2008 Thunder Over the Boardwalk Airshow
Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey
Airshow Report written on August 30, 2008.
First of all, I want to apologize for the lateness of this airshow report. I've had several DVDs that had to get released on time (well, one, but that was a four-disc set) and I was trying to get all of the videos from Atlantic City encoded. Nonetheless, they are all being uploaded and here I am with this airshow report.
I've gone to Atlantic City every August since 2003, which was the first year for the Atlantic City Airshow. The Thunderbirds had been the headliners every year since then, with the exception being 2006, when they shared that spot with the Blue Angels. Since then, word had spread not only about the hugely popular Wednesday edition of the show, but also about Tuesday's practice show. Now, with an airshow that's normally held on a military base or on an airport, the practice show day (usually Friday) is not open to the public, but the public sometimes will come out and view from the outskirts of the show site. For a show that's held over a body of water, that's different. There is no way to prohibit access to say, a lakefront or a beachfront, during a practice show, especially when you factor in variables like recreation and local businesses - especially those who cannot risk losing a day's worth of revenue in a slowing economy (for the record - I believe we are in a recession... I don't care what everyone thinks - this is a recession, and I've already done my part to stimulate the economy!). That means that the practice show is now considered a practice show that anyone can come see, and since the 2006 show, more and more people have come out to see the Tuesday show.
My main goal for Tuesday was to see what David Schultz Airshows had in store for a surprise. There was a small bit of hints that were thrown around AirShowBuzz and no one wanted to confirm anything. One of my friends, who works on F-16s for the 177th Fighter Wing, found out that a certain type of aircraft was going to be in the area and presented the question on ASB, but got no answer. When Tuesday rolled around, it turned out he was correct on his guess - four F-22s from the 1st Fighter Wing made a pass down the beach just prior to starting their mission with the 177th Fighter Wing. The Raptors would then return on Wednesday, and from my understanding, were supposed to do two passes. I naturally assumed we were in store for two formation flybys, but I was wrong. The formation roared overhead in echelon, broke away, and each jet performed a max performance flyby and vertical climb before exiting the show area. It was the first time I had seen four F-22s share the same airspace - even though I have seen four F-22s take off from Langley in the past, but on a mission during normal operations.
Single ship demonstrations were on the down side from the 2007 show, but featured two regulars that I somewhat expect to see back in Atlantic City for 2009 plus one aircraft making its Atlantic City debut. Captains Phil "Ritz" Smith and "Wild" Ed Colfer brought back the F-15E Strike Eagle for the third year in a row, and put on a fantastic performance on Tuesday and on Wednesday. This was the last time I would be seeing Ritz and Wild in 2008, as Wild will be moving on to other duties in 2009 and Ritz will remain the demo pilot for the SJ-based demo team for another season. I've had the chance to hang out with Ritz and Wild all season long and both these pilots are class acts all the way and are willing to answer any question you have about the jet and even take time out to take you around the jet. The other regular demo team came from Shaw AFB and Major George "Dog" Clifford, who brought in an F-16. It is rare to have an F-16 demo at the same show site as the Thunderbirds, but at the same time, a treat for me to see the Viper in action, as I usually get to see Eagle and Strike Eagle demos much more often than Viper demos (as of this writing, I have yet to see F-15 West this year and have made it a point to see them before the year is out - and distance is not a factor on this one). Dog has a real tough time trying to steal the thunder away from Ritz & Wild, but did a great job on the vapor side of things on Wednesday. Both the Strike Eagle and Viper joined up with a pair of Mustangs - flown by Jim Beasley Jr. and Lee Lauderback - for a Heritage Flight.
The demo that made its Atlantic City debut was the F/A-18F Super Hornet. I don't recall who flew the demo, but they easily stole the show away from both the Strike Eagle and the Fighting Falcon on both days. Wednesday's show was a prime example of that, with the Super Hornet drawing up more vapor than both ACC demo teams combined, which included several nice cones of vapor during the high speed pass. The demo seemed much shorter than usual, but that was due to the result of having to perform a Legacy Flight as well, which featured Dan Dameo flying an FG-1D Corsair alongside the Super Hornet. I don't really enjoy the Legacy Flights as much as the Heritage Flights because they are not as exciting and not quite built up like a Heritage Flight is. Maybe in 2009 we will have a Legacy Flight profile that will mirror that of the Heritage Flight... or maybe I might be dreaming a little too much...
