Thunderbirds soar over Chicago's skyline

August 19, 2011 4:24:33 PM PDT
An estimated 2.2 million people will pack Chicago's lakefront for the 53rd Annual Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend.

Practice got underway Friday, but the actual show kicks off Saturday.

"We have large crowds expected along the lakefront, and here at North Avenue is the epicenter," said Deputy Director David Kennedy, Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events. "We encourage folks to take public transportation. It's a beautiful day at the beach. It is a wonderful summer tradition."

The Golden Knights Parachute Team and Leap Frogs began practicing late Friday morning. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were also spinning and flipping.

"We come every year. This day, the last week before school starts, we pile in the car early in the morning and get a spot close and just enjoy the show," said spectator Shannon Keating.

"All the way up it was wonderful, blue skies, and we couldn't ask for better conditions," said Sgt. Richard Sloan.

Although the event does not officially begin until Saturday, many of the military and civilian acts practiced Friday, meaning a preview of the thrills to come minus the crowds and traffic.

"I love coming out here because it's not as crowded as the other days would be, and the weather's great today. Who knows what could happen tomorrow?" said spectator Frances Wallace.

Chicago's Air and Water Show is the largest free show of its kind and is expected to draw an estimated 2.2 million people to the shores of Lake Michigan.

"It's very, very safe. These guys have thousands and thousands of hours, as well as 200, 300, 400 hours of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. So very safe, they know what they're doing. Very well-practiced," said Maj. Kristin Haley, U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds. Sgt. George Perez is a ground safety officer for the Army who will keep his eyes on the daredevils jumping above the lakefront and the crowds below.

"Right before every jump, the aircraft will drop streamers at the altitude of 2,000 feet. That's an indication for a jumper to be able to see where, what the winds are doing," Perez said.

"It's going to be a great demonstration," said Petty Officer 1st Class Michelle Turner, U.S. Navy Parachute Team.

"There's plenty of room and excitement out here for everyone to bring their families out and enjoy this fantastic show," said Michelle Boone of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

The $600,000 price tag for the mainstay of Chicago's summer is completely funded by corporate sponsorship dollars and will feature a new private viewing and dining pavilion.

"You've never been able to come to the air and water show and get a place where you can actually get some shade, sit down, watch the show up front, and get something to eat and drink on the beach," said Steve Mishevski of Phil Stephani Signature Restaurants.

"We've got a Bravo Zulu Lounge. It's kind of a little hospitality area here at North Avenue Beach," Kennedy said. "We've got a big screen that will be on the beach as well so people can kind of get a better look at some of the planes."

Tickets are needed for that premium dining and viewing area.

Practice Friday goes until 3 p.m. The official shows are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, visit

You can watch highlights of the Air & Water Show on ABC7 on Sunday. "Chicago's Top Guns: A Wet and Wild Weekend" airs at 10:35 p.m. It's hosted by Jerry Taft and Tracy Butler.

The show will also be available on demand at