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Chicago Air and Water Show 2017: What you need to know

Marine Corp AV-8B Harriers in formation over the Gary Jet Center for the Chicago Air and Water Show media day on Thursday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Iron giants flipped, twisted and turned through the Chicago sky on Thursday to practice for this weekend’s 59th Chicago Air and Water Show.

Many Chicagoans cannot contain their excitement.

Jennifer DeDecker calls herself an “aviation super-fan” because both her grandfathers served in the military as pilots — one in the Air force and one in the Navy.

“It’s so fast and exciting to watch the maneuvers they do,” she said. “It’s incredible to know that people can do this.”

GalleryDeDecker, 36, saw the show for the first time when she moved to Chicago in 2014. On Tuesday, DeDecker tweeted a photo of the 2015 show taken from her 17th-floor apartment across from Belmont Harbor, a prime viewing point.

Yet this time around, she will watch the planes zoom past from her friend’s boat on Lake Michigan.

The largest free show of its kind kicks off this weekend from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Annually, it attracts around 2 million people.

F/A-18 fighter jets with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels land at the Gary Jet Center Thursday preparing for the Chicago Air and Water Show this weekend. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times
F/A-18 fighter jets with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels land at the Gary Jet Center Thursday preparing for the Chicago Air and Water Show this weekend. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

To watch comfortably, plan accordingly.

Where to watch:

  • North Avenue Beach is at the center of action. But if you want to beat crowds, you can pick any spot along the lakefront from Oak Street Beach to Fullerton.
  • Chicago’s many bars and restaurants offer prime viewing locations and specials for the weekend. Check out rooftops including The J Parker, Cindy’s Rooftop, GreenRiver and more. Kanela Breakfast Club locations in the city will offer $12 French Toast Flights in honor of the show. Lincoln Park’s Mon Ami Gabi will serve $1 scoops of ice cream on its patio.
  • Or, head to the top of a skyscraper. You can have a picnic in the sky at the Willis Tower. Buy tickets, ranging from $100 to $150 per person, in advance, to enjoy lunch and watch the show from the Skydeck.

What to watch out for:

  • The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who did not appear in the show last year, will return. Other headliners include the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights and U.S. Navy Leap Frogs parachute teams. Their exact order of appearance is not determined yet; pilots set the schedule on the morning of the show. A list of other performers is on the event’s website.
  • Former Cubs catcher and “Dancing With the Stars” runner-up David Ross will open the show on Saturday by tandem jumping out of a plane with the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights.
  • Check the weather. Although rain is possible this weekend, there were thunderstorms last year that didn’t cancel the entire show. Officials said they will keep a vigilant eye on the weather.

How to Get There:

  • To avoid heavy traffic, take the CTA. The CTA will run extra service for Blue, Brown, Green and Orange Line trains. There will also be extra No. 72 North Avenue and No. 151 Sheridan Buses.
  • Or, cruiseto the lakefront on a Divvy bike. Divvy will offer a valet service, which means staffers will man certain stations to accept bikes even if the docks are full. Those stations include: Lake Shore Drive at North Boulevard; Theater on the Lake; Michigan Avenue at Oak Street; and Navy Pier.
  • If you drive, park at Millennium Park Garage. For the lowest rate, buy tickets online. There will be a free shuttle to North Avenue Beach.