Chicago Air & Water Show
♦ 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 17-18
♦ North Avenue Beach from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street, Chicago
♦ Admission, free
♦ (312) 744-5000; chicagoairandwatershow.us
Updated: September 17, 2013 7:56AM
This year’s Chicago Air & Water Show will look and sound a little bit different. Because of government budget cuts, military planes and boats will not be participating. That means no U.S. Navy Blue Angels or U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds; no F-16, F-18 and F-22 fighter jets; and no Golden Knights, the U.S. Army’s parachute team.
Not a problem, says John Trick, manager of the Chicago Air & Water Show. He knows that people are going to miss the precision flying, intricate stunts and the heart-stopping noise the big military guns provide, but the show must go on.
And go on it will, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Aug. 17-18 along the lakefront from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street, with North Avenue Beach as the center point.
“The military is only one portion of the show; we have real strong civilian acts,” Trick said. “We’ve put more emphasis on the civilian acts and brought more acts in to supplement what we’re not going to have military-wise this year. If you put it all together with the great show and the beautiful weather and you’re down at the beach, people are going to be happy and it’s going to be an enjoyable weekend for them.”
New this year is the All Veteran Parachute Team, an inspiring team of 10 active or retired military parachutists.
New also is the British Aerospace Sea Harrier Jet, a Vietnam-era Skyhawk jet, the Aerostars Aerobatic Team, an A-4 Skyhawk jet and the Geico Skytypers flying six vintage World War II aircrafts.
Expect also the return of the popular AeroShell Aerobatic Team, the Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle, Lima Lima Flight Team, the Firebirds Delta Team, Matt Chapman Airshows, Bill Stein Airshows and Dave Dacy in the Super Stearman.
Returning also is pilot Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull helicopter. He is the only helicopter pilot in the United States certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to do aerobatic air shows.
The Los Angeles-based Aaron said he typically does 25 air shows a summer. With military bases across the country canceling their air shows, he has about 10 fewer jobs this year, he said.
“It has affected our community of show performers,” Aaron said.
His act includes loops, rolls, split F’s, backflips, vertical climbs and vertical dives, and rolling climbs and rolling dives. “A full-on aerobatic routine that you would see an airplane do, I do in a helicopter,” he said.
How difficult is it to do aerobatics with a helicopter?
“I think it is the hardest and most difficult thing to do in a helicopter,” Aaron said.
He got started almost a decade ago when Red Bull challenged him to do aerobatics in a helicopter. He said it couldn’t be done. But the thought niggled at him, and he decided to give it a shot. It took him a year-and-a-half to modify his helicopter and get FAA approval for both his helicopter and himself.
“The hardest part of the whole process was convincing the pilot that he was going to go up and do aerobatics in his helicopter — which was me,” Aaron said. “That was a scary process.”
But it’s not like he’s out there haphazardly “lighting my hair on fire,” he said.
“Red Bull has given me enough time and money to process this, methodically think it out, and to mechanically make the changes to make this a safe operation,” Aaron said. “We’ve put a lot of time, effort and money into properly doing this so I can do what seems to be the impossible.”
That’s probably why he is the only guy doing this — it’s very expensive to completely modify a helicopter, he said, and then it can never be returned to normal service.
The backflip is his personal favorite maneuver to do, Aaron said. He takes his helicopter up to a hover and then flips over backwards.
“That’s pretty amazing to see, especially for a helicopter,” he said. “I hear that people gasp a lot.”
When it comes to the water component of the show, you won’t see the U.S. Coast Guard air-sea rescue this year.
You will see the Chicago Police and Fire department boats doing demonstrations, and the fire department will do a water rescue with its fast rescue boat and helicopter. The fire department will also shoot water cannons from Fullerton toward Oak.
With the new and returning civilian acts, people should expect another great and exciting show, Trick said.
“It will be a great show even without the military, and we’re hoping and anticipating the military will be back in our show next year.”
Annie Alleman is a local freelance writer.