Chicagoans gather downtown for scaled-back Air Show: ‘It’s nice to be able to get back outside’

The annual Air and Water Show — minus the water — returned to Chicago this year with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels as the only performers.

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Spectators watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach, Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21, 2021. The U.S. Navy Blue Angles flew over Lake Michigan for over half an hour as thousands of people watched.

Spectators watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach, Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21, 2021. The U.S. Navy Blue Angles flew over Lake Michigan for over half an hour as thousands of people watched.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago had its eyes to the skies Saturday as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels zipped over Lake Michigan, performing a scaled-down version of the annual Air and Water Show. 

After being scrapped last year due to COVID-19, a shorter version of the late summer tradition returned to the lakefront, with the team of jets zipping across the sky in tight formations and incredible speeds for thousands of spectators.

Most on a packed North Avenue Beach remained maskless but distanced in small groups. Families, couples and solo spectators sat on beach towels and chairs pointing and clapping as the planes loudly zoomed by overhead during the 40-minute performance. 

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, seen from North Avenue Beach, fly over Lake Michigan during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show, Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21, 2021.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, seen from North Avenue Beach, fly over Lake Michigan during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show, Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

David and Marines Rivera, both 52, sat underneath an umbrella watching the show. The couple said they used to bring their kids out and missed watching the pilots perform. 

“The kids are big now, doing their own thing, so we decided since we haven’t done it in a long time, ‘Let's just do this,’” said Marines Rivera, of Jefferson Park.

While the Riveras said COVID-19 is still of concern to them, they felt comfortable distancing themselves from other spectators and had masks in hand in case it got too crowded. 

“Everybody’s still to themselves still, not like it used to be when it was really packed,” David Rivera said. 

“We still just wanted to enjoy it. We didn’t want to feel like we were locked down,” Marines Rivera added. 

Spectators watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach.

Spectators watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Farther away at a park behind North Avenue Beach, Bud and Michèle Baldwin sat on a bench waving at passersby as they headed to the show. They’ve lived downtown for 35 years and while they said they enjoy seeing families come out for the show, they could do without the noise. 

“We live on the 18th floor. The planes were underneath our apartment,” Bud Baldwin, 99, said. 

While Michèle Baldwin, 85, said she isn’t necessarily a fan of the show itself, she was glad to see people out and about in the city again.

“I’m really aware of the importance of connecting with people,” Michèle said. 

Spectators watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach.

Spectators watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The 2021 performance was the first time 9-year-old Charlotte Frankenberger watched the Blue Angels. “I thought it was really cool,” she said.

Her dad, Grant Frankenberger, said he’s been coming to the show for years and was happy to travel from the West Loop for the performance.

“I’ve come to the air shows for years, whether here or elsewhere, and this is my favorite,” Frankenberger said. “It’s nice to be able to get back outside and be back to normal for summer.”

The Blue Angels return to the lakefront Sunday from noon till 1 p.m.

Grant and Dottie Bowden watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach.

Grant and Dottie Bowden watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show at North Avenue Beach.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, seen from North Avenue Beach, fly near the John Hancock Center during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, seen from North Avenue Beach, fly near the John Hancock Center during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, seen from North Avenue Beach, fly over Lake Michigan during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, seen from North Avenue Beach, fly over Lake Michigan during an air show event that replaced the annual Chicago Air and Water Show.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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