If you missed the air show along Lake Michigan last month, there was another chance to see a feat of aerial daring Sunday morning.
Lombard pilot John Pedersen escaped injury after a mechanical malfunction forced him to make an emergency landing of his small airplane along Lake Shore Drive near the Buckingham Fountain shortly after 6 a.m.
"I was just going for a nice little flight downtown, like I do all the time," said Pedersen, who had taken off from Schaumburg Regional Airport about 20 minutes before the emergency landing.
"There wasn't much I could do about it. I was just happy to be on the ground," he added.
Pedersen, 51, said he was about 2,000 feet off the ground and just south of the Willis Tower when he felt a "boom" in his RANS S6 airplane and then "all this fluttering."
"It felt like the aircraft was breaking up," he said.
Feeling like the problem wasn't getting better, he made a mayday call and began looking for a place to land. A short time later, Pedersen radioed in a second report.
"I'm going to put it down on Lake Shore Drive," he said.
Pedersen spotted a gap in traffic on Lake Shore Drive near East Jackson Drive. Fortunately, it's an area controlled by stop lights, which allowed Pedersen to find an interval when the road was clear of vehicles.
"I had the whole road to myself. A nice long landing," he said.
Once on the ground, however, Pedersen received a rude welcome.
"Maybe a minute after it landed, then two cars hit my wing and took off," he said. "I left the lights on so they could at least see the wing. And they actually saw me land because they were at the stop light. They had to have seen me."
According to the Chicago Fire Department, Pedersen's plane experienced a mechanical issue with tail control before the emergency landing. Firefighters responding to the scene were able to push the plane off the road and onto a nearby grassy area to clear the way for drivers.
Pedersen said there was no indication of trouble during his preflight inspection.
"I always do my inspections before I fly. I check everything," he said. "This problem here I never would have found. It was going to happen exactly when it was going to happen."
It proved a valuable learning experience, Pedersen said.
"I learned in training to prepare for it. You do simulated engine outs, but you never really know how it feels until it really happens. So now I know how it feels, and so I'll definitely feel a little more comfortable if it ever happens again."
Pedersen said there was an adrenaline rush as he was poised to land the plane, but he also tried to stay calm and be sure not to hurt anyone on the ground.
"You have that natural instinct to want to survive. But I'm also going to do my best to survive and not hurt other people in the process," he said. "I would put it in the lake before I gambled putting it into a crowd of people or a soccer field where kids are playing or whatever."
After police arrived, he said, the officers showed a sense of humor.
"They put a parking ticket on the plane," he said.
Pedersen said he has had the plane for a couple years and has been flying for five years.
When he'll fly again, though, is not clear.
"It's just been a lifelong dream," he said. "I'm kind of heartbroken now. The plane's in pieces. It's going to be a while before I get up."