August 13, 2008

The Show Must Go On - Aeroshell to Perform Without Team Leader

aeroshell1.jpgPrior to the 2006 Airshow, I had the opportunity to take a flight with Chicago Air & Water Show regulars, the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team. The Aeroshell team is made up of four talented pilots and their T-6 Texan aircraft. Unfortunately, this year the team will be flying a three-plane formation due to a non-flying injury to team leader, Alan Henley.

In late July, Alan was paralyzed from the neck down after a fall in his home. He is currently at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital's trauma unit, where he is listed in serious but stable condition. You can read about his recovery on a CaringBridge.org blog being authored by his wife. My prayers go out to Alan, his family and his teammates.

His twin brother, Mark, will take over as lead pilot for the formation for this weekend's show. I had the opportunity to fly with Mark in 2006. What I took away from meeting Mark and the rest of the team was that they absolutely love their jobs. These guys were extremely passionate about aviation and enjoyed entertaining fans across the country with their flying skills.

I am looking forward to their performance this weekend but saddened that they won't be joined by their team leader, Alan. Get well soon Alan!

August 12, 2008

Chicago Air & Water Show Practice Schedule

chicago_air_water_show_blue_angels.jpgMany avid Chicago Air & Water Show fans have relied on the fact that Friday has typically been a practice day. Airshow enthusiasts could come down to the lakeshore and experience many of the airshow acts without the massive crowds the weekend event typically draws.

This year with the Air Show adding a formal Friday night show many people have asked me, "Does that mean there will be a practice show on Thursday?". According to an Airshow representative "There will be no formal practice like in the past but there will be flying to do spot checks".

Most the performance teams will arrive at the Gary/Chicago International Airport on Thursday, August 14th. That afternoon many of the teams will be taking members of the media up for flights over the lake but well south of the city closer to Gary. After their media responsibilities, teams like the Blue Angels will likely do a city spot check so expect to hear them roaring over the city starting on Thursday. There may also be some practicing on Friday in the morning prior to Friday nights show opening.

Chicago Air & Water Show Adds a Friday Night Show to the Schedule

t-6texan_night.jpg
One of my favorite weekends is just around the corner. The Chicago Air & Water Show takes place this weekend on the Chicago lakefront. Since this will the the 50th Annual Air & Water Show the city has decided to celebrate by adding an additional day to the festivities. The event is the oldest and largest free admission air and water show in the country.

Civilian and military performers will arrive in the Chicago area on Thursday. So the skies over Chicago will become active starting Thursday morning. Most the practice and spot checks will take place Thursday afternoon and Friday morning prior to the Friday night event.

Two Chicagoan Actors will help kick-off the show on Friday. Bill Murray, who played a confused Army Soldier in Stripes, will kick-off the show when he jumps with the U.S. Army Parachute Team, The Golden Knights at 3pm on Friday. Fellow Chicagoan Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will play a free concert at the North Avenue Beach house at 5pm. After the concert there will be more acrobatics and high speed flying leading up to an 8:45 firework show.

I am especially interested to check out a new act this year. Bill Leff will be piloting a Korean War restored T-6 Texan. His plane has been retrofitted to allow him to perform a night show featuring pyrotechnics and streams of light.

The Airshow continues on Saturday and Sunday from 11am - 4pm. Unfortunately, there is not an official Chicago Air & Water Show schedule. Typically the show starts with civilian acts then moves into military acts culminating with the feature act which this year is the U.S. Navy Blue Angeles. The following appearances have been confirmed:


Typically there are variety of additional flybys by military fighters and bombers. I am told there will be a few surprise flybys over the weekend that have not yet been announced. More on the Chicago Air & Water Show in the days to come.

August 19, 2007

Great Performances at the Chicago Air and Water Show

thunderbird_flame.gifI had a great day of aviation fun on Saturday. As I described in the previous post I got up early and went flying on Saturday morning. I made sure to return from the skies in time to get downtown for the 11am start of the 49th Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. We arrived right as the U.S. Army Golden Knights were delivering the American Flag to the lakefront to kick-off the event.

