“When is the 61st Annual Chicago Air & Water Show?” by S.M. O’Connor

The 61st Annual Chicago Air & Water Show will take place along the Chicago lakefront from Fullerton to Oak Street this coming weekend: Saturday, August 17, 2019 and Sunday, August 18, 2019.  Both days, it will be from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  The National Anthem will play at 10:00 a.m.  North Street Beach in the Chicago Park District’s Lincoln Park on the North Side of Chicago will be the focal point.

The Chicago Air & Water Show is free.  Sponsors include the Chicago Tribune, Shell, Boeing, American Airlines, W.B.B.M. News Radio, A.B.C.-7, and Oracle.  An average of 2,000,000 people attend the Chicago Air & Water Show.  Food vendors will be selling food such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and nachos, as well as ice cream and soft drinks.

Click here to reach the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Webpage dedicated to the 61st Annual Chicago Air & Water Show to help plan a visit.  Click here for answers to frequently-asked questions.  Click here to see a full list of performers.

Fourteen different federal, state, and local government agencies coordinate the event.  Many of the airplanes in the show take off from the Gary Jet Center in Gary, Indiana, but military planes take off all from bases all over the Midwest and time their flights to arrive over Chicago at a given moment. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the British Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) Red Arrows, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, and the U.S. Navy Parachute Team (“The Leap Frogs”) will be the headline performers.

Al Benedict, Supervisor of the Chicago Park District’s Lake Shore Park in Streeterville, oversaw the first Chicago Air & Water Show in 1959 – the same year the Pan American Games were held in Chicago and Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker (1895-1979) visited Chicago to help celebrate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.  To put this in context, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events – the predecessor to the Department of Cultural Events and Special Events – began to organize the annual Venetian Night parade of illuminated yachts and other boats in 1958.

The Chicago Air & Water Show started out as the “Lakeshore Park Air & Water Show” and it was a part of “Family Day” for children enrolled in the Chicago Park District’s day camp program.  The budget was $88.  The program consisted of a U.S. Coast Guard air-sea rescue simulation, water skiers, a water ballet (like out of an Esther Williams film), games, and a diving competition.  Benedict had worked his way up from being a lifeguard at a beach to being a physical education instructor at Chase Park to being Supervisor of Lake Shore Park.  He retired in 1987.[1]  To learn more about the history of the Chicago Air & Water Show, read The Chicago Air & Water Show: A History of Wings above the Waves by Gerry Souter & Janet Souter.

The Chicago Park District, which is a separate municipal corporation from the City of Chicago, organized the Chicago Air & Water Show for decades.  Corporate sponsorship started in 1989.  The City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events assumed responsibility for organization of the Chicago Air & Water Show in 1994.

In 2008, the City of Chicago celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Air & Water Show.  For the occasion, it was extended to three days, Bill Murray parachuted with the Golden Knights to promote the United Service Organization (U.S.O.), and approximately 3,100,000 people attended the show.[2]

The Chicago Transit Authority’s #72 Bus goes to North Avenue Beach.  The address of North Avenue Beach is 1600 North lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60613.

[1] David R. Rudd, “Making the Air Show Fly,” Chicago Tribune, 22 July, 1988 (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1988-07-22-8801160744-story.html) Accessed 08/14/19

[2] Shannon Blum, “The History Behind the Chicago Air and Water Show,” W.B.B.M. (https://wbbm780.radio.com/history-chicago-air-water-show) Accessed 08/14/19

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