The ongoing mission of America’s Greatest Family Resort for making summer fun last well past Labor Day weekend continues Saturday and Sunday with the annual Ocean City Airport Festival and Boardwalk Aerobic Air Show.
The event has roots dating back 34 years, but its modern run of family-oriented activity all weekend long is less than a decade old. The fun starts 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Ocean City Municipal Airport, where an extensive display of classic military planes and antique aircraft will be on display along with more modern and unique machines, among them ultralights and single-person aircraft, home-built planes and antique cars.
There will also be a slew of concessions and children’s activities on Saturday (see info box) through 3 p.m. at the airport. Many of the stunt pilots and parachute jumpers will be on hand to pose for photos and sign autographs in advance of their 1 to 3 p.m. air-show performance Sunday, Sept. 15.
Among the weekend’s featured performers is Team Fastrax — a professional skydiving outfit from Ohio that will make three jumps in Ocean City. Each jump involves several members of the team exiting an aircraft from about 6,000 feet at the same time, then performing maneuvers in the sky and landing in a common area.
Team Fastrax will execute daytime jumps during the festival and air show Saturday and Sunday. The team will also perform an 8 p.m. jump Saturday night, involving lit-up skydiving suits and a pyrotechnic display — where smoke and fireworks emanate from their outfits as they descend.
“During the day they’ll jump while attached to a giant American flag, and (Saturday) night on the boardwalk they’ll do their pyrotechnic show, which is going to be really cool,” Ocean City Special Events Coordinator Michael Hartman says. “This is the first year we’re hosting that. It’s really captivating. You start out by seeing a tiny pink dot way up in the sky, and as it comes closer and closer and more into focus, you start to realize you’re seeing humans coming down. And not only is there the risk of jumping out of an airplane, but they’re shooting off pyrotechnics from their outfits as they’re coming down. It’s mind-boggling and really fun to watch.”
Police Chief Prettyman parachutes in
In the two years Team Fastrax has been part of the Ocean City Airport Fest and Aerobatic Air Show previously, some playful banter took place between the jump team and the city’s municipal staff.
“There was some joking on their end about ‘Hey maybe one day you’ll be pushing me out of a plane,’ only on our end, we’ve always been serious about it,” says Matt Harvey, Team Fastrax event coordinator and one of the team’s more than 40 professional skydivers. “We’d say ‘Yeah? Come on out!’”
Nobody on Ocean City’s payroll seemed interested in exiting an airplane more than a mile up in the sky – until this year. The brave taker was Ocean City Police Chief Jay Prettyman, who will do a tandem parachute jump with Harvey — a sixth-year member of Team Fastrax and a licensed tandem-dive instructor.
“We finally had somebody to take us up on the offer, and we’re thrilled to do it, particularly with getting to share a skydive with somebody who represents the city from a public-safety standpoint,” Harvey says. “It’s a pretty special opportunity any time we get to work with our veterans and first-responders. That’s always something look forward to, and having the opportunity to do a jump with the city’s chief of police — I’m looking at this as a way to give back and show a little appreciation for what they do.”
Of the roughly 40 men and women who comprise Team Fastrax, only a handful, says Harvey, are tandem-dive instructors.
“A million of these tandem dives happen every year all over the world, where people just go for the experience of jumping out of an airplane,” he says. “In each case there’s a harness attached to a licensed, certified tandem instructor, which in this case will be myself. You have to have a minimum of 1,000 jumps just to be considered for membership in Team Fastrax, and to be on a tandem team, you have to have a minimum of 1,000 tandem jumps.”
Harvey’s first skydive was 12 years ago as a college student.
“I did it as something to cross off my bucket list and thought it would be a one-off kind of deal, but I fell in love with the sport,” he says. “Contrary to popular perception, skydiving is not a death-defying sport. There’s about 50,000 people who do it recreationally every weekend. Statistically it’s safer than scuba diving or other activities that are not perceived as very dangerous at all.
“We always joke that the most dangerous thing you’re going to do when skydiving is drive to the airport and drive home.”
Skydivers have two parachutes attached to them — a main chute that they typically packed themselves, and a reserve chute packed and inspected by a Federal Aviation Administration official, and deployed in the unlikely event the main chute fails.
“The first one is the workhorse; the second is backup and will open every single time,” Harvey says. “I can pack my own chute in a matter of minutes. A reserve chute takes about an hour and a half to pack.
“I feel really blessed to be doing something that I love and make it into a job and a living,” Harvey adds. “I get to travel the world, flying our nation’s colors and sharing our beautiful sport with people from other countries. That’s pretty special.”