The air show was well organized to break up military and civilian acts through-out the day. There were several highlights to the day. Probably the neatest individual demonstration was that of the F-22 Raptor. I had seen this fighter at last year's air show but it simply performed a few brief passes and did not show-off its amazing capabilities. On Saturday during a full demonstration the crowd got a chance to see why this is the most advanced aircraft in the United States Air Force. I was absolutely amazed by its maneuverability.

seantucker.gifSean Tucker and Team Oracle, as usual provided a great flying demonstration. During his performance they broadcast his voice over the public address system where you can clearly here his enthusiasm for flying. What was wonderful was later in the day when he came to show center and shook hands with fans. He took time to talk to some kids about aviation and give each a hat. It surely made the kids day and maybe the combination of the event and meeting Sean Tucker will inspire some of them to become pilots. I too, enjoyed getting a chance to thank Sean for the great show he put on for Chicago.

I also really enjoyed the precision flying of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. They roared through the city showing off great teamwork flying at times within a few feet of each other. They gave a performance worth of the U.S. Air Force's 60th Anniversary celebration.

us_army_golden_knights_c31.gifFor Sunday's show I was scheduled to fly along with the U.S. Army Golden Knights in their C-31 for their afternoon jump. Unfortunately, low ceilings and poor visibility caused officials to cancel the show midway through the afternoon so our flight was scrubbed. Although, I did not get to fly with them I did enjoy spending 30 minutes touring their plane and talking to two members of the Golden Knights. I can tell you that they really love their jobs.

Photos that I took from this weekend's events can be found on Flickr. Here is hoping for two rain free days for next year's 50th Annual Air and Water Show!

August 17, 2007

49th Chicago Air & Water Show

thunderbirds1.jpgIt is that time of year again in Chicago where the skies rumble for the return of the Chicago Air & Water Show. This year is the 49th year of the free event that is expected to draw nearly 2.5 million people making it the largest two-day spectator event in the United States. A great line-up of military and civilian aircraft will be participating in this years event.

This is the third year that I have been invited down to the media day at the Gary Jet Center at the Gary International Airport. In 2005 I had my first air show flying experience flying with Lima Lima. Last year I had a fun flight with Aeroshell Aerobatic Team. This year I was lined up to fly with the Red Baron Pizza Squadron in one of their Stearman bi-planes. I had flown in a Waco bi-plan before but was looking forward to getting inverted in the Stearman. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards as the cloud cover and haze did not give a high enough ceiling for acrobatics.

redbaron1.jpgInstead we flew in formation out over Lake Michigan and did a few steep turns. The most exciting part of the flight was when we returned to the airport to land and my pilot made a steep diving turn towards the runway and the wind really blew through my hair and I could feel the joint pull of the strong Stearman engine and gravity, I could imagine how much fun doing acrobatics in an open cockpit plane must be. I might have to try again with them next year.

About an hour later there was an opening in the back seat of one of the T-34s flown by the Lima Lima Flight Team so I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the air with Lima Lima. They are a really nice group of men that love flying and demonstrating precision flying. The ceiling was a little better and we got to do some fun performing Wifferdills and Pop-Top Breaks.

Shortly after returning from this flight the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds arrived from their survey flight over the Chicago. I enjoyed watching them land and taxi in. I had the opportunity to talk to the two female pilots in the team for an article I posted on Chicagoist.com. My photos from the day are available on Flickr

As for this weekend I am hoping the weather holds out and we get two rain free days with unrestricted visibility and high ceilings. I enjoy all the air show acts but this year I am anxious to see two new acts for me, the Firebirds & the full demonstration of the the F-22 Raptor.

August 21, 2005

Sunday at the Chicago Air and Water Show

goldenknights.jpgOn Saturday, two Thunderbird F-16s grazed wings while in the diamond formation, causing a missile rail from one of the planes to fall into Lake Michigan. This lead to the demonstration being ended early so all the planes involved could safely return to the Gary International Airport. In addition, it was determined the Thunderbirds would not participate in Sunday's Air & Water Show.

I am glad to say the 47th Annual Air & Water Show was still a success without the Thunderbird performance. The crowd enjoyed demonstrations from all the branches of the armed forces in addition to the great civilian demonstration teams.

