were the highlight of each show, and the 2006 show actually featured the Blue Angels in addition to the Thunderbirds. I imagine the Thunderbirds will return for the 2010 event, which will probably be even larger than the 2009 show.
Finally, it should be noted that for the third time in the seven years of the show that airshow announcer Gordon Bowman-Jones was the primary announcer for the show. Gordon announced the premiere in 2003 as well as the 2005 show. Because of the presence of David Schultz Airshows, whose staff did an absolutely AMAZING job keeping downtime to an absolute minimum (and probably did the best job with the downtime than in ANY of the past Atlantic City shows), Schultz's primary announcer Howdy McCann is always the announcer of choice for the show. Two of the major sponsors of this year's show wanted Gordon announcing, and well, he was there. Gordon is also the owner of AirshowTime.com, an interactive website that features live broadcasts of the airshows that feature Gordon's announcing. Unfortunately, Atlantic City could not set up a dedicated internet connection for Gordon to be able to do a live airshow broadcast. More and more airshows are being broadcasted live over the internet in the 2009 airshow season, and that number will definitely grow for 2010. It doesn't mean one can stay home if they are local - it's still better to experience an airshow live than it is on your computer.
Overall, this year's Thunder Over the Boardwalk was a tremendous success. I think next year I will have to expand my Atlantic City time to include Monday night now that I understand why most of the people I went to high school with rave about the Borgata... although I did have a very interesting experience there, and that is not for discussion here and is a subject that is not to be discussed anywhere.
Military Demonstration Teams
US Army Golden Knights
Military Aircraft Demonstrations & Flybys
1st Fighter Wing - F-22 Raptors
106th Rescue Wing Combat Search & Rescue Demonstration
108th Air Refueling Wing - KC-135R Stratotanker
177th Fighter Wing - F-16 Fighting Falcons
NJ ANG Refueling Pass - KC-135R & F-16s
514th Air Mobility Wing - C-17 Globemaster III
514th Air Mobility Wing - KC-10 Extender
914th Airlift Wing - C-130 Hercules (two)
A-10 Thunderbolt II East Coast Demo Team
CH-46 Sea Knight (HMM-774)
E-2C Hawkeye Flyby (VAW-120)
F-16 Fighting Falcon East Coast Demo Team
F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration - VFA-106
USCG Search & Rescue Demonstration
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
KYW-3 Chopper 3
Red Eagle Aerobatic Team
New Jersey State Police
FAA Tech Center Flybys - Global Express
US Navy Legacy Flight
USAF Heritage Flight