Chicago Air and Water Show 2001

I've lived in Chicago twice now but the first time around I missed the airshow, in 1998 because I didn't realize that it was about to happen and in 1999 because I moved to New Jersey before it happened.   In 2001 I made sure that I'd be there, but the weather messed things up and on Saturday I left early. 

Nevertheless, I was glad I went, because this show is different than any of the others I've been to over the years.   The most obvious difference is that there's no airport with the display aircraft taking off and landing, instead it all happens along the shoreline of Lake Michigan just north of downtown Chicago.   It's a very special thing to see aircraft performing their maneuvers with a background of skyscrapers and apartment buildings, and it really adds something to the show.   Also unusual is the flight path of the aircraft.   Show center is at North Beach but we went to Fullerton Ave, half a mile or a mile to the north.   Because the lakefront park at this point sticks further out into the lake then North Beach, aircraft were often flying directly overhead, allowing front-on and overhead views which aren't normally seen.

Another difference was the mix of aircraft at the show.   This is a very poor show from the point of view of historic military aircraft, with only one P-51 Mustang performing; however, it's a great place to see aircraft in the current US arsenal, and often in groups.   So the show on Saturday started with a pair of B1 Lancer supersonic bombers flying in over the city, and then doing their display both with their wings swept back and unswept.   A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber was scheduled to appear both days, both of course you can't possibly fly one of those in the rain since it ruins their anti-radar coatings, so only the smaller F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter flew.

Although I've seen the navy display team The Blue Angels performing at three of the airshows I've attended, this is the first time I've seen their air force equivalent, The Thunderbirds.   The six F-16 Fighting Falcons of the team flew in and out around the buildings of downtown Chicago, and did team displays before breaking up into displays by the classic four plane diamond formation, as well as demonstrations done by the two lead solo planes flying alone.