As typical with Atlantic City, we had a Search & Rescue demonstration, as performed by the Coast Guard with two HH-65 Dauphins. I still miss having an HH-60 in the demonstration, but I suppose having just the two Dauphins is good enough. I've seen a lot of Search & Rescue demonstrations over land, but nothing compares seeing one over water. Wednesday's demonstration concluded much differently than I've seen in the past, with the rescue swimmers diving back into the water and not being rescued. I thought they would swim over to the show center boats, but the one nearest to me actually swam to shore to cheering and applause from everyone around me. I've never seen that before and I thought that was just too cool. It's a shame the video camera was off at the time. In addition to the Coast Guard demo, we had another Search & Rescue demonstration, with this one coming from the 106th Rescue Wing. The 106th is based in Long Island at Gabreski Field and always does a demonstration over Jones Beach for their airshow, and it was a huge treat to see them bring an HC-130 Hercules and an HH-60 Pave Hawk to Atlantic City. I absolutely love the 106th's demo, but at Atlantic City, I was quite disappointed in the fact that the water rescue part of the demo was performed way out in the water rather than close to shore like it is in Jones Beach.
Aerobatic performances for this year's show included a roster that I've never seen in Atlantic City before. The likes of Matt Chapman, Ed Hamill, Greg Poe, the Red Eagles Aerobatic Team, Tim Weber, and Josh Wilson all flew during the show. Atlantic City was the fourth time I had seen Matt Chapman and Ed Hamill fly and only the second time I had seen Greg Poe this year. The Red Star Formation Team also flew, but under the Northeast Raiders title. The Red Stars actually put on a pretty exciting performance, which has gotten MUCH better and much more exciting over the last year or so. I can see these guys putting on a spectacular performance once they get more shows under their belts and possibly a surface card. The best thing is that each pilot is based out of Flying W Airport, which is less than ten minutes away from where I live. Atlantic City was also the debut show site for Josh Wilson's new airshow act. Josh flies a Yakovlev Yak-50 in an aerobatic performance that highlights the aircraft's capabilities. I had met Josh at Jones Beach, where he flew in the Yak-50 in hopes of being a part of that show, but he did not fly during the Jones Beach airshow. He did, however, fly in the Memorial Day airshow at Republic Airport. That day was a VERY windy day, with winds blowing at a steady 20 knots right down one of the runways. Josh did fly that day, and with the winds being as strong as they were, he showed off exactly how much power his Yak-50 has. I am not exaggerating when I say this, but that day, he and his aircraft literally leaped off the runway in less than fifty feet! I can't wait to see what he has in store for his performance once he gets more shows flown and the aerobatic cards become 250 feet and then surface.
Flybys are always plentiful at Atlantic City, which included the 177th Fighter Wing's F-16s, a KC-10 and C-17 from McGuire AFB (the C-17 was actually flown by friends of a friend of mine who is a KC-10 pilot), a KC-135R from McGuire's 108th Air Refueling Wing, the FAA Tech Center's DC-3 and Global Express, a CH-46 Sea Knight, two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from Willow Grove, and another C-17 - this one coming from Dover AFB. The Golden Knights also jumped into Atlantic City twice each day, and Tuesday's morning jump featured one jumper - Ben Borger - flying into the show site in a wing suit. The wing suit is relatively new to the Golden Knights, and I will ask Ben to elaborate a bit more into it for me, and when he does, I will include that right in this airshow report.
As always, the Thunderbirds helped close out the show. I wasn't expecting a whole lot out of the Thunderbirds after seeing a lot of the Red Arrows in the month of June, but the Thunderbirds put on an excellent performance on both Tuesday and on Wednesday. The only problem with their performance that I (and everyone else) took note of was that the slot pilot had to drop out of the performance just prior to their closing pass as a result of a fuel critical issue. I don't know and don't remember if you could hear him call "bingo" on the video but I definitely remember hearing it. There were no issues with any of the jets on either day, which was a welcome relief, since the Thunderbirds had issues in Quebec on their Sunday performance there, and from what I had heard, for most of 2008.
Overall, this was the best run Atlantic City Airshow ever, with David Schultz and his team doing an incredible job in the timing between each act, and in fact it was so good that I missed parts of the show as a result! There will definitely be a 2009 show, and as Mr. Schultz explained on ASB and over the public address system (and radio) that Atlantic City's airshow is here to stay because of the Borgata willing to sign on as the presenting sponsor for future shows. There were still commercial breaks during the 2008 show when it was broadcasted over WOND, but the station was kind enough to time the commercial breaks at the right spots during the show and especially commercial-free during the Thunderbirds. As nice as that was, I still think there is a need for a PA system similar to the setup that Jones Beach had for their 2008 show.
Military Demonstration Teams
US Army Golden Knights
Military Aircraft Demonstrations & Flybys
106th Rescue Wing - HC-130P & HH-60G
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
Josh Wilson - Yak-50
Jim Beasley, Jr. (P-51 Demo)
Lee Lauderback (P-51 in HF)
Northeast Raiders Formation
NJ State Police Bell 206 & S-76
FAA Tech Center DC-3, Global Express
USAF Heritage Flight
US Navy Legacy Flight