September 11, 2012
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in one of those aviation communities where taxiways and runways took precedence over roads and all your neighbors thought about aviation as much as you did? Once a year I get to experience one of the largest aviation communities in the country, Chicago, IL. The arrival of the Chicago Air & Water Show magically transforms my city into a land where everyone has airplanes on the top of their mind (whether they like it or not). Whether at the water cooler at work or mingling with neighbors people are suddenly speaking my language: aviation.
It is for this reason that the Chicago Air & Water Show has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Like most pilots, I can't hide my love for aviation so friends, family, coworkers and neighbors know of my passion for aviation. When a friend of mine learned his brother, a pilot in the U.S. Navy, would be bringing his plane to town he thought to reach out to me to see if I would be interested in coming out to airport to greet him. Of course I was interested, however, the thought of sitting in rush hour traffic on a Friday night driving from the northside of Chicago, through the city to Gary and back was not too appealing. So I decided to make a flight experience out of it and instead take a beautiful flight along the Chicago lakefront to Gary. Al Waterloo, fellow club member and host of Simple Flight Radio (Check it out) joined me for the adventure.
Pilots love sharing their love of aviation with others and showing off their latest plane. The crowd a pilot draws to see their plane often varies based on the cool factor of the plane they are currently flying. As a result, John Keith, a member of the Virginia Beach based Raging Bulls (VFA-37), a squadron of F/A-18C Hornets, was greeted by a large family contingent when he arrived in Gary on Friday night and I was happy to be invited to be a part of the welcoming committee.
John took the time to point out some of the unique features of his plane and to talk about some of his experiences landing the F-18 on the USS Harry Truman Aircraft Carrier. After learning about his airplane the entire family, John, Al and I walked the tarmac at Gary International Airport which resembled a military base that night. Alongside his Hornet were a few of the larger F/A-18 Super Hornet, T-38 Talons, A-10 Warthogs a F-4 Phantom in addition to civilian planes like T-6 Texans and T-34 Mentors. As a pilot I loved looking at all these planes but also enjoyed the fact that everyone else seemed in awe of these machines as well.
It was great getting the VIP tour of the tarmac as I know on the Saturday and Sunday of the show people lineup along a fence-line to see these airplanes in action from a distance. As we were walking back to the FBO, John picked up his flight bag which was filled with all his maps and old school paperwork used to navigate a plane that was built before the age of glass panels. He pointed out that the Archer I was flying had more advanced navigational functionality than his F-18. True enough but I would trade rides in a heartbeat.
After thanking the Keith family for letting me be a part of their family for the night we climbed back in the Archer III for our return flight to Palwaukee. On the flight back the city was aglow, the moon was hidden below the horizon, making the effect of the city lights that much more impressive and a perfect end to a night of celebrating aviation.
It saddens me when the annual airshow ends and the light switch is flipped and my fantasy land of aviation enthusiasts evaporates. Though, I love that for a week aviation was brought to the forefront and surely some of those in the crowds at the Chicago Air and Water Show now have a new passion for aviation like this girl jumping up and down as the Blue Angels Fat Albert C-130 flew over during the show.
August 13, 2012
The 2012 Chicago Air & Water Show will roar back to life over the next few days leading up to the 54th Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend. The headline act, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, will arrive Wednesday night to begin preparing for the show. Most of the civilian and military acts will be based at Gary International Airport through the weekend and make the short flight up the lakefront for their Chicago Air & Water Show practice schedule and for the main event.
Expect record crowds this weekend as the forecast currently shows unseasonably cool but comfortable weather for the airshow weekend. The good news is the nearly two million people that attend the show annually will have two beautiful days to choose from as both days currently look rain free.
For many one of the best places to check out the show is the fenceline at Gary International. However, if you plan to view the show from the lakefront then check out Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide with a few recommendations for the best place to view the show. Expect to hear planes flying overhead on Thursday for media day and Friday for a full practice show. The show will start at 10am both Saturday and Sunday and run until 3pm.
If you are an airshow regular you will recognize many of the acts on this years lineup. The civilian acts include perennial favorites like Lima Lima Flight Team, Sean D. Tucker & Team Oracle, AeroShell Aerobatic Team & the Firebirds to name a few.
