OCEAN CITY, Maryland — The sand and surf are usually why people go to the beach, but this weekend thousands will be focused on the sky during the Ocean City Air Show.
“The air show has become one of our signature events,” says Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.
“It’s a two-day event, [but] actually there’s a practice day so it stretches into three.”
And the Ocean City Air Show isn’t like most, Meehan said: “There’s a lot of air shows throughout the country, and many of them take place at airports over the tarmac. There’s something special about watching the different types of planes right out over the ocean, watching them from the beach, the boardwalk.”
It’s the ninth year in a row for the air show, something Meehan calls “a showcase of America,” and this year’s event will be highlighted by the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds.
“They’re a very elite precision team,” says air show spokeswoman Cathy Bassett. “What they can do is pretty extraordinary — just inches apart, wingtip to wingtip.”
“When the Thunderbirds all of a sudden come flying through and across the beach, it makes the hair stand up on your arms,” said Meehan. “It’s something you just have to see.”
It’ll be the Thunderbirds’ first performance since a plane crashed during the Air Force Academy’s Commencement in May. But that’s not the only first for this weekend’s show: Bassett says the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will also make its debut.
“It hasn’t even been approved for combat yet, so a lot of folks haven’t even seen this aircraft,” said Bassett.
“The pilots wear a helmet so all of the screens, all of the displays, are actually displayed right in front of them in their helmet so when they turn to the left they no longer have to look in front of them anymore, everything goes with them. It’s super-advanced, exciting, it’s the next-generation aircraft fighter jet,” she said.
This new F-35 will take part in what’s called “a heritage flight,” streaking across the sky paired up with a P-51 Mustang, which dates back to World War II, in what Bassett calls a showcasing of “the past and future of Air Force technology.”
The Drop Zone, as they call the show’s center point, is at 16th Street and the boardwalk, though if you want to see the show from there you’ll have to buy tickets. The Air Show says in the Drop Zone you’ll get a 50-yard line view of the show, with concert-quality sound and narration of the show. It’s also where paratroopers will land during the show.
But with planes soaring up and down several blocks of the beach in each direction, you’ll have lots of room to get a free view of some of the American military’s best fliers. You’ll want to make sure you’re south of the Route 90 bridge at 62nd Street, though, if not even closer to 16th Street.
“There will be people in boats in the bay, people in boats in the ocean watching it,” said Bassett.
You’ll want to show up early if you plan to get a seat at any of the bars and restaurants offering outdoor seating on the boardwalk.
“The crowd on the boardwalk probably exceeds the crowd on the Fourth of July,” Meehan said.
Bassett said photos taken from up above last year’s show “more people on the beach than there’s ever been before. There were people lined up from the Inlet up. “
And this year’s show figures to be even better.
“The great thing about the Thunderbirds is their reach,” says Bassett. “Once they arrive in town, there’s no excuse: You will know that they’re in town.”
The show runs from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with the Thunderbirds flying through around 3 p.m. But you shouldn’t be surprised if you see some planes in the air on Friday, since the pilots fly through to get familiar with the surroundings.
And if you can’t make it this weekend, start planning for next year, when the Blue Angels are scheduled to perform.