One of my favorite performances today was by Sean Tucker flying the Oracle biplane. Sean performed some amazing maneuvers that as a pilot had me wondering how he pulled them off. The U.S. Army Golden Knights were also very entertaining. The skydivers jumped from 10,000 feet descending at 120 MPH towards the beach where they each landed within a small ten foot circle.

aeroshell.jpgDuring the show I saw a few fun sights. The first, a child running around playing with his two diecast airplanes. It is airshows like this that will inspire the future pilots that will defend our country, fly us commercially and enjoy the benefits of general aviation. Secondly, I saw an elderly gentleman with his retired Air Force hat on who look as content as can be watching the AeroShell Aerobatic Team in their WWII trainers. From what I can tell all that made it out for the show enjoyed it.

I uploaded some photos into a gallery of images from Sunday's Chicago Air & Water Show.


Posted at 6:59 PM | Post Category: Airshows, Chicago Air and Water Show | Save & Share This Story

August 20, 2005

Confessions of An Airshow Addict

f22stealth.jpgSo my plan was to go to the Chicago Air & Water Show on Sunday as we have guests in town today. But when they left to have lunch with a friend of theirs, I hailed a cab and followed the roar of jet engines to the lakefront. How could I resist the excitement of the airshow since I had an hour or two to kill?

My wife and I enjoyed watching the Lima Lima Flight Team perform. It was a thrill to watch after having flown with them just two days before. While there we also enjoyed the Red Baron Squadron and part of the Sean Tucker Oracle plane performance.

The highlight of our brief trip to the show were the two F/A-22 Stealth Fighters. I knew they were only on the show schedule for today so I was excited I had the opportunity to see them fly.

The F/A-22 is a multipurpose attack and fighter aircraft being built to replace the F-15s. According to an Air Force website "the F/A-22 has demonstrated the ability to 'supercruise', flying at sustained speeds of over Mach 1.5 without the use of afterburner."

With my air show fix fulfilled for the day I think I can make it through until tomorrow's show.


Posted at 2:47 PM | Post Category: Airshows, Chicago Air and Water Show | Save & Share This Story

View Your Tax Dollars at Work

airshow1.jpgA parade of your tax dollars will be on display on Saturday and Sunday at the 47th Annual Air & Water Show. As you have read there are great military performance teams like the Army Golden Knights and Air Force Thunderbirds, but those are not the only military aircraft expected to be flying over the Chicago shores this weekend.

The list provided by the City of Chicago stated that the line-up is subject to change and planes performing will be based on availability. Thought the line-up is expected to include attack aircraft like the A-10 Thunderbolt, Bombers such as the B-1 and B-52 bombers and fighters including F-14 Tomcats and the F-117 Nighthawk. Those visiting the show on Saturday are expected to see the Stealth F/A-22 Raptor.

I uploaded some of my photos of military aircraft that were arriving to the area on Thursday to a military gallery. All planes photographed are American except the bright red Red Bull Mig Magic (Mig 17-F).


Posted at 10:52 AM | Post Category: Airshows, Chicago Air and Water Show | Save & Share This Story

August 19, 2005

United States Air Force Thunderbirds

thunderbirds_animation.jpgThe Thunderbirds are the United States Air Force's demonstration team and they are schedule to perform Saturday and Sunday in the 47th Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. I had the opportunity to get up close to learn more about them and enjoy viewing their F-16s in advance of the show. For a great animation of some of the Thunderbirds manuevers and to learn about their F-16s visit the Chicago Tribune website.

I had the opportunity to listen to Major Rusty Keen talk about some experiences with the Thunderbirds. Keen flys the number two plane. He discussed the importance of planning prior to an airshow. They use maps in advance of arriving at the location. Then they try to memorize all visual references within five miles of show center in the few days of practice prior to the show. He equates the air show to a large Vegas production were everything needs to be choreographed down the most minute detail.

thunderbird_5_small.jpgHe also talked about all that goes into preparing for an airshow. Even though there are only six pilots performing in the show the Thunderbirds utilize more than 65 people to prepare the planes and to manage the show. The had a giant

While viewing the Thunderbird F-16s I noticed that plane number 5 had it's number painted on the plane upside down. Keen explained that the pilot of plane five Maj. Scottie Zamzow spends almost 80% of the show upside down so it is only fitting that his number be painted so it can be read.

