The U.S. Air Force “Thunderbirds” precision aerial demonstration team has announced its 2010 air show schedule and ta da da da.…”Brooklyn NY, Coney Island” has the August 28-29 slot! According to the group’s fact sheet, the largest crowd, 2.25 million people, to see a Thunderbirds performance was at Coney Island on July 4, 1987. We can’t wait to see how many zillion people show up for
the new Coney Island Air Show in August 2010! (Cancelled! See August 10 Update below.)
The return of the Thunderbirds to the People’s Playground is cause for celebration. The last time the Thunderbirds were in Coney Island was 1993, according to Sgt. Pamela Anderson of the USAF Thunderbirds Public Affairs Office. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Astroland sponsored not only the USAF flyers but also the US Army’s parachute team as well as the Navy’s Blue Angels in 2000. From the July 3, 1987 article by Andrew L. Yarrow in the New York Times…
Above Coney Island, the wild blue yonder will be wilder than usual this weekend as the Thunderbirds, the Air Force aerobatic jet team, and the Army’s Golden Knights precision parachute jump team perform a variety of aerial stunts. The Thunderbirds alone take to the skies this afternoon at 1:30 in the vicinity of the Boardwalk and West 10th Street. Both groups appear tomorrow from about 1:30 to 2:45 P.M. And on Sunday at 1:30, the Knights will perform such maneuvers as passing batons and jumping from 13,000 feet onto a small target banner.
The walls of Astroland’s office were emblazoned with dramatic news photos of these annual events. The flamboyant Coney Island press agent Milton Berger, who worked for Steeplechase Park, the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and Astroland Park, was the “air show chairman” and a master at estimating attendance. “For the first day of a three-day air show, he reported a crowd of only 750,000, but only to leave room for much bigger crowds that he would report for the next two days,” his obit says. When Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA learned on Tuesday about the Thunderbirds return via a post on the Coney Island Message Board, he posted: “I produced the last [air show] on behalf of Astroland and a decade ago the ‘free’ show cost over $100,000. Who is the sponsor?” [See Dec. 11 update on "Air Force Week"]
Good question. Since the Thunderbirds’ December 8th press release doesn’t say, we’ll have to wait till regular business hours on Wednesday to find out who’s paying for the show and if the Army’s parachute team will return as well. In recent years, the Thunderbirds have headlined the Memorial Day weekend New York Air Show at Jones Beach sponsored by the Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York will instead host the Navy’s Blue Angels in May 2010.
Fourth of July air shows and fireworks have been a Coney tradition since the 1940s. In 1957, New York City’s delegation to the House of Representatives lobbied the Secretary of Defense for a national air show in Coney Island that would demonstrate America’s “airpower for peace.” The May event steadily grew into Armed Forces Week with the sponsorship of the US Air Force Recruiting Services, the City of New York and the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce. According to Billboard, the 1958 schedule included the 52-piece Women’s Air Force Band at Steeplechase Pier, plus precision flying demonstrations by the Navy Blue Angels flying team, aerial refueling, Coast Guard jet assisted take off from water and Army helicopter rescue display!
Historian Charles Denson, who grew up in Coney Island, vividly recalls the air shows of the 1960s in the chapter titled “Civil Defense” in Coney Island: Lost and Found.
The show began on the beach with a simulated nuclear explosion—“a make believe atomic burst” was the official description—beside the Steeplechase Park pier…. A sonic boom announced the formation of fighter jets from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field which performed acrobatics above the crowds on the Boardwalk. Skydivers dropped from planes and landed on the beach The Air Force then orchestrated a slow speed flyover of light fighter jets and huge prop driven troop transports that hung at stall speed just over our heads.
UPDATE August 10, 2010:
We’re sorry to report the Coney Island Air Show could not get all of the necessary permits–a complicated situation by all accounts– and persistent rumors that the air show would be cancelled or “postponed” have turned out to be true. The high cost of police security for the event was also rumored to be a factor. The Thunderbirds finally removed “Brooklyn, NY” from their schedule. Air Force Week NYC will go on without a Coney Island Air Show. Instead they’re advertising the Thunderbirds performance at the Aug 25 air show in Atlantic City!
Here’s a look at the Thunderbirds performing at the 2009 Jones Beach Air Show. Video courtesy of Steve’s Airshow World…