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posted: 8/18/2011 6:00 AM

Find the best seat for Chicago Air & Water Show

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  • The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds soar through the sky in tight formation.

      The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds soar through the sky in tight formation.

  • The U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute from heights of 12,500 feet.

      The U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute from heights of 12,500 feet.

  • The Chicago Air & Water show draws up to 2 million people to the lake each summer.

      The Chicago Air & Water show draws up to 2 million people to the lake each summer.

  • Stripes of smoke fill the skies over North Avenue Beach for the Chicago Air & Water Show. The show draws up to 2 million people to the lake -- and local rooftops -- each summer.

      Stripes of smoke fill the skies over North Avenue Beach for the Chicago Air & Water Show. The show draws up to 2 million people to the lake -- and local rooftops -- each summer.

  • Spectators watch from the rooftops as well as the beach.

      Spectators watch from the rooftops as well as the beach.

  • Air and sea rescue teams demonstrate their techniques for crowds at the Chicago Air & Water Show.

      Air and sea rescue teams demonstrate their techniques for crowds at the Chicago Air & Water Show.

  • Video: 2011 Air & Water Show preview

 
By Danealle Khaimskiy

Summer is winding down and, for many, August wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Chicago Air & Water Show.

The show is nothing short of a Chicago tradition, one that has brought dazzling displays to the shores of Lake Michigan and the skies above it for more than a half century.

"(The show) is about family, and that's what it stands for," said show announcer Herb Hunter.

No one understands this more than Hunter, who has been part of the show for 24 years as an announcer and nine years as a pilot. Hunter still remembers the feeling he got his first time flying.

"I was a co-pilot and we did a fly by," he said. "It was a feeling of amazement, seeing the size of the crowd and seeing the Chicago skyline to the west."

The show's beginnings were rather humble. When it began in 1959, it was meant for children who were part of the Chicago Park District day camp program. The show featured a Coast Guard air-sea rescue demonstration, water skiers, a water ballet, games and a diving competition. The following year, the United States Air Force Thunderbirds and Army Golden Knights Parachute Team joined the lineup.

And the event has grown from there, drawing crowds of 2 million to the lakefront for the best views of the action.

So what can visitors look forward to this year?

• The return of favorites like the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs and the Golden Knights, who parachute from 12,500 feet above the beach at speeds of more than 120 miles per hour.

• Civilian and military aircraft including the USAF B-1B Lancer Bomber.

• Air and sea rescue demonstrations by the Coast Guard and the Chicago Fire Department Marine Unit.

• Returning and new stunt pilots doing acrobatic maneuvers.

New this year is the Bravo Zulu Lounge. This is a ticketed beer garden with a buffet, beer, soft drinks and the perfect vantage point for the Golden Knights Landing Area. You must be 21; tickets are $90 and available online.

Also new this year, one lucky Chicagoan will have the chance to fly with the Thunderbirds.

"April through May, members of the community were asked to nominate someone who they thought was a hometown hero," said Mary May, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. "There were 52 entries this year."

From those 52, three were chosen and then the U.S. Thunder Birds picked Chicago firefighter/paramedic Jason Durbin to fly in one of their F-16s.

Even though the show has evolved with the times, Hunter is still a sucker for the classics.

"I'm a big fan of the smoke and noise (planes)," Hunter said. "Like the T-6 Texan."

If you haven't been to the show for years, don't expect the jet-ski water acts. Those were canceled because of rough water.

The show has been part of Chicago culture for so long that, without fail, there has been at least one performer each year who grew up watching the show as a child, Hunter said.

"It gives me such a feeling in my heart to see the same faces in the crowd and to share my aviation knowledge," Hunter said.

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