Rob Holland still recalls the day he was walking through a local airport in his native New Hampshire and spotted a pilot washing a slick looking biplane.
Holland, liking the look of the plane, asked to take a picture.
"The guy said, 'Absolutely … but would you like to go for a ride?' " Holland recalls.
Holland, then a college student, jumped at the chance. It was his first time flying upside down - and he was hooked.
"I had this passion for it but had never tried it," Holland says. "That (flight) just reaffirmed everything I already knew. I had to do this someday."
Holland, the current World Unlimited Aerobatic Champion, will fly his MX2 in the 11th annual Atlantic City Thunder Over the Boardwalk Airshow, taking place Wednesday, June 26. The airshow, which runs from noon to 3:30 p.m., will feature a lineup of stunt pilots and vintage fighter planes performing aerobatic maneuvers and stunts, formation flying and solo routines.
The airshow serves as the centerpiece of what has been dubbed a week of "sand, sea and air" activities that will kick off the summer season with free events along the Boardwalk. Other events taking place include Offshore Grand Prix Powerboat Racing (Sunday, June 23) the 3rd Annual Atlantic City Salutes Armed Forces Parade (Monday, June 24) and the World Championship of Sand Sculpting, running through the end of the month.
This year's airshow will not resemble the shows of past years. Federal budget cuts due to sequestration have left the airshow without any military acts, such as the popular U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, for the first time in its modern run. The show is also about three hours shorter and has been moved to June from its usual August date.
Still, organizers insist that the shorter show will still be an exciting spectacle for fans on the beach.
"Normally in any given year there are 400 (airshows) across the U.S. … this year, there are less than 100," producer David Schultz says. "They have either been canceled due to sequestration or budgetary constraints. That (cancellation) was never even considered for Atlantic City. This is ensconced in the culture after 10 years, and we want to continue that. We have fantastic sponsors … and they enable us to do this with or without the military. It's still a free show on a free beach."
"Are people going to be disappointed about the Thunderbirds? Hell, I'm disappointed," Schultz says. "But it's beyond our control. We continue to do quality entertainment on the Atlantic City beachfront … and this is one show people should not dismiss. It will still be a fantastic entertainment value for those who come out. It's still one not to miss."
Stunt pilot Jim Beasley Jr., who has flown in every Atlantic City Airshow, is looking forward to flying his MK 18 Spitfire over the ocean. With 2,000 horsepower, the British single-seat fighter aircraft can reach speeds of 400 mph.
"The planes I'm flying … they're really the end of technology for piston engine fighter planes," says Beasley, who will also fly a P-51 in the show. "They're noisy, they're fast … and you can pretty much do whatever you want in them. It's a real hot ride.
"Dave Schultz has put together a nice series of acts, and it's still going to be exciting," Beasley adds. "The kids are going to love it, the vets are going to love it. It's always a fun day to get off from work."
Before the airshow gets off the ground, there are intense preparations. Pilots will physically walk through their routines on the ground, talking through any issues on show day. Hazy skies, for example, mean there is no defined horizon - a particular challenge for aerobatics.
"When we practice on the ground beforehand, it looks like a dance," says Martin Sheehan, the team leader and tactics instructor for the Raiders Aerobatic Team. "And it's choreographed like a dance. The timing is set by the lead - if you goof up the timing, bad things happen."
Sheehan, a retired lieutenant colonel who flew F-4s in the Marines, will perform a two-plane "teaser set" with fellow Raider pilot Austin Daniel, an F-16 Crew Chief for the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard. That performance lasts about six to eight minutes, he says.
They perform again as part of a four-plane set at 2 p.m., looping in head-to-head passes as they perform their "dance" in the air.
"We do solo aerobatics, then we land, get gas and the four planes take off around 2 p.m. … flying between the surface and 2,000 feet up," Sheehan says.
For Holland, performing death-defying stunts in the air provides the ultimate freedom - and that feeling translates to the thousands who are watching on the beach below.
"When you're up there, there are no other outside factors. It's all about the flying," Holland says. "Who doesn't look up at a bird and say, 'Man, I wish I could do that?' And man, this is the closest I can get to that."
2013 Atlantic City Airshow Schedule
Noon – National anthem
12:03 p.m. – 4ACE Aerobatics
12:15 p.m. – Jim Beasley Jr. Spitfire
12:25 p.m. – Warrior Aviation L-39 Solo
12:32 p.m. – Warrior YAK-9 Solo
12:38 p.m. – Warrior Formation Flights
12:45 p.m. – Raiders Solo YAK-52 Demo
12:55 p.m. – PPG Dan McClung Pitts
1:10 p.m. – Firebirds Aerobatic Team
1:25 p.m. – Matt Chapman CAP580
1:38 p.m. – Jim Beasley Jr. P-51 Demo
1:50 p.m. – USAF Heritage Flight from
USAF Heritage Foundation
2 p.m. – Raiders Aerobatic Team (4-ship)
2:20 p.m. – Bill Stein Extra 330 Aerobatics
2:32 p.m. – Art Nalls, British Aerospace Sea Harrier demo
2:45 p.m. – Rob Holland MX-2 Aerobatics
3 p.m. – Geico Skytypers (6-ship)
Schedule subject to change contingent upon aircraft availability, maintenance and weather. Airshow Park & Ride transportation will be available at the following locations on Wednesday, June 26: The South Jersey Transportation Authority will be providing a Park & Ride at the Atlantic City Expressway Intercept Lot located at milepost 4 (eastbound) and milepost 3.5 (westbound) on the Atlantic City Expressway. The cost of parking is $20 per vehicle with free shuttles running continuously to and from Indiana Ave and the Boardwalk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Atlantic City Jitney Association will provide a Park & Ride from Bader Field for $20 per car with free shuttles running to and from the Boardwalk at Albany Avenue from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, go to