Every year, the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach State Park marks the official start of summer for downstate New Yorkers. Now in its 16th year, the air show, commonly referred to as the Jones Beach Air Show, is traditionally held on Memorial Day weekend with low and high-flying aircraft welcoming summer with a bang.
As with any air show, military aviation typically takes center stage, with almost every branch represented both current and historical, as well as a contingent of civilian performers. AirlineGeeks caught up with two military performers to get a closer look at their demonstrations and the branches they represent.
United States Army Parachute Team
For almost as long as airplanes have been flying, U.S. Army paratroopers have been jumping out of them. Used to drop troops directly on the front lines or into hostile areas not conducive to landing aircraft, parachutes have been used in battle since World War I, but took prominence in World War II on missions including Operation Husky which saw Allied troops begin the liberation of Italy via Sicily and Operation Overlord that began the liberation of France.
Although the army less and less relied on the parachute as helicopters starting arriving on the scene, airborne divisions still live on today and the capability of the army to drop soldiers into war remains the same. Paying tribute to the army’s historical use of paratroopers in war while also demonstrating the army’s capabilities is the U.S. Army Parachuting Team, the “Golden Knights,” which returned once again to the Bethpage Air Show.
For their demonstration, the Golden Knights’ Gold Team utilized the Bombardier Dash 8-300 turboprop aircraft, a former airliner turned military aircraft. Although retired from all major U.S. airlines, the Dash 8 is a versatile short takeoff and landing aircraft once used by the regional arms of Delta, US Airways, America West, Continental and United, among others, for short-haul flights.
A step up from the team’s aging Fokker F27, the Dash 8 is a much-needed upgrade, according to one of the pilots for the team. While the Dash 8s that once flew for the regionals sported around 50 seats in a 2-2 configuration, the Golden Knight’s aircraft does not. With 16 seats up front, the entire back of the aircraft is military aircraft style bench seating along the cabin walls.
Up front in the cockpit, there is an upgraded avionics suite with some gauges replaced with glass screens but the hallmarks of the Dash 8 remain the same.
While modern aircraft used for parachuting operations such as the Lockheed Martin C-130 and Boeing C-17 Globemaster feature automatic doors that can open in-flight, the Dash 8 features no such luxury. The rear door that the parachutists use is left open during the entire flight, bringing the cabin temperatures down dramatically to winter temperatures when at altitude. However, the unrelenting wind is what penetrates into the bones.
One Golden Knight from Wisconsin, Staff Sergeant Mike Koch, admitted that the temperatures were cold even for someone like himself who prefers the colder climates. At high altitudes with no pressurization due to the open door, the main threat is hypoxia where not enough oxygen is getting to the body and which is not easily self-detected.
At 10,000 feet, there generally was no trouble breathing but upon ascending to 12,500 feet, the air was noticeably thinner. The team often does jumps from up to 15,000 feet but for those kinds of high altitude jumps, they are only up there for a minute or two so hypoxia doesn’t set in.
Departing from Farmingdale en route to nearby Jones Beach, a brief 5-minute flight, the parachutists made themselves at home in the Dash 8, undaunted by the task ahead.
Strictly following the air show’s schedule, the Dash held over Zach’s Bay near Jones Beach until it was time for the demonstration. This would be the second time the aircraft stopped by the beach as the Golden Knights open up the show in the morning by flying the American flag over the beach.
Finally, following a low pass over the beach, the mighty Dash 8 ascended to 12,500 feet where its occupants would jump out one by one and land on the beach below.
As they jumped, each performer had half a second at most to pose for the cameras inside the aircraft before physics and gravity took over. Each jump was a carefully planned out maneuver. A scout on the ground relayed wind direction and other measurements to the plane above.
On the airplane, a parachutist kept a watchful gaze upon the landing target below relaying instructions to the pilots in order to best position the plane for every jump.
The casual nature of the parachutists exemplified their skill, jumping off the plane with a smile on their face as casually as one would step off a bus. A fist bump and a smile and out they went.
Performing stunts and maneuvers on the way down, each of the 13 Golden Knights eventually landed on a makeshift landing zone on Jones Beach.
United States Coast Guard Search and Rescue
Tasked with protecting our nation’s shorelines, the United States Coast Guard employs an extensive fleet of aircraft that perform a variety of tasks that ranges from drug interdiction to search and rescue. Similar to the U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard maintains a strong aviation wing that aids its operations on the sea and on land.
