Practice day for this year’s Atlantic City Airshow went smoothly on its first Thursday date, with perfect, crystal-clear conditions and two appearances by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
The elite team was unable to practice its “circle on arrival” maneuver Wednesday due to bad weather, airshow organizer Dave Schultz said, so several jets made an unexpected appearance about an hour before practice was scheduled to begin — a welcome surprise to the beachgoers who had come out early to grab a spot.
“Right now, we’re looking for the best viewing point,” Frank Purta, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said as the Thunderbirds flew by.
Of course, square footage on the beach was much more available than it will be today, when hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected.
“Don’t give out the secret,” joked Tim Capille, of Port Republic, who was enjoying the elbow room on the beach after coming three years in a row for the regular show, when it was “jam-packed — jam-packed.”
Still, though, he would have attended today if he could.
“I’ve got to work tomorrow,” Capille said. “That’s why I’m here.”
The practice kicked off officially about 11 a.m. with the Army Golden Knights parachute team, which was followed — in a slightly different and truncated lineup than planned for today — by the Raiders Demonstration Team, a U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue demonstration, a British Spitfire piloted by Jim Beasley Jr. and the GEICO Skytypers, which left smoke trails across the sky.
Watching the Skytypers was Nick Wieand, of Upper Township, and his 6-year-old son, Ryan.
“We wanted to beat the crowds a little bit,” Wieand said. “Somebody told us you had to get here (Friday) at 6 in the morning, and we weren’t ready for that yet. And since it’s his first time, we wanted to make sure he enjoyed it before we came back next year for the day (of).”
Each of the rolls that the Black Diamond Jet Team performed during its practice were in honor of the children visiting from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After that high-intensity performance, a World War II-era P-51 Mustang — one of just 150 flying in the world today — made an appearance, at one point flying alongside two F-4 Phantoms.
Practice day wrapped up with the regularly scheduled appearance of the Thunderbirds, who flew in over the city — to the eclectic music stylings of “Hello” by a French DJ, as opposed to airshow standards such as Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” — and performed for more than a half-hour. At several points, live video from inside one of the cockpits appeared on the video screen above The Pier at Caesars.
Last year, a thunderstorm forced the Thunderbirds to cancel their practice, but the “severe clear” conditions allowed for a full program this year. Several pilots even stuck around after the final flyby to get in a few more precious minutes of practice.
“That went pretty much as scheduled,” Schultz said afterward. “No big hiccups. A good, sunny day. Good, clean water. It went just like we briefed.”
As for the airshow itself, “We’re all good to go,” Schultz said.
Among those who won’t be here are Milt and Renee Gray, of Galloway Township, who took in Wednesday’s Armed Forces Parade and Thursday’s practice, but will miss today’s show.
“Oh, please!” said Renee when asked whether they were going today. “We used to come (to the show) before it got too big; when you were able to move around and get out of the city.”
“It’s not crowded now,” Milt said. “That’s why we’re here today.”
However, Anthony Guercio, of Philadelphia, planned to visit again today — but he had nothing but good things to say about the practice-day experience.
“It’s one of the best times,” Guercio said. “Less amount of people, and you still get a great show. Plus, it’s a beautiful, beautiful day.”
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