CHICAGO (WLS) --Preparations for the annual Chicago Air and Water Show are underway with practice flights drawing eyes to the skies over the city.
Free to the public, the official show takes place Saturday and Sunday on Lake Michigan from Fullerton to Oak Street. North Avenue Beach serves as the show's center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
Participants this year include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights and the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs.
The sound of jet planes soared over North Avenue Beach Friday as the Chicago Air and Water Show's practice day kicked off the weekend.
"I'm a military brat and I just love this," said Chris Fleming of Irving Park. "We come out as often as we can, it's just so much fun to see. It's the sound of freedom." said Chris Fleming of Irving Park.
But the day got off to a soggy start with a brief thunderstorm delay that left beachgoers running for cover.
"We're just happy the weather passed and we're able to enjoy a day here with the family and see these fantastic flyers," said Karen Thompkins of Arlington Heights.
The Air Force Thunderbirds flew low over the crowd as they planned out this weekend's runs. Also planned -- a tribute to the Army Golden Knights parachutist Master Sergeant Corey Hood, who died during a jump in last year's show.
"They're skilled, it was just a freak accident that happened and the men and women of the military, they put their lives at risk for everything, training shows or in warfare," said Chicago Air and Water Show Manager John Trick.
On Friday, all eyes were on the aircraft, and the weather.
"With Chicago's weather you have to pick the day," said Johnny James of Chicago. "This might be the best day. Saturday might be problematic and Sunday might be good but I'm going to take the day that I can get."
James hasn't missed an Air and Water Show in 40 years.
"It's summer you better get out there and enjoy because winter's right around the corner," he said.
ABC7's Tanja Babich suited up Thursday for the ride of a lifetime. She took off with the world famous Thunderbirds. Tanja admitted she was a little scared about soaring over the city in an F-16. But she soared through the clouds from day to dusk and said it was an amazing experience that she will never forget. But she's ok not to repeat it for a while!
Tanja had to sit through three hours of flight training. First her pilot, Major Kevin Walsh, explained some of the maneuvers. Then a flight surgeon explained how to deal with nausea and to how to handle the Gs.
They hit 4 Gs right off the bat and pushed it up to 9.4 Gs toward the end.
Former Chicago Bear Charles Tillman will open the show on Saturday by tandem jumping with the Golden Knights. Tillman and Sgt. Joe Bradshaw joined ABC7's Diane Pathieu at North Avenue Beach to talk about how excited they are for this year's show.
Herb Hunter has been the announcer for the Chicago Air and Water Show for nearly 30 years. He said he's excited to see the F-35 and the new technology that will be on display this weekend.
To prepare for the show, Hunter said he has a booklet with files on every act he has ever worked with.
"I love to teach so if I can teach the crowd, the young folks, the kid in the heart of all of us, if I can teach them something about what they're seeing, then I feel good about it," Hunter said.
Senior Master Sergeant Samuel Smith and Major Kala'e Leong also joined ABC7 to talk about what they're most excited about this year.
Showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast for Saturday, which could cause delays. At North Avenue Beach, they will make announcements if there is a delay.
The Office of Emergency Management will be on site to monitor the weather conditions and clear the beach when necessary. Air and Water Show Manager John Trick also keeps a close eye on the weather.
"We're constantly monitoring the weather and we keep tabs on it," Trick said. "Several hours out, we know if it's going to be a bad storm. We've got our emergency plan in place that we can evacuate the beach area."
For more information on the Chicago Air and Water Show, visit www.chicagoairandwatershow.us.
Watch highlights from the Chicago Air and Water Show on ABC7 at 11 p.m. Sunday, hosted by Tracy Butler and Jerry Taft.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.