The aviation division of the Coast Guard consists primarily of rotorcraft as most of the Coast Guard’s operations require helicopters instead of fixed-wing aircraft. Operating one of the least diverse fleets in the entirety of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Coast Guard only operates two rotorcraft types: the Eurocopter HH-65 Dolphin and the Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk.
On loan from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, an MH-60T Jayhawk demonstrated its search and rescue capabilities during the air show over the weekend. The Jayhawk, the Coast Guard’s version of the widely-known UH-60 Blackhawk, is the largest aircraft is the Coast Guard’s rotorcraft, an upgrade from the Dolphin in size, range and capability.
The Jayhawk, boasting a range of around five hours and 30 minutes, is capable of longer missions without a refuel and features a more advanced all-glass screen cockpit. Additionally, the aircraft features infrared sensors and search and weather sensors to aid its mission.
In addition to Cape Cod, the IFR-certified aircraft can be seen at Coast Guard Air Stations around the country including Clearwater, Fla., San Diego, Calif. And Kodiak, Alaska. For Lt. Nicholas Peters, the aircraft’s pilot-in-command during the demonstration, the location did not matter as long as he was flying the Jayhawk.
Assigned to Cape Cod in his first unit with the Coast Guard, Lt. Peters explained that the Coast Guard does give some flexibility into choosing which aircraft type one will be assigned. Though a Jayhawk pilot now, Lt. Peters can choose to switch the Dolphin or over to fixed-wing operations flying either the Lockheed Martin HC-130, Alenia HC-27J Spartan, CASA HC-144A Ocean Sentry or, with a healthy dose of good luck, the Gulfstream C-37A.
The typical water rescue, as demonstrated during the air show, sees the Jayhawk descend to an altitude of 15 feet where the rescue swimmer then jumps into the water. As the helicopter cannot fly directly over the intended rescue — as the downward force from the rotor, known as rotor wash, creates turbulent waters and may cause the person to drown — the rescue swimmer will often have to swim a small distance to rescue the target.
Once the rescue is in hand, the rescue swimmer then swims back towards the helicopter with the rescue and latches on to a cable attached to a winch that pulls both the swimmer and the rescue into the aircraft. Inside the Jayhawk, the wide and spacious cabin allows for multiple occupants, more so than the Dolphin, where medical treatment can be administered, if necessary.
An interesting capability of the Jayhawk is that it is capable of in-flight refueling, though using a different method than its Blackhawk counterpart. Instead of air-to-air refueling, the Jayhawk is capable of sea-to-air refueling using one of the Coast Guard’s many seafaring vessels. Using the winch, a hook is lowered down to the ship where a fueling hose is attached and brought up to the cabin where the fuel transfer then takes place.
Once complete, the hose is brought back down to the ship and the helicopter can continue its mission. The capability is vital when dealing with extended search and rescue missions as the ocean is often unforgiving to the flight crews searching for lost individuals.
The Coast Guard crew performed the demonstration twice this weekend for the crowd at Jones Beach before flying around New York City on Memorial Day before heading back to their base in Massachusetts.
Showcasing Military Aviation Past and Present
In addition to the Coast Guard and Army, other branches of the military also demonstrated their might in the field of aviation. The U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet demonstration team, an all-volunteer team, showed off one of the Navy’s most advanced aircraft with a flight of two Super Hornets buzzing the beach and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performing ultra-close formation flights and numerous stunts in the skies above Jones Beach with their red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons.
While a tribute to the modern marvels that the U.S. Armed Forces employ, historical warfighters also had their day during the weekend air show. Countless former warbirds from the American Airpower Museum on the grounds of Farmingdale Republic Airport, including the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, North American P-51D Mustang and Grumman TBM-3E Avenger participated in the air show, with the C-47 offering a D-Day Experience flight in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France.
Another highlight of the historical military aviation performance was a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, named Yankee Lady, of the Yankee Air Museum in Michigan. The quad engine bomber was also on display at the American Air Power Museum and offered experience flights throughout the weekend.
All in all, the Bethpage Air Show featured five military performers, each bringing in their own flare and showing the might of the American armed forces both past and present. All across the island, the smoke trails from the performers could be seen by just looking south towards the beach.
As military jets, helicopters, turboprops and piston pounders alike roared out of Farmingdale Republic Airport and Long Island MacArthur Airport, more and more cars piled into the parking lots that line Jones Beach. Summer, which had been a long-time coming for the winter-weary Long Islanders, had officially begun and the tradition of the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach lived on.
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