Free Chicago Air & Water Show returns this weekend
The federal sequester kept the much-loved military acts from performing at last year's Chicago Air and Water Show. But the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and others are back this weekend -- and they're joined by new aerial attractions.
"We're very excited to have them back," said Mary May, spokeswoman for the Chicago Air and Water Show.
The show -- the largest free air and water exhibition of its kind in the U.S. -- typically draws more than 2 million people to North Avenue Beach and the lakefront. This weekend's show, on Saturday and Sunday, is the city's 56th.
Back this year are the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights. The lineup also includes the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor, a single-seat fighter aircraft. New this year is a Marine MV-22 Osprey.
Federal cutbacks grounded those acts last summer, leaving the Air and Water Show spotlight to civilian performers.
"I think that people really got a sense that these are some of the best pilots in the world," May said. "It was fabulous."
The civilian lineup includes the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, The Firebirds Delta Team, Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle and Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull helicopter.
Aaron is the only civilian pilot to be licensed to perform helicopter aerobatics in the United States. His choreography takes the helicopter through back flips, 360-degree rolls and a thrilling tumble called the "Chuckcilvak."
"That's always something to see," May said of Aaron's routine. "He does things in a helicopter that helicopters aren't supposed to do."
New to the show this year is Team AeroDynamix, the largest aerobatic team in the world flying 12 aircraft equipped with white smoke generators.
Timed precisely, most planes take off and land at Gary Jet Center in Gary, Indiana. Others begin and end their journeys at military bases around the Midwest.
The order of the show is determined in the morning. Headliners tend to perform last.
The action is narrated by Herb Hunter, an airline pilot who flew in the show before becoming the fast-paced announcer more than 20 years ago.
The Air and Water Show has come a long way since its beginnings in 1959, when it was called the Lakeshore Park Air and Water Show and ran on an $88 budget. It featured a Coast Guard Air Sea rescue demonstration, water skiers, water ballet, games and a diving competition.
Those heading out to the show this year are encouraged to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, ear plugs and binoculars, as well as blankets, chairs and coolers. Prohibited items include alcohol, grills, balloons, kites and pets, except for service animals.
"Come on down," May said. "Bring a picnic, family, friends and enjoy the show."
Chicago Air and Water ShowWhere: Chicago's North Avenue Beach, with viewing along the lakefront from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 16 and 17
Getting there: Public transportation is encouraged; see transitchicago.com. For those who do drive, parking is available at the Millennium Park Garage with free shuttles to and from North Avenue Beach. For details, visit millenniumgarages.com.
On radio: Follow along with radio coverage of the show on WBBM 780-AM and 105.9-FM. WBBM will also provide a live stream at chicago.cbslocal.com/station/wbbm-newsradio-780-and-1059fm/.
On TV: Tune in to ABC 7 at 11 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, or 4:30 p.m. Aug. 24, for "Chicago's Top Guns: A Wet and Wild Weekend." The half-hour special is hosted by meteorologists Jerry Taft and Tracy Butler with guest Herb Hunter, the voice of the Air and Water show.