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400,000 visitors watch Atlantic City Airshow 2017 roar over beach

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ATLANTIC CITY — By 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, the crowd onthe beach and boardwalk all had their heads tilted up towards the sky in hopes to see the U.S. Army Golden Knights sail down towards them.

It wasn’t until 11:45 a.m. that the first golden knight would descend down onto the beaches of Atlantic City to kick off the 15th annual Atlantic City Airshow.

As the crowd began to roar, Ryan Reis cut through the sky at about 60 miles per hour, tugging on his parachute, slightly left and right, as he steered down to a marking on the beach where he landed perfectly.

Reis was the opening ceremony for the event, and he said that the knights practiced all winter, from January to the middle of March, and that he and his team would be jumping at different events through September.

Atlantic City Airshow

All eyes are on the sky from the Atlantic City beach as U.S. Army Golden Knight demostrator Ryan Reis parachutes down onto the sand during the 2017 Atlantic City Airshow. Wednesday, August 23

But on Wednesday, he was glad to be in Atlantic City.

“This is awesome,” the golden knight demonstrator said. “It’s a great opportunity to get the team out here and do a parachute jump for the spectators. Atlantic City is a great place to be, there’s sunshine on the beach, you can’t beat it.”

The beach was hot on Wednesday afternoon, with plenty of people sporting handheld fans in one hand and a camera in another, in hopes to snap the picturesque planes flying by.

Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno was in attendance, walking along the beach prior to the show. She said that it's great to visit the Atlantic City boardwalk any day, but specifically for the airshow. 

"Especially if you're the mother of a guy who flies an F16, this is a fabulous day. Sun is out, people are out. I was here last night and every casino was packed. I think Atlantic City is on its way back and god is telling us that because the sun is out," Guadagno said. 

By 1:15 p.m., the weather had cooled down just in time for the GEICO Skytypers Airshow Team. Six vintage WWII aircrafts peeled up and down the Atlantic Ocean before shooting towards the airshow crowd and up into the sky. For their finale, the skytypers would race against Miss GEICO: a 47-foot catamaran powered by over 2700 horsepower. Both Miss GEICO and the skytypers traded victories as thousands cheered on. 

Atlantic City Airshow

Precision flying in tight formations by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, left, and the GEICO Skytypers keep the crowds coming back for the annual airshow off the beach in Atlantic City.

Crowds were bunched on the beaches north of Mississippi Avenue and south of Florida Avenue. Spectators hung over the rails at the pier jutting out from the Playground. Private parties were held on Boardwalk Hall's balcony for those who wanted the perfect view.

Other acts for the day included Jim Beasley Jr.’s SNJ Aerobatics and the U.S. Navy Hawkeye flyby.

Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atantic City Chamber, said that the event looked like it would reach its goal of 400,000. 

Atlantic City Airshow

Members of the N.J. Army National Guard demonstrate the F.R.I.E.S (Fast-Rope Insertion Extraction System) rescue method over the ocean.

"Everything is right on schedule, turned out to be a great day, attendance is where we thought it would be and that results in the economic impact so it's been a very good day," he said. 

Kelly credited the police, fire department, EMS and beach patrol for managing the large crowd on Wednesday afternoon. 

"[It] shows that if you work together you can enjoy a world class event," Kelly said.

Around 3 p.m., private parties moved out from under their tents, children who were playing football on the beach stopped their games and people began to look towards the city in hopes to see the final act: the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. 

Based out of Nevada, the Thunderbirds perform aerial demonstrations in the F-16C Fighting Falcon as well as two F-16D twin-seat trainers.

Atlantic City Airshow

Jim Beasley Jr. navigates the sky and performs aerobatics in his SNJ plane during the 2017 Atlantic City Airshow. Wednesday, August 23

Sara Harper is the public affairs officer for the Thunderbirds. She also narrates the team's routine for the crowd. Harper said that the planes travel at 500 miles per hour over the heads of fans down on the beach. The Thunderbirds have appeared in the airshow for 13 out of the show's 15 years. While training and trust goes into the act, Harper said it's worth it to put on a show on the beach. 

