After rapid-fire debriefing his crew, Captain Dusty Cook smiled while reminding “Fat Albert Airlines” passengers they may experience turbulence and then took off into stormy skies above Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.

Minutes into the flight, the plane pitched, turning two crew members upside down, with their feet facing the ceiling as they clung to the nearest stationary object to keep from hurtling through the cabin. Above the roar of the engines, passengers heard the crew talking over the intercom with the cadence of racetrack announcers. Some strapped in their seats grew uneasy as the plane started rolling.

“If you get airsick, it’s not a big deal, we’re gonna give you airsick bags,” Cook had warned. “It is not a point of pride if you don’t use it. It’s actually pretty cool because you get to take a picture when we’re all done.”

Of course, this wasn’t a commercial jetliner, like one flown by Jet Blue. Quite the opposite. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels were back in town taking local journalists along on practice runs for the 11th annual 2014 Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach—10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Sunday May 24-25.

Fat Albert, named for Bill Cosby’s 1970s cartoon, is a four-engine turboprop Lockheed C-130 Hercules, the tactical workhorse traveling the nation backing up the elite squadron of F/A-18 Hornets that woo crowds with their signature diamond-formation trickery.

Fans filled the airport to get a sneak peak of these stars of the show a day early, unsurprisingly for an Island rich in aviation history—Charles Lindbergh’s first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight from Roosevelt Field, local Grumman workers building the Apollo Lunar Module that landed the first men on the moon, among many other records.

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Aside from the Blue Angels, the line-up includes fellow military demonstration units such as two parachute teams—the Army Golden Knights Parachute Team and the Navy Leap Frogs, which promote the SEALs—as well as the MV-22 Osprey, a so-called “tiltrotor” aircraft that takes off vertically like a helicopter and swivels its engines horizontally to fly long-range like a standard prop plane. Civilian pilots also perform, including the GIECO Skytypers, the Red Bull Air Force and John Klatt Airshows’ new partnership with Screamin’ Sasquatch Jet Waco Aerobatic Team, plus many more.

Another reporter for the Press had previously joined Klatt, among the nation’s top stunt-plane acrobats, for a more one-on-one fly-along as a preview of a prior air-show. The barf bag came in hand that day, but on the far-less-loopy day this reporter took flight, just one New York City TV news personality lost their breakfast—although it could have been more if the weather didn’t cut practice short.

If only the skies would clear up Saturday like they’re forecast to do on Sunday, maybe attendance will break the high of 400,000 spectators. Now boarding!


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Timothy Bolger is the Managing Editor for the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.