August 11, 2009
Chicago Air and Water Show Viewing Guide
Each year about this time I start to receive many requests from friends and family and through MyFlightBlog.com for tips on where to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. I thought I would share some of my suggestions for the best places to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. I have my thoughts on many of the popular viewing spots on the map to the right.
The best way to view the show is from a place where you will have an unobstructed view of the entire show. The only real way to do that is from a boat on Lake Michigan. If you are one of the lucky few that own a boat or know a friend that does that is surely one of the best ways to get a clear view of the action. If you don't own and can't mooch a ride you can always pay to take a cruise. Mystic Cruises & Odyssey Cruises still has space available on their Air Show Weekend cruises.
The Airshow center is North Avenue Beach. This is where the Golden Knights Parachute team lands and the Harrier usually shows off the V/STOL maneuvers. Additionally, the flight teams will use this as the center point of their show. If they have a loop or a crossing pattern this is where it will take place. As a result, this is a very popular place to watch the show so expect there to be large crowds and you will need to arrive early to get a spot on the beach. If you want to enjoy the excitement of viewing the show from show center but want to ensure you have a place to sit check out the special offers from Castaways.
If you are looking for a legal place to enjoy an adult beverage while watching the show visit Sand Bar Beer Garden at the Northeast corner of North Avenue Beach. Drinks will be served from 10am through the end of the headline act. You can reserve a ticket online.
Altitude, Altitude, Altitude
We are talking about an airshow (well, also a water show but who are we fooling?) so altitude makes a difference. A rooftop deck or balcony located near the center of the show action and above neighboring buildings provides a great way to watch the show. The challenge here is that typically you need to share that space with a lot of other interested parties.
Although I have never tried it, I have heard some suggest visiting one of Chicago's Observatories either at the Sears Tower (er, Willis Tower) or John Hancock. I can imagine those spots will be crowded too but must provide an interesting view of the show. The Hancock Observatory will get you much closer to the action on the lakefront.
The Cite atop the Lake Point Tower offers a great 360 degree view of the airshow while providing a more upscale dining experience.
A Blanket On the Lakefront
Most people view the show from a blanket on a beach or a spot along the lakefront. I suggest heading north to Diversey or Montrose Harbor where you can have a great view while also avoiding much of the crowd.
What are the boundaries of the airshow? That is tough to say as many of the planes fly up from Gary International Airport so you will spot planes well south of the Show. My personal recommendation is to find a spot to watch the show that is no further south than Northerly Island and no further north than Montrose Harbor (displayed in the map to the right). I would try to be as far east as you can get (those in boats will win in this category) with the westernmost point being Halsted. You can, of course, see and enjoy the action from outside this area but you will be seeing the fringe portion of the show and not taking in its full excitement.
Gary International Airport
Most of the civilian and military performance teams are based out of Gary International Airport for the Chicago Air & Water Show. For those in Indiana and well south of the city this has become a popular place to see the planes. Although you won't see a true airshow performance you will see the planes leaving and arriving, and flying in formation.
Listening to the Air & Water Show
Chicago's WBBM 780 has live coverage of the Air & Water Show. If you are not a die-hard aviation enthusiast or have a certified plane spotter with you I always suggest bringing along a radio so you can hear from the broadcast team what it is you are looking at flying by. If you are at show center there are speakers from which you can listen to Airshow MC Herb Hunter but that can often be a challenge over the roar of the planes so a personal radio is highly recommended.
The flight teams have their media day on Thursday and a few may come as far North as Chicago briefly. However on Friday there is nearly a full practice show. Most of the teams will run through their full performance and only a few single plane acts are missing on Friday. The practice usually runs between 10am and 3pm and is a great way to see the show without the crowds.
If you have a favorite place to view the Air & Water Show and are not afraid to share it and I will add the best suggestions to the guide.Posted by Todd McClamroch at August 11, 2009 8:24 PM