Red Bull has often sponsored an act or two including Chuck Aaron in his aerobatic helicopter. Joining him this year and making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut will be the Red Bull Air Force performance skydiving team. They will jump from high over the lakeshore and speed to North Avenue Beach in their Wingsuits and surely be a thrilling addition to this year's show.
U.S. Navy Blue Angels, U.S. Army Golden Knights and U.S. Navy Leap Frogs will headline the show and represent our armed forces. Expect demonstrations by pilots of F-16s, T-38s, an F-4 Phantom and KC-135 Stratotanker to name a few. I became huge fans of the U.S. Army Golden Knights last year when I got to spend a few days with them. During the show I road along in their Fokker C-31A Troopship as the jumped from 10,500 feet above the lakefront. Then a few weeks later I was able to join them for a tandem skydive. See what is it like to skydive with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
As the show approaches I will be meeting with many of the teams and flying with a few and look forward to sharing updates and news about the 2012 Chicago Air & Water Show. Feel free to e-mail me send me a tweet if you have a question about the show. You can stay up to date with my airshow updates on the MyFlightBlog Chicago Air & Water Show Ultimate Guide.
August 28, 2011
My body is quickly accelerating to nearly 120MPH as I fall away from the de Havilland Twin Otter that I occupied at 13,500 feet just a few moments before. On most days a pilot would be extremely concerned by this predicament, but this is no ordinary day. Although the wind is ripping past my ears at speeds that render them useless and nearly every nerve ending in my body is sending alerts to my brain as I fall towards earth from 2.5 miles above, I have a sense of calmness. That reassurance comes from being strapped to the chest of soldier in the U.S. Army, I could not be in better hands.
That harness that connects me to Staff Sergeant Matt Acord can withstand more than 10,000 pounds of weight and it is doing its intended job while I enjoy one of the most exhilarating experiences anyone could hope to have. Matt spends so much time in the skies you could call it his office, his jumps are counted in the thousands, and as I spend a day at the office with him I am quickly realizing he may have one of the best jobs in the world.
Dancing around me in the sky is Matt's teamate Assistant Tandem Team Leader Staff Sergeant Joseph "Abe" Abeln who is serving as a videographer, capturing photos and video of my experience. I am thankful to have him there because my brain is processing so many feelings and emotions that video will help me solidify this memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The U.S. Army Golden Knights were formed in 1959, as was common at the time, to compete with the Russians for supremacy in the Cold War. Skydiving as a sport was relatively new and the Russians dominated it. However, the Golden Knights immediately found success and they continued to rack up the gold medals at international tournaments, it was decided the Golden Knights would be an appropriate name for the team. The team is a representation of the finest soldiers and demonstrates the professionalism and skills of members of the U.S. Army.
Although today their job seems like all fun and games, in talking to members of the team it is readily apparent these guys have a very serious job and have plied their trade in some of the most challenging places including fighting drug trade in Nicaragua, terrorism in the mountains of Afghanistan and throughout Iraq in our various conflicts there. These men and women serve their country honorably and with great sacrifice but one constant in their career in the military was their passion for the sport of skydiving and through their proven talent were awarded a spot on this elite team.
One purpose of a demonstration team like this is to assist in recruiting. Growing up I had little exposure to the military and sadly garnered most of my knowledge of the Army from the movie Stripes. I could see how meeting the Golden Knights could help to inspire others to look more seriously at a career in the military. Each member had his or her own story of why and how he or she joined the military but it was evident that they all firmly believed it was one of the best decisions they ever made. Being a part of the Golden Knights is special to them all. They worked hard to elevate themselves to earn a spot on this elite team. Here they can help expose others to the Army by showing of their skills diving into football games, high school sporting events or at airshows around the world. They love every minute of it, one of the Knights commented that "When everyday you help someone experience one of the best days of their life, you can't help but have a great day yourself."
Staff Sergeant Matt Acord is doing just that for me. We are having fun screaming through the skies over rural Illinois. I look around and see farm fields as far as my eye can see, then trace the Fox River and locate our destination, the airstrip at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, IL. Despite being tethered to another person I have an absolute sense of freedom sliding through the skies. I know this thrill ride only has a few seconds remaining as the ground is getting closer and closer. I see "Abe" float away and I realize he is clearing himself so Matt can pull our chute. We have fallen from 13,500 feet to 5,500 in about 45 seconds. I expected time to fly by but instead felt like I was able to fully enjoy our freefall. I am yanked into up as the chute slows our descent, all of a sudden it is quiet and I am treated to a lovely slow glide towards our destination.
