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Chicago, City of Surprises

Published January 11, 2018 in Air Shows, Travel

The Chicago Air and Water Show was the main reason why we were in Chicago, specifically that week in August 2017. When we were planning our trip to the USA, I read online that the Blue Angels would be there. I had only ever seen them on television, and I jumped at the opportunity to take in their flying with my own eyes.

All the airshows I had ever attended before Chicago were at airports in South Africa. The experience included a scorching African sun baking down on the dusty tarmac, sometimes tempered a little by the fact that it was winter. Boerewors rolls and pancakes and caps and aircraft memorabilia were typically on sale at the myriad stalls. And there were always crowds of excited aviation fans, all looking skywards, quite oblivious to what is going on around them at ground level. If one of us were ever to trip over a discarded toy aircraft, the domino effect might take down half the crowd. And truth be told, I would probably be that person if it ever did happen… But don’t get me wrong – I loved (and still do!) the whole experience!

We enquired from our hotel concierge, who had made several great recommendations for other things already, where she would recommend going to see the airshow. “We always go to the Oak Street Beach. It is not as busy there, and you can still see everything.”

The first airshow day was also our last day in Chicago, and we still had tickets to the 360 Chicago observation deck. The plan was to make a quick stop at 360 Chicago before heading to the Oak Street Beach. It sounded most familiar – the days were hot and sunny, the viewing spot sandy and would probably be crowded with aviation fans craning their necks upward.

But Chicago had a spectacular surprise up its flight jacket sleeve!

Just before 10:00, when the airshow was due to start, we were still up in 360 Chicago at the Architect’s Corner Café (310 meters above street level). We were sitting at a little table right next to the window in the lovely air-conditioned environment, sipping a cold drink while the crowds on the beach grew by the minute.

The exact program would be determined amongst the pilots on the morning of the show, so I had no idea when the Blue Angels would fly. In retrospect it is obvious that they would be last – who in their right mind would even consider following that performance? But I really didn’t want to miss seeing them because we are trying to make our way to the beach while they perform. I was torn between risking it to get to the recommended spot, and staying in the comfy room where we were.

And then it happened.

We witnessed our very first aerobatics performance from a vantage point far higher than what we were used to. And it was love at first sight! Instead of always looking up at the aircraft, we were at times on the same level. And often we were looking down on the performers. This vantage point makes for great photos, that are (at least in my experience) quite out of the ordinary. A Harrier hovering like a dragon fly over the lake, kicking up a tremendous amount of water, and not a centimeter of sky anywhere in the photo. An army paratrooper, moments before landing on the beach. Two of the Blue Angels against a backdrop of lake and city.

Harrier hovering like a dragon fly

Harrier hovering like a dragon fly

Army paratrooper moments before landing

Army paratrooper moments before landing

Two Blue Angels against a backdrop of lake and city

Two Blue Angels against a backdrop of lake and city

I didn’t move from that chair until the Blue Angels had flown, right at the end of the line-up. My hubby refilled our drinks every now and again while I jealously guarded our spot. At some point I switched to my backup camera battery. Couples and families and single people came and went around us. Some seemed surprised to see that there was an air show on, while others calmly unpacked their professional camera equipment for the occasion.

But I never budged. These were the best seats in the city, and they were ours!

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