"This is a great show site with a lot going on here, it brings in a lot of crowds," Harper said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, the Thunderbirds flew over the beach towards the ocean in a diamond formation, alternating between group maneuvers and double displays of the two planes nearly colliding. A few people in the crowd jumped or turned away at the sight of close-call collisions. 

Daryl Ashton and Fran Heineman were not looking away. They have attended every show for 15 years and always come back for the finale. 

"It's all about the Thunderbirds and the noise," said Heineman, of Brigantine. 

"Seeing a video doesn't do it justice," added Ashton, also of Brigantine. 

Celeste Acker, of Ventnor, was attending the event for the first time with her uncle Jay Schwartz. She said she now plans on attending every year. 

"[My uncle] is making me take off work every Wednesday, for every year, here on out. I love it," she said. 

Schwartz, who has seen all 15 years, hopes it never leaves the resort. 

"I hope it goes on forever. It's one of the best events in Atlantic and Cape May County," he said. 

Tuesday preview brings out large crowd on eve of Airshow

While the 15th Atlantic City Airshow is expected to draw 400,000 people to Atlantic City and surrounding shore communities Wednesday, many people crowded the Boardwalk and beaches here Tuesday to get a sneak peek as the planes practiced their runs.

The airshow begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday and continues until after 3 p.m.

“I’m born and raised in South Jersey and I think it’s great for the economy and Atlantic City,” said Benny Benulis, of Hammonton, standing on the boards by Kennedy Plaza, right by where all of the action will be taking place on Wednesday. “It’s a great draw every year.”

Benulis said he has been to every air show since its inception. He added he always tries to make the practice runs so he can see the performances with a smaller crowd. He said that by January of this year, he already planed to take off work for both days.

Benulis pays to stay in a VIP tent on the beach, something he has been doing for the last few years. He said he wouldn’t miss the airshow for anything and added that he thinks the show is great for the South Jersey region.

“I’m born and raised in South Jersey and I think it’s great for the economy and Atlantic City,” he said. “It’s a great draw every year.”

Benulis was among visitors Tuesday on the resort Boardwalk who stopped walking and looked up at the sky. Outside of the Playground shops, still more people lined the ramp, shielding their eyes as they looked to the sky. Right outside of Caesars Atlantic City, several people stopped to record video and shoot photos directly above them.

Monday’s solar eclipse stopped people in their tracks, but on Tuesday instead it was a few of the U.S. Army Golden Knights streamers spiraling in the air down to the beach.

A few minutes later, planes screeched above the resort as fans turned their heads from one end of the boardwalk to the other.

The Golden Knights, along with other planes, helicopters and acts, continued their tradition of performing a full practice.

Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joe Kelly said that part of the reason the practice is held is for safety and so performers can hit their marks and to get in sync. Another reason is to continue tourism for the resort during the midweek.

“Pretty much we’ve always had a practice day. It really is about extending the week … anything we can do to attract a larger visitor base during the week it’s all part of the plan,” Kelly said.

Airshow preview

Randy Ball flies his MiG-17PF fighter jet during a practice run over Atlantic City in preparation for the 2017 Atlantic City Airshow, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. The Russian fighter is the only one in the show and reaches speeds over 600 mph.

Al Smith and his wife came down from Philadelphia on Monday to view the solar eclipse. When they learned the airshow would be practicing Tuesday, they decided to stick around.

By 11:30 a.m., the two were standing in a crowd on the Playground’s ramp jutting out over the beach. They said there were few hotel rooms left, so they decided to catch the preview before heading back to Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon.

Smith said hosting a preview to bring crowds to the boards is a great idea.

Acts confirmed for the 2017 show include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a U.S. Navy F18 Super Hornet and Jim Beasley Jr.’s P-51D Mustang demo, among others.