Here’s What You Need To Know About Chicago’s Air And Water Show

air and water show
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform over Lake Michigan during the Chicago Air and Water Show on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, in Chicago. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press
air and water show
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform over Lake Michigan during the Chicago Air and Water Show on Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, in Chicago. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

Here’s What You Need To Know About Chicago’s Air And Water Show

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Updated at 10:10 a.m.

More than one million people are expected to descend on the lakefront this weekend for the 61st Chicago Air and Water Show.

Here’s everything you need to know about days, times, headliner acts, transportation options and more:

Yikes! What’s that noise overhead already?

If you’re in downtown Chicago on Thursday and Friday, don’t be surprised if you hear and see planes roaring along the lakefront or above the skyscrapers. The airborne acts will be limbering up for the weekend show, especially on Friday, which is a full practice day.

When and where is the show?

The action is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17 and Sunday, Aug. 18. North Avenue Beach is the focal point, but you can see the show anywhere along the lakefront from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street.

Do I have to pay?

Admission is free.

Who are the main acts?

  • The Blue Angels, doing aerial maneuvers in their F/A–18 Hornet jets.

  • From the United Kingdom: the Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.

  • The U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights, jumping out of aircraft 12,500 feet high and descending to North Avenue Beach at speeds of 120 mph.

  • Susan Dacy, a civilian stunt pilot who performs barrel rolls and other maneuvers in her vintage biplane “Big Red.”

  • The Pentagon will be showing off some of its warplane hardware, including the USAF F–22 Raptor, the USAF F-16 Viper and the USAF A–10 Thunderbolt II.

  • The Chicago Fire Department Air/Sea Rescue team.

  • The Chicago Police Department helicopter team.

The program is the same both days. The city said there’s no schedule of who will perform when, because that’s decided by the pilots each day. But the Blue Angels, Golden Knights and Red Arrows are saved for last.

What are my mass transit options?

The CTA plans extra service on Blue, Brown, Green and Orange lines, as well as No. 72 North Avenue and No. 151 Sheridan bus routes. The CTA’s website.

Metra plans extra trains on the BNSF, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific Northwest and Union Pacific West lines. It also plans more capacity on the Metra Electric Line. Metra advises riders who get off at Union Station or Millennium Station to board the CTA’s No. 151 bus to Oak Street and North Avenue beaches. The CTA’s No. 151 bus stops within walking distance of Ogilvie Transportation Center and LaSalle Street Station. Metra’s website.

Where do I park?

The city recommends using Millennium Park garages, and catching free shuttles to and from North Avenue Beach.

What if I have special needs?

Accessible seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis each day at the north end of the North Avenue Beach viewing stands. Here’s who is eligible: people who use wheelchairs, walkers and crutches; people who have difficulty standing; people who are deaf or hard of hearing and need unobstructed views of the sign language interpreter; and people who are blind or visually impaired and need seating close to the stage. There will be beach mats to help people make it over the sand to and from the seating area.

Can I get food?

Vendors on the lakefront will be selling hot dogs, burgers, ice cream and the like.

What should I bring?

Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, bottled water, ear plugs and binoculars.

What can’t I bring?

Alcohol, grills for cooking, drones, fireworks, tents or canopies, balloons, kites and flag poles. Service animals are allowed, but leave the pets at home. The noise would freak them anyway.

What if I want to watch the show from my boat?

Boating restrictions on Lake Michigan begin at 7 a.m. each day of the show. The U.S. Coast Guard and Chicago Police Marine Unit will be calling the shots, so follow their instructions.

Where do the planes take off and land?

That’s handled at Gary/Chicago International Airport over the border. The show has its own air traffic controller who runs things in downtown air space during performances. Organizers work with the FAA and city of Chicago departments to maintain safety.

What’s the history of this thing?

The first show was in 1959 at Chicago Avenue and Lake Michigan. It was a modest affair compared with this weekend’s blowout — the budget was $88, according to the city, and the lineup was a Coast Guard rescue demonstration, some water skiers and a water ballet.

Who’s that guy announcing the show?

He’s Herb Hunter, “the voice” of the Air and Water Show. Hunter is a former pilot who’s been emceeing the event for more than 30 years.

Still need more info? Here’s the city’s Air and Water Show web page.

Mark LeBien is the digital news editor at WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @marklebien.