Earlier this year, I wrote an article detailing the Sun ‘n Fun Aviation Expo, a fly-in aviation event held annually in Lakeland, Florida. More recently, Layoverhub contributor Majd Bostani published an article on the 2017 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Now, it’s Chicago’s turn. Next week, for the 59th year in a row, the Chicago Air And Water Show will come to the shores of Lake Michigan. The free event attracts over two million people to North Avenue Beach every year, and is the largest free event of its kind.
The show was first held in 1959, when it was called the “Lakeshore Park Air & Water Show”. With a budget of USD$88, the show headlined a Coast Guard Air Sea Rescue demonstration, water skiers, a water ballet, games, a diving competition, and more. The original event was only one day long.
The next year, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Thunderbirds and U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team joined the event.
The Air & Water Show was eventually expanded to two days and moved to its current location at North Avenue Beach,” reads the website of the City of Chicago, who manages the event today.
The 2017 Chicago Air and Water Show takes place on August 19th and 20th. Along with the Golden Knights, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will perform this year. The event runs from 10am to 3pm local time each day.
Visitors can view the show along the coast of Lake Michigan from Fullerton to Oak Street. North Avenue Beach is the focal point of the event. Some of the best locations for watching the show are on North Avenue Beach, the lakefront from Oak Street Beach to Fullerton, on Ohio Street Beach, or on Skydeck Chicago. Other viewing options include a rooftop bar, a nearby restaurant, or a skyscraper.
Herb Hunter will be the announcer for this year’s show. Hunter has been the voice of the show for more than 20 years.
Military acts at the airshow include the Blue Angels (headliner); Golden Knights (headliner); U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs (headliner); F-35 Heritage Flight; the A-10 Thunderbolt II; the USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon; the USAF F-22 Raptor; the AV-8B Harrier II; the C-130 Hercules; the P-51 Mustang; the US Coast Guard (USCG) HC-144A Ocean Sentry; and the USCG MH-65 Dolphin Helicopter.
CivilIan acts include the AeroShell Aerobatic Team; Aerostars; Sean Tucker & Team Oracle; Bill Stein Airshows; American Airlines 787; the Firebirds Delta Team; Matt Chapman Airshows; Susan Dacy in a Super Stearman Model 70; the Warbird Heritage museum Foundation A-4 Skyhawk Jet Tac Demo; and the Chicago Fire Department Air-Sea Rescue.
Though the program is the same for both days of the event, the City of Chicago doesn’t release a schedule of which acts will perform at which times, as the pilots will decide when to perform on a day-to-day basis. The headliners, however, will perform at the end of the show.
Love the show, but hate the crowds? Try attending the rehearsal on Friday, August 18th. One day before the show, the rehearsal features all of the acts that the next two days do. In short, it’s the same show with smaller crowds. All of the aircraft performing in the show (Besides the AA 787) will be housed and depart from the Gary International airport. Located in northwest Indiana, this is most likely to be the place to watch all of the aircraft with the smallest amount of other viewers.
There are plenty of photography opportunities at the show, and knowing some of the following basic tips will help out a ton! Due to close proximity and speed of the aircraft, the simple “point and shoot” technique will be difficult. Depending on the lens, be sure to use automatic focus. Manual focus will be difficult as tracking and focusing at the same time on a subject whose path is unpredictable can bring challenge. Spotting from the beach or a high rise a bit further away leaves the length of the lens to the photographer’s discretion. Ideally, a 70-400mm lens would be most handy.
The aircraft will demonstrate their stunts along a mile stretch of the Chicago Coastline, so places to photograph will be plentiful. Be sure to try out more than one spot, perhaps one at Chicago’s famous Navy Pier, and another atop a skyscraper near the lake. Given the multitude of spotting locations and angles, be sure to come prepared, a wide angle lens, a more powerful lens and an image stabilizer are all useful. The show this year will be voiced by Herb Hunter, the “Voice of the Air and Water Show.” He calls the show and tells listeners what is happening and what to expect. Use that as a resource to plan your spotting on the go. Good luck to all who plan on attending!
Featured photo via Capture My Chicago / Tom Kirvaitis