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.
August 9, 2009
Coming off the heels of strong crowds of nearly 600,000 aviation enthusiasts celebrating all aviation has to offer at Oshkosh's AirVenture, nearly 2.2 million people are expected to line the Chicago shoreline this weekend to enjoy the 51st Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. The Airshow returns to its traditional two-day schedule after celebrating its 50th anniversary last year with the addition of a Friday night show. That means Chicago Airshow Junkies can get a sneak peak with minimal crowds by setting out a blanket on the lakefront on Friday afternoon.
Most performers who have been hallmarks of recent Air & Water Show will be on hand again for this year's show including the locally based Lima Lima Flight Team, Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and The Firebirds Delta Team. Of course no airshow is complete without an appearance from Sean D. Tucker and Team Oracle, always a crowd favorite.
Herb Hunter will return as MC for the event, his 22nd year in that role. Each year he brings a great enthusiasm for and deep knowledge of aviation to this event.
New this year is Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull Helicopter. Helicopters have traditionally played minor roles in airshows unable to perform the awe-inspiring acrobatics feats that their fixed wing counterparts can. That changed a few years ago when aviation enthusiast and Red Bull founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, convinced Aaron to find a way to perform aerobatics in a helicopter. Aaron now pilots the Bölkow Bo-105 in a way most airshow attendees have never seen. Max has performed more consecutive rolls in a helicopter, five, than anyone else. I expect him to quickly become a crowd favorite at this year's airshow.
The United States Air Force Thunderbirds are this year's headliners and will be arriving in town, earlier then normal, on Monday. They will be taking Chicago Hometown Hero Brian Otto for a ride in the back seat of one of their F-16s. So you can expect to hear the roar of their jets over Chicago all week long.
This year the water and air portions of the show have been combined. So all activities will begin at 10am this year and run through 4pm. A complete list of airshow performers can be found on the Chicago Air & Water Show website.
As in previous years I will bring coverage of the Airshow to you throughout the week. I will be attending the Airshow media day earlier in the week. If you have specific questions you would like answered let me know and I will seek out the answers for you.
August 17, 2008
Ever wonder how a pilot knows to stay clear of an airshow? According to Federal Aviation Regulations 91.03 "Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight." Therefore it is the pilot's responsibility to determine whether there are any hazards along the intended route of flight.
A pilot can take advantage of many online services to fulfill this requirement or make a call to flight service briefer. Before each of my flights I contact Flight Service for a last minute check on the weather and also to double check for TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) or NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen). If I had been intending to fly along the lakefront I would have learned during this process that there was a Notice to Airmen restricting flight within five miles of the airshow center.
In the example of the Chicago Air & Water Show they communicate the location by using the show centers location in regards to the Chicago O'Hare VOR. For example the Airspace is defined as having a show center located at 13.6 nautical miles out from the Chicago O'Hare VOR on the 106° radial. The flight restriction is then for a radius of 5 nautical miles from that point from the surface to 16,000 feet.
You can view a sample of the Notice on the FAA website.
August 14, 2008
The 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show roared into town today. Military and civilian aircraft from all over the country began arriving this morning at the Gary International Airport where most of them will be based throughout the airshow.
Today at the airshow media day I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at many of the acts, speak with some of the pilots, go for some rides and best of all fly the T-6 Texan! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the acts I am most excited about this year is Bill Leff's Night Airshow. His T-6 Texan is specially equipped with pyrotechnics so he can put on a thrilling unique night time airshow experience. In meeting Bill I learned that he is from Dayton, Ohio. I shared with him that I learned to fly in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. After learning I was a pilot, Bill offered to let me fly the T-6 Texan when we went for a flight.
I had flown in a T-6 with the AeroShell team previously, though since they fly in tight formations there was no opportunity for me to fly. Shortly after getting airborne Bill told me the plane was mine. I flew us out to the practice area and performed a few turns and climbs. Once at the practice area he took over the aircraft to perform some aerobatics. We flew a variety of maneuvers but my favorites were the barrel roll and the loop. I love the power of the T-6! On the way back to Gary he gave me the plane back and had me fly us back until we were on short final where he took over the plane for landing. I had a great time talking to Bill and flying with him and am really looking forward to watching him perform on Friday night. If you are in the Chicago Area stop by the lakefront tomorrow night to see him perform.
As we parked the plane the Lima Lima Flight Team returned from a press flight. Sitting in the back seat of the lead plane was Florence Henderson (AKA Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch). Henderson will be singing the national anthem each day of the airshow. She was kind enough to take a photo with me (Available in slideshow below).
While standing there I learned there was a spare seat in one of Lima Lima's T-34s for their next sortie, so I jumped on that. Rick "Knuckles" Nichols took great care of me and gave a very enjoyable flight. We were in the seventh plane in an eight plane formation. During they show they will perform as a six-plane team, Nichols will serve as the team announcer during the show. Be sure not to miss Lima Lima's performances this weekend.
Throughout the day the Blue Angels were coming and going to do spot checks and practice flights over Chicago. I did not get to see a preview of their Chicago Show but did enjoy seeing a few maneuvers back at Gary. I guess it gives me something to look forward to during the next few days.
August 13, 2008
Prior 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
Many 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.
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:
- F-22 Raptor Demo Team
- U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights
- U.S. Navy Leap Frogs Parachute Team
- AeroShell Aerobatic Team
- The Firebirds
- Lima Lima Flight Team
- Sean Tucker & Team Oracle
- Bill Leff Airshows
- The Collaborators
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
I 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.
Sean 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.
For 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
It 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.
Instead 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
On 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.
During 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.