During the descent Matt showed off the capability of the parachute by turning us in tight spirals as we floated down. As we neared the ground I lifted my legs up high and we slide into the ground on our butts to a smooth stop on the ground. It took us about five to six minutes to go from 13,500 back to the solid ground but in that six minutes I received a new appreciation the sport of skydiving. One of the team had told me before that even though I am a pilot I had never really flown since I had always flown from the inside of an airplane, and that today I would experience flying for the first time. I now understand what he means, as I was not a pilot controlling a plane, but the actual object that was free to glide and soar so high above the ground.
I had promised the team that if they returned me safely to ground I would give them a case of Affy Tapple Caramel Apples from my office. Not sure if that was the driving force in our successful jump or not but I made good on my end of the bargain after they treated me so well. I have much admiration for men and women of our armed forces. I enjoyed spending a day with them, seeing them do what they do best, hearing their stories and joining many fellow civilians in thanking them for their dedication to our country.
You can learn more about the U.S. Army Golden Knights on their website, Facebook and on twitter. The video shot by Staff Sergeant Joseph Abeln is below as are many of his aerial photos mixed in a with a few I took from the ground.
August 20, 2011
The Golden Knights were one of the few Chicago Air & Water Show demonstration teams to perform on Saturday morning before strong storms delayed the show for several hours. I had the pleasure to ride with them in their Fokker C-31A Troopship.
As I arrived at Gary/Chicago International Airport the weather looked acceptable at 8am, but it was the radar and Terminal Area Forecasts that had me worried that the drive down to Gary would be for naught. The team planned for both a high altitude and a low altitude jump so they would be prepared for either once aloft.
Ten Golden Knights and Four U.S. Navy Leapfrogs geared up and boarded the plane. I was seated in the back of the plane next to the dual exits on the Fokker, the perfect vantage point to watch the jumpers depart the plane. Across from me was Walt Willey, best known for playing Jackson Montgomery on the soap opera All My Children. He was riding along to get a sneak peak in advance to doing a tandem jump with the Golden Knights in the afternoon.
As we approached show center one of the members tossed a series of streamers out to gauge the winds. The ceiling was high enough for us to climb to 10,500 a couple thousand lower than their preferred height but more than 7,000 feet above their minimums for an airshow performance.
With no doors the freezing cold wind swirled around near rear exits and before long my teeth were chattering. But, it was worth it for one of the best seats in the house for the Chicago Air & Water Show.
Level at 10,500 feet we circled show center. Each time as we would approach the planned jump zone Team Leader and Sergeant First Class JD Berentis would look out the aircraft to determine if there were clouds obstructing the jump zone. A few times the jump was aborted as clouds rolled into the jump zone. On the third pass the all clear sign was given and the ten members approached the exits.
In a flash the go signal was given and the entire team was out the door in less than ten seconds. I looked back assuming there were more jumpers, only to find a nearly empty airplane. When I looked back outside I could just make out the jumpers regrouping in freefall and their performance had begun.
Not long after that I noticed lightning in the distance and a strong storm that appeared to be quickly approaching. The pilots turned the airplane back for Gary. As a result of the storm the Golden Knights were the last performance before the rain delay.
I was extremely impressed by the entire Golden Knights team and their professionalism. They all took the time to walk me through their roles on the team and their history in the U.S. Army. It is getting a chance to meet some of the men and women of our armed forces that makes covering the Air & Water Show each year so rewarding.
August 18, 2011
The performers and aircraft that will thrill million all the lakefront this weekend have arrived. Tomorrow they will put on a dry run of their performances in advance of the official 53 Chicago Air & Water Show that will take place on Saturday and Sunday from 10am - 3pm. Today the teams took members of the media for rides and allowed us to interview the pilots and crew.
My morning started with an opportunity to fly with Team Aeroshell today in their T-6 Texan. The Aeroshell team have been long time regulars of the Chicago Air & Water Show and are an act you should be sure not to miss. Unfortunately, I only captured some very amateurish video because frankly I was just having too much fun.
I also spoke with Thunderbird #6 Major JR Williams who flies the Opposing Solo role during the USAF Thunderbirds performance. He is excited about his first performance over Chicago and said "I've been thinking about this show all year". You can check out my brief interview with him below.
