ABC7's Christian Piekos flies with US Air Force Thunderbirds at Chicago Air and Water Show

ByChristian Piekos and Stephanie Wade WLS logo
Sunday, August 20, 2023
ABC7 reporter flies with Thunderbirds at Chicago Air and Water Show
ABC7's Christian Piekos flew with the USAF Thunderbirds at the Chicago Air and Water Show!

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As planes flew by time after time on Saturday, the estimated 1 million spectators cheered in awe and amazement.

It was successful first day for the 64th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show.

"It's a fun atmosphere. It's really cool to be out here with all these people," said Rachel Peipert.

Taking center stage along the shores of Lake Michigan, world-class pilots with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds graced the Chicago sky.

"This is the challenging air show. Your buildings are five times the size of anything we see anywhere else in the United States right on that shoreline," said Lieutenant Colonel Justin Elliott with Thunderbird 1. "It is a piece of art. It's a performance, so you'll find the music, and the narration and the maneuvers actually build to a crescendo, and then they'll hit you emotionally as well."

The Thunderbirds granted ABC7's Christian Piekos a rare ride inside the cockpit of one of their high-performance F16s, as the legendary flight demonstration team celebrates 70 years, led by Elliott. Piekos' pilot was Major Jeffrey Downie.

"You are G-straining, and you are just fighting to stay awake. It's a fight for your life," Downie said. "Our hope is that that little kid, or that little girl can look up and find their life's passion, whether that's flying or not flying. They can look up and see that excellence in human achievement."

ALSO WATCH: ABC7 Flywitness News

ABC7 flying with the performers at the Chicago Air & Water Show through the years.

Spectators enjoyed the show from below.

"I think it's just a good summer day, and I think a lot of people probably haven't seen these type of planes before," said Bonnie Burns.

Taking twists and turns, upside down, narrowly missing each other they made their first appearance back in Chicago since 2018.

"This was highly rated everywhere. So, we had to make time for this," said Carol Muchui, who is visiting from Boston.

The premier aviators thrilled crowds with their aerobatic maneuvers just feet off the ground, creating magic along the lakefront.

The other headliner, the U.S. Army "Parachute Team" Golden Knights, jumped 12,000 feet out of a moving plane.

SEE ALSO | ABC7's Stephanie Wade jumps out of plane with US Army Golden Knights

ABC7's Stephanie Wade jumped out of a plane with the US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team during the Chicago Air and Water Show.

"We talked about conquering gravity, and making sure that the audience out here was fired up whenever we got on the ground. We want to put on our best performance every jump," said U.S. Army Golden Knights Ssgt. Morgan George.

Each formation left a trail of red smoke for the audience to see as they free-fall at speeds of 120 mph.

"I brought my grandson here today, so he can see the magnificent technology that the United States have to offer. Plus, I want him to be a pilot one day and fly one of those powerful jets," said Walter Gandy.

They landed gracefully on a perfect target at North Avenue Beach, inspiring those below.

"I mean, I don't really see planes like that. I just like them," said Aydin Hall.

"Awesome. Will be back next year, definitely," added Angel Rodriguez.