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Chicago Air & Water Show

Chicago Air & Water Show
Flights come as close as 18 inches
Genre Air show
Location(s) Chicago, Illinois
Country U.S.A.
Established 1959
Attendance 2,200,000 (2005)
Organized by Mayor's Office of Special Events

The Chicago Air & Water Show is an annual air show held on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois. The show has been held each year since 1959 and is Chicago's second most popular festival.[1] In 2005, 2,200,000 watched the Chicago Air and Water Show.


  • Attractions 1
  • The 2008 50th Anniversary Show 2
  • Safety Precautions 3
  • History 4
  • Criticism 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The air show is a free event that showcases daredevil pilots, parachute teams, and jets flying in formation, as well as a water-skiing and boat-jumping component. Because of its proximity to city beaches and skyline, the demonstrations are visible from almost everywhere along the Chicago lakefront. Grandstand seats for the water show are located at North Avenue Beach. WBBM AM (780) broadcasts both days of the event every year.

The air show features both civilian and military pilots. Flying teams have been sponsored by companies including Oracle and Red Bull. Many of the Air Show performers utilize Chicago's third airport, the Gary/Chicago International Airport in nearby Gary, Indiana, for ground support. The U.S. Army Golden Knights have participated each year for several years running. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds alternate annually as headliners.

The 2008 50th Anniversary Show

In 2008, for the 50th annual show, the event was extended from two days to three. The Friday show, which is typically an unofficial preview and rehearsal show, became a part of the scheduled performances. Actress Gary Sinise, who performed a live concert with his Lt. Dan Band. The concert concluded with a B-1 bomber fly-by and an evening of fireworks. Several freestyle jet skiers also competed at the 2008 show. LXF Pro Tour champion Gary Burtka lead Team Twangled team mates Greg Brock, Mike Hoffman, and Michael Niksic. The Mayor's Office of Special Events estimated that the show drew a record crowd of approximately 3.1 million spectators.[2]

Safety Precautions

Aircraft take off and land at Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana. All pilots perform stunts over the water in a set area known as a "safety box". This area extends from the lakefront shoreline out to a section on Lake Michigan where recreational boats and kayakers line up for an alternate vantage point.

Organizers work closely with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and city departments on safety procedures. Each day, before flying, all pilots and air personnel must attend morning meetings to receive weather and safety updates. Additionally, the event employs its own air traffic controller who oversees the downtown air space during show hours.

In 2005, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds ended their demonstration halfway through their routine. During a diamond formation slow-roll pass, the tip of the missile rail on the right wing of the slot (#4) aircraft contacted the left stabilator of the right (#3) aircraft. A four-foot section of the missile rail snapped off, while the #3 aircraft sustained damage described by one of the Thunderbirds pilots as a "medium deep scratch" to the red paint of the stabilator. Amateur video later broadcast on local television news programs showed the missile rail falling into the safety box. No injuries were sustained, but the demonstration was immediately terminated and all aircraft returned to Gary International Airport. The Thunderbirds did not return for the second day's demonstration.


The show was first held in 1959 under the name "Lakeshore Park Air & Water Show," on a budget of $88. The event featured a Coast Guard Air Sea Rescue demonstration, water skiers, a water ballet, games and a diving competition. The following year, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and Golden Knights Parachute Team were added to the show.[3]

Since 1989, corporate sponsorship participation has underwritten production costs of the air and water show. The event has been managed by the Mayor's Office of Special Events since 1994.[3]


The Chicago Reader recently described the show's accompanying noise as a "horrible buzzing" and that it was "back to annoy you for another year."[4]

The Chicago Tribune thinks the "anachronistic" and "perverse" show's "cheap thrills" should be retired. [5]


  1. ^ "Chicago's Largest Festivals". ChicagoBusiness. Crain Communications, Inc. 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  2. ^ "Chicago Air & Water Show: Bill Murray Has Landed". CBS News. 2008-08-15. Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  3. ^ a b "History of the Chicago Air & Water Show". Retrieved 2010-09-03. 
  4. ^ "Reader's Review of the Air and Water Show". Retrieved 2013-08-17. 
  5. ^ "Chicago Tribune's perspective on the event". Retrieved 2014-08-14. 

External links

  • Chicago Air & Water Show website
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