ATLANTIC CITY — Beachgoers were treated Tuesday to a preview of the airshow slated for today as pilots practiced their aerial stunts.

Hundreds lined the beach looking up as the planes flew by, down from last year’s practice, said a police officer on duty.

“Last year practice day was a little busier,” said Derek Leyman, of the State Police.

Jim Record, a pilot with the Geico Skytypers, said although the military planes aren’t here this year, and the crowds will miss them, his act involving five planes is “military-type.” Most pilots are former military and practice with the same discipline, he said.

Practice day and show day are exactly the same, Record said. All he worries about is doing his job, not how many people are watching.

Jack Welker, 66, of Pine Hill said he has heard about the show for years and was finally able to come and watch. “I came specifically to watch the practice and beat the crowds,” he said. Welker served in the Air Force in the 1960s as a mechanic crew chief and said he was sorry the Thunderbirds were not performing.

Jim Oetting, 73, of Voorhees, said he also came just to watch the practice.

The history buff said he loves watching the show, especially the World War II-era planes, and was able to identify Mustangs as they flew by.

Though he drove to Atlantic City on Tuesday, he wasn’t sure if he would make it for the day of the show due to the congestion in the city.

“It’s best to watch the show on the beach,” Oetting said. He also likes this year’s show being midweek instead of on a Friday, which was the case last year.

The crowds are typically about 50 percent of what they will be on show day, according to Douglas Mason, with Atlantic City EMS Communications.

“Attendance is not nearly up to what was expected,” said Deputy Chief Joseph Nolan of the Atlantic City Police Department.

For some, though, it doesn’t matter.

Veteran airshow watchers, Debbi Ker, 56, and her son DJ, 19, of Warwick, N.Y., have come down every year for the show and love watching the planes.

“There’s no difference,” DJ Ker said.

Both said coming on practice day is more relaxing, and they have been attending for the past six years.

Bill, 55, and Laurie McHutchinson, 46, of Magnolia, said they were in Atlantic City on their day off to enjoy the beach and were unaware of the airshow. This was their first time watching an airshow live.

“I’ve never been to an airshow,” said Laurie McHutchinson. “I love coming to the beach, but this is an awesome way to spend the day. Some of the best things we do are by accident.”

Pedestrians on the Boardwalk came to a standstill as a Harrier jet hovered over the water near the beach between Caesar’s Pier and Tropicana Casino.

Sarah and Matt Diner, of Lancaster, Pa., said it was an impromptu trip to Atlantic City, and the last time they saw an airshow was in the 1970s.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Sarah Diner said.

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