Chicago hosts its 47th annual Air & Water show - The Windy City With No Thunder

Red Barron Pizza Squadron

Chicago hosted its 47th annual Air & Water show on the city's lakefront of Lake Michigan over the weekend. This is the largest free show of its kind in the country with nearly 2 million viewers every year. I was among those spectators waiting to be dazzled and frazzled by the headlining show: The US Air Force Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds, which consist of 6, F-16 Fighting Falcons, disappointed crowds by canceling their highly anticipated performance due to a near fatal accident on Saturday. According to the Tribune (the Red Eye), critics long have warned that spectators face unnecessary risks when military jets are packed tightly together as they perform barrel rolls, corkscrews and other aerobatics, often at speeds exceeding 450 m.p.h. Critics also believe that high-speed choreographed stunts that bring wings as close as 18 inches apart are inherently dangerous. Warnings of these kinds could not keep the crowd from flocking to the lakefront for what is tradition in Chicago.


The Thunderbirds are not considered the main attraction because of their subtle entrance and exit from the sky. The appeal to these fighter jets ranges from their supersonic speed and daring aerobatic maneuvers. Performances also included The Red Baron Pizza Squadron, which consists of 8 pilots who fly fully-restored historic Boeing Stearman biplanes built in the 1940s. Originally built as World War II training aircraft and later used as crop dusters, the current Red Baron Squadron aircraft have been slightly modified to allow inverted flight. The loud rumbling noise that came from the F-18 fighter jet or the "heart of smoke" created in midair by the Squadron made the crowd of young and old spectators, gasp and sigh. While the clear blue Chicago sky was a perfect canvas for these clever pilots to create a masterpiece, the announcers were about as delicate to the ears as the ripping sound of a fighter jet zooming across the atmosphere, but they were informative and amusing nonetheless. Was this year's air and water show missing something?

USAF F-16 Thunderbirds


I, like many, decided to attend the show regardless of the canceled performance by the Thunderbirds. However, this show was far more profound than just an array of flying planes. The unspoken theme behind this show was about the billions of men and women who have given up and continue to risk their lives in battle. Selfishly, I started watching the show in minimal awe because in the back of my mind, I knew the headlining show was cancelled; why even be here? The answer is quite simple: because I can, because we can. It is easy to lose sight of the simple liberties we enjoy. Democracy is not merely a word, like the F-16 Fighting Falcon is not merely a plane. Democracy is a way of life. Every aircraft on display was used in most of the wars the United States has faced, including the Gulf and war in Iraq. The talented pilots and highly sophisticated machinery responsible for entertaining us today, defends us everyday.

Red Barron Diamond Formation

There was a moving tribute and a moment of silence in honor of the Veterans and POWs. Exciting aerial tricks decorated the sky dedicated to those who currently serve our country, while a moving God Bless America louldy played in the background. Shortly after the tributes were paid and the silence was over, the applause and whistles from the audience filled the sky as the jetliners had done all afternoon. The announcer finished his speech and the show ended, but was far from over. The same rowdy crowd of earlier was now a group of people who forgot about the Chicago sky without the Thunder and walked away proud to be an American. 




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