The Thunderbirds will roar over the Chicago Lakefront with their wings as close as 18 inches apart on Saturday and Sunday. I cannot wait to see them perform!


Posted at 7:41 PM | Post Category: Airshows, Chicago Air and Water Show | Save & Share This Story

August 18, 2005

Flying with the Lima Lima Flight Team

limalima1.jpgToday I had the opportunity to attend the press day for the 47th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show. Over the next few days I will post some stories about the day. I will dedicate this post to the highlight of the day: A Flight with the Lima Lima Flight Team.

I drove down to Gary International Airport where most of the planes are based during the air show. The only other time I had been to the Gary International Airport is when I did a brief landing there while flying in a Cessna 172. The 172 would have looked out of place today with the military jets and all the performance aircraft.

When I arrived I learned I would have a chance to fly with the Lima Lima Flight Team. It was hard containing my excitement. I had talked on the phone earlier in the week with John "Ripper" Rippinger about the team. In our conversation his enthusiasm for the T-34 jumped through the phone I new if I had a chance to go flying during the press day I wanted to go with Lima Lima. John suggested I fly in the plane that occupied the fifth spot in the six plane formation which would afford me a great vantage point for some photos. So he introduced me to the pilot of that aircraft Skip "Scooter"Aldous.

I felt comfortable with Skip as my pilot from the moment I met him. He was a gentleman who seemed to exude confidence. Maybe the fact that he has been flying for over forty years. Most of his flight time was in the U.S. Air Force where he built a nice resume of planes including: T-33, T-37, T-38, F-102, F-106, and the F-16 (same as will be seen this weekend flown by the Thunderbirds). Between his time in the military and after retirement he has flown over 6,000 hours and he has flown with Lima Lima since 2000. With approval of his credentials in place I was ready to strap myself into the T-34.

Literally, I strapped myself to the plane. The first thing I had to do was put on my parachute (yeah I said it I needed a parachute). Next I belted myself to the rear seat of the T-34. Bill went through the emergency bail out procedure but promised it would not be necessary. With the safety review out of the way we fired up the powerful T-34 and began our taxi to the runway.

The Lima Lima Flight consisted of six planes. The first four took off in formation then my plane and the sixth plane in the formation took off a few seconds later. We met up with the others creating a formation of six shortly after takeoff. It was amazing to see aircraft so close to our wing.

limalima2.jpgIt was a bumpy morning but as the planes flew over Lake Michigan we found smoother air. That is when the show really began. We started off with some steep banks which were amazing. Then we performed a maneuver called the Wifferdill where each plan in the formation one at a time would peal away by pulling back on the yoke and sending the plan into a nearly straight up climb. Then the pilot would rotate to the left until the nose of the plane went from a climb into a dive back towards the lake. During this move we experience 2.5 to 3Gs. It felt like I had two men standing on my chest. I cannot imagine what it would be like to experience more intense g-forces.

During some of the manuevers the planes would turn on the smoke machines which made for a cool site being in a plane at the rear of the pack. It was exciting to watch us whip through a tight turn following the trail of the flight in front of us.

On our return to the airport we did a fly over of the runway then performed a Pop-Top Break where each plane pulled back and to the side of the yoke pulling the plane out of the formation and rolling us back around the other dirction. That was followed by a tight turn to bring us onto final for landing. It was the quickest twenty minutes I have experienced in a long time.

I cannot wait to see the Lima Lima Flight Team perform this weekend in their beautiful yellow T-34s. I know they will put on an enjoyable show for all to see.

I put together a minute and a half long movie that includes some photos and video clips which you can be downloaded here in two sizes: 2mb .mov & 7mb .mov (higher quality). I also created a Lima Lima Flight Photo Gallery. Additionally, Chris Booker of the Chicago Tribune shot some great footage of our flight. The plane he is shooting during takeoff is mine.