If you have not already, check out my Ultimate Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show for more on the acts and suggestions on the best places to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show from.
August 7, 2011
In just under two weeks approximately, 2.2 million people will flock to the shoreline of Chicago with the bulk of that crowd converging on North Center Beach, the epicenter for the 2011 Chicago Air & Water Show.
The annual show, in its fifty-third year, is "the largest FREE admission air and water exhibition of its kind in the United States" according to the Mayor's Office of Special Events. To aid new and experienced Air Show goers alike, we have updated and published our annual "Ultimate Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show". The guide provides an overview of the wide variety of both civilian and military acts that will be performing at this year's show.
The show will be headlined by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds who will thrill the crowd with precision aerobatics flown in their F-16 Fighting Falcons. The U.S. Navy will be represented by the Navy Leap Frogs skydiving team and performance and the F/A-18F Super Hornet Demo Team. The Golden Knights will dive into the show to represent the men and women of the United States Army. Our guide provides a full list of military acts that will perform throughout the day.
In addition to the military acts there will be many great civilian acts. Sean D. Tucker performing in his Team Oracle Bi-Plane is always a crowd favorite. Airshow regulars will not be surprised to see the return of Lima Lima Flight Team, AeroShell Aerobatic Team and Firebirds XTREME, all of which have become regulars at the Chicago Air & Water Show.
New this year are two civilian acts: Matt Chapman in the Embry Riddle Eagle 580 (http://www.myflightblog.com/matt-chapman-at-the-chicago-air-water-show.php) and Dave Dacy in the Super Stearman.
Let's be honest, 2.2 million people in the same place can make for a long day no matter how exciting the entertainment overhead. Finding a prime spot to watch the show can be a challenge. Check out our map of viewing recommendations and be sure to stake out a spot early!
August 12, 2010
He may not be "The Most Interesting Man in the World", but he's up there. Handlebar mustache wearing, daredevil pilot Chuck Aaron is the only pilot licensed by the FAA to perform aerobatics in a helicopter.
Until four-years ago helicopters had traditionally played minor roles in airshow, unable to perform the awe-inspiring aerobatic feats of their fixed wing counterparts. That changed when aviation enthusiast and Red Bull founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, convinced Chuck Aaron to find a way to perform aerobatics in a helicopter. After a few years of tinkering to extremely modify a BO-105 Bull Cow Helicopter a one-of-a-kind aircraft emerged. The Red Bull Helicopter is able to perform the Roll, Split-S, Immelman, Half Cuban Eight, Back Flips and Chuck's very own Chuckcilvak. The helicopter can support great forces including 3.1 Gs and negative 1.0 Gs.
Aaron is making his second appearance at the Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend. Last year he mesmerized the crowd with his aerobatics. Although, everyone along the lakeshore will be fixing their attention on him during his performance he won't even notice they are there. Aaron explains "I go into severe focus mode, paying attention to altitude, air speed, where the sky and ground are. I don't pay attention to the crowd-that's a deal breaker".
I had the opportunity to take flight with him prior to the show (video below). It was wild that on my first flight in a helicopter, I got inverted. Aaron put the Bull Cow through a series of Rolls, Loops and a Split-S, putting 2.4 Gs on the craft in the process.
Oddly enough the maneuvers did not feel much different then they do in a fixed wing aircraft. The fact that it wasn't a plane but a helicopter makes this man one of the most interesting in the world. Stay inverted my friends.
August 9, 2010
Vince Vaughn will team up with the U.S. Army Golden Knights to kick-off the 52nd Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. Saturday, August 14th at 11:00am Vaughn will descend towards North Avenue Beach in a tandem skydive with the Golden Knights.
Vaughn will experience the exhilaration of a jump from 12,500 feet and a free fall with speeds exceeding 120 MPH. He will be in good hands as the Golden Knights have performed tandem jumps with other celebrities and dignitaries including Bill Murray, two years ago in Chicago, and George H.W. Bush.
Vaughn who is spotted often in Chicago has been in town most recently filming Ron Howard's The Dilemma.
August 5, 2010
Each year the Mayor's office tries to offer something new or special at the Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. In addition to the standard excitement the airshow brings there are a few new additions that have me excited.
