The 60th annual Air and Water Show hits Chicago’s skies this weekend, bringing nearly two dozen military and civilian aircraft and performing teams to the lakefront for two days of aerial acrobatics, narrated, as always, by Air Show icon Herb Hunter.
Chicago rapper Rhymefest will kick off the festivities with a tandem jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, landing at North Avenue Beach at 10 a.m. The Grammy- and Academy Award-winning singer/musician/activist is jumping in memory of his late grandfather, George Smith, a Vietnam War veteran and paratrooper with the Army 173rd Airborne Division.
🕙 When is the Air and Water Show?
This weekend: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, and Sunday, Aug. 19, performances in the sky and on Lake Michigan will bring roughly 2 million people to the city. It’s the largest free show of its kind and is now in its 60th year.
📍Where to watch the Air and Water Show
North Avenue Beach is the official event location, but if you want to beat crowds, you can pick any spot along the lakefront from Oak Street Beach to Fullerton.
Pro tip: consider posting up on the upper floors 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.
Chicago’s many bars and restaurants also offer prime viewing locations, and many have specials for the weekend. Check out eateries with open rooftops, including The J Parker, Cindy’s Rooftop and more.
👀 What you’ll see at the Air and Water Show
More than a dozen military and civilian aircraft will perform daring aerobatics above the city this weekend, including an Oracle Challenger, a U.S. Air Force P-51 Mustang, an MH-65 Dolphin Helicopter and of course, beloved Air Show mainstays the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Check out our guide to the aircraft you’ll see this year, including details on what makes each plane or chopper so unique.
It can be hard to wrap your head around the complexity of the maneuvers you’ll see in the sky. This video breaks down the Calypso Pass and the Reflection Pass — they’re harder than they look:
• Ballet at 27,000 feet: Thunderbirds refuel midair ahead of Air & Water Show
• Chicago Air & Water Show — A closeup look at the 2018 participants
• Air and Water Show veteran to perform final Chicago show before solo retirement
• Friday thunderstorms will give way to sunny skies in time for Air & Water Show
⛅The weekend weather forecast for the Air and Water Show
The National Weather Service was predicting a 60 percent chance of rain Friday, with thunderstorms likely between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
The weather was expected to clear up for the rest of the weekend, with Saturday and Sunday both expected to be mostly sunny, according to the weather service. Saturday will see a high of 84 degrees, while temperatures could reach 85 on Sunday.
🗺️ Getting to the Air and Water Show
If you’re watching things in the air and things in the lake, public transportation is your best bet. About 2 million people will be flocking to the lakefront this weekend for a glimpse of the action.
They also suggest that commuters buy tickets and unlimited ride passes ahead of the Air and Water Show.
If you’re taking the L, the closest station to the North Avenue Beach is Sedgwick, on the Brown Line. (The Purple Line Express does not run on weekends.) It’s a 20-minute walk to the beach.
The CTA recommends buying tickets ahead of time to avoid long lines in stations for the return trip. Visit the CTA’s website to learn more, and check the website in case of service alerts and disruptions.
You can enjoy unlimited rides on all CTA services with a CTA unlimited-rides pass loaded onto a Ventra Card. The CTA also sells disposable 1-day paper Ventra Tickets ($10) at all Ventra vending machines, and 3-day Ventra Tickets at O’Hare and Midway vending machines.
Metra will be adding extra service on the BNSF and all Union Pacific lines on the weekend. Alcohol is prohibited on Saturday and Sunday. A bicycle warning is in effect this weekend, which means Metra advises it is less likely cyclists will be able to bring their bikes, but Metra is not banning bicycles outright and will accomodate them if there is space to do so.
Metra advises passengers to buy the $10 Weekend Pass, which allows for unlimited rides on Metra for both days on the weekend. Also, up to three children 11 