WANTAGH, N.Y. - Federal budget turmoil last year kept the pararescue jumpers of the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing away from the annual Memorial Day weekend Jones Beach Airshow.
This Memorial Day weekend, though, they were back; showing the 231,000 people who watched the aircraft the skills they use when called upon to rescue downed pilots.
Six jumpers from the 103rd Rescue Squadron jumped from a 102nd Rescue Squadron HC-130 as part of the air show events on May 24.
The original plan had been to drop the "PJs" from 35,000 feet in a freefall jump, but due to weather conditions the Airmen jumped from 15,000 feet in a static line jump, said Maj. Michael Rutigliano, the HC-130 pilot.
"During the static line drop, the parachutes open instantaneously as the PJs jump out of the plane," he said.
Participation in the Jones Beach Air Show, a major annual event on Long Island, is not only used to show people what the 102nd and 103rd RQS are capable of, it is also used as a training tool for new pilots, Rutigliano said.
"I love doing the air show because we can get together and do combat training without being in a situation where we are being shot at," added Rutigliano. "It also allows us to train the newer pilots on how to fly the plane more aggressively."
Capt.Patrick Harding said he was proud to be a part of the Air Show for the first time as a C-130 co-pilot. It was at the 2005 Air Show that he made the decision to fly for the Air Force National Guard.
"I walked up to the helicopter in the sand during the air show in 2005, and I said that I wanted to fly that. That's how I ended up here." Harding said. "It's pretty neat for me to come full circle and now perform in the air show. It is intimidating doing it for the first time, but it helps having a pretty experienced crew," he added.
"Today, we had the opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of what we really do. There are a lot of people who don't know what we do. There are also some people on the island who don't even know that there is an entire base that is capable of combat search and rescue," Harding explained.
Participation in the Jones Beach Air Show servers the dual purpose of training and air showmanship.
"We are combat search and rescue and at the air show, we can go down there and tell everyone, 'Hey this is who we are, this is where we live and this is what we can do,'" Rutigliano said.
Based at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, the 106th Rescue Wing is one of five flying wings in the New York Air National Guard.