First off Chicagoans will get a chance to be one of the first airshow audiences to see Sean D. Tucker's newest airplane the Challenger III biplane. Sean began performing in this new airplane in late-June and this will be just the fifth airshow in this new airplane. According to Sean the plane is "30% better" (sounds like a laundry detergent commercial) and as a result he can perform maneuvers beyond what his previous Challenger II was capable of. Airshow fans can expect to see new maneuvers including somersaults and multiple cartwheels. Sean has always pleased the fans at the Chicago Air & Water Show, this new aircraft will ensure many will walk away saying his act was their favorite.
Interested in learning more about the Challenger III biplane? Take a listen to Brian Norris, Operations coordinator for Team Oracle, discuss all the new features on the AVWeb Podcast.
New this year will be an appearance by Bill Stein in his Zivko Edge 540. Stein was a member of the famous Red Baron Stearman Squadron that used to be a regular act at the Chicago Air & Water Show. Bill's plane which has been referred to as his "Tumble Machine" will be sure to earn some cheers from the crowd as he shares his extreme aerobatic maneuvers. Something unique about his performance is that his aircraft uses cutting edge paint technology that allows the plane to continuously change colors based on varying angles between his aircraft and the spectators.
We also have learned that Actor & Pilot Treat Williams will be attending the 52nd Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. To many he may be best known for his leading role in the WB's Everwood. Pilots know that he is a passionate aviator who is a multiengine instrument rated commercial pilot with rotorcraft, CFI and Citation type ratings. PilotMag ran a feature story about Treat in their May/June issue.
According to the Mayor's office, Williams will be a special guest for Friday's practice show in which he will guest announce the first part of the show with Air Show Announcer Herb Hunter.
Stay tuned to MyFlightBlog.com for ongoing updates on the Chicago Air & Water Show. Please be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show including our Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide highlighting the best places to watch the show.
August 14, 2009
Each year at the Chicago Air & Water Show Sean D. Tucker becomes a crowd favorite as he performers a memorable aerobatic routine in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane. I have always enjoyed his performances but it was an act outside of the plane that helped solidify him as my favorite airshow performer. A few years back at the Chicago Air & Water Show after a tiring performance he came down to show center and took the time to talk to the kids that were gathered and to sign a few autographs. His joy for flying was eaten up by the kids looking up to him and I realized he is one of the best ambassadors aviation could have.
In advance of this year's show I was offered the opportunity to spend half a day with Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle and jumped at the opportunity. I had no doubts, but after meeting Sean it was obvious that he absolutely loves coming to work each and every day, in fact I am sure he wouldn't call it work. You can see his enthusiasm first hand in this Chicago Tribune video interview.
My day started by joining a few other photographers and videographers in the Team Oracle Piper Seneca. We shadowed Sean in his Oracle Challenger bi-plane and Ben Freelove in the Oracle Extra 300 as they conducted a formation flight over Chicago. This was an amazing experience to watch two extremely talented pilots communicate and manage formation flying. Additionally, it provided an amazing vantage point for taking photos and some video.
Shortly after we landed I moved from the bulky Piper Seneca and into the sporty Extra 300. Ben got us airborne then said a magical thing "You have the plane". From that point forward he let me fly for a good 15-20 minutes while teaching me how to do various aerobatic maneuvers. We started with the basic rolls and loops and then he taught me how to combine the basic moves to do more advanced maneuvers like the Immelmen, Hammerhead & Cuban Eight. I was amazed at how well this plane performed and how easy it made all of these maneuvers. I am sure it helped that Ben is a phenomenal instructor which I am sure is a result of his experiences teaching at the Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety.
I finished off by doing my first spin. In my five years of flying, I have never been through Spin training. I had always assumed it was somewhat dangerous since it was not part of mainstream training. I was surprised to learn how easy it was to recover from a spin.
Prior to flying Sean had told me to be sure to have Ben show off the a few high-G maneuvers. After I had my share of flying I gave Ben his plane back and he put me through a 7.5G Hammerhead and then a high-G somersaulting roll, both of which were amazing. I love flying in general, but today's flight was an experience like no other I have had and I think I now have the aerobatic flying bug. I think I will have to seek out more opportunities to fly in an Extra 300.
If you are in the Chicago Area be sure to get out to the lakefront this weekend and enjoy the Team Oracle performance!
To the right you will find a few videos from both flights and also some photos below. I apologize for the shakiness of my video from the Seneca, this was my first stab at aerial photography.