The 9th annual Bethpage Federal Credit Union Jones Beach Air Show got off to a thunderous start Saturday morning, as thousands of Long Islanders descended on Jones Beach State Park to enjoy the festivities and welcome in the unofficial start to the summer season.
It was a picturesque morning at the popular beach, with families setting up vibrant umbrellas in the sand while others lined the two-mile long boardwalk as they visited vendors, posed for pictures and grabbed refreshments from drink carts scattered through the beach.
Organizers and the enthusiastic crowd couldn’t have asked for better weather to kick off Memorial Day Weekend. The sun sparkled and the air show began without a hitch, just one day after practice was canceled due to inclement weather.
“It’s like a family affair,” said Joe Gandolfo of Levittown, a military veteran. “It’s a great event.”
Gandolfo, like others, couldn’t take his eyes off the pilots of the impressive aircrafts using the sky above Jones Beach as their own aerial playground.
More than 350,000 people are expected to attend the two-day event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
The event kicked off with the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team soaring through the sky just after 10 a.m. One Golden Knight after another dropped from the heavens and precisely landed on a large “X” laid out on the beach. The crowd below cheered as their black and gold outfits emerged from the pale blue sky.
“The parachute to me is unbelievable,” said Gandolfo, impressed with how Golden Knights can land “exactly where they’re supposed to land.”
Then the planes roared through the sky, performing awe-inspiring aerobatic demonstrations as beachgoers looked on in astonishment.
“Absolutely amazing,” said Ruben Ortiz, 47, of Allentown, Penn., an Army veteran who brought his wife and young son to Jones Beach for the first time. “You see it on TV, you see it on video, but it doesn’t do it justice.”
There’s nothing like being at Jones Beach and witnessing the event live, he added.
Some Long Islanders, such as Pete Motkler of Bay Shore, came out because of their love for airplanes.
“I just love planes,” said Motkler, a pilot.
“It’s amazing, especially what the F-22 pilots go through,” he added, peering into the sky as a military plane flew by. “That aircraft is amazing.”
Although the thousands who came out for the event were lured by the bright sun and jaw-dropping stunts, some traveled to Jones Beach to salute the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and to thank those who are away in distant lands still fighting for their country.
“Today is a very important day for all American people to enjoy each other and celebrate for our lost ones,” said Jose, 45, from Port Washington.
“I’m a veteran so it actually means a lot to me,” added Gandolfo. “It’s not for shopping and malls and sales, it’s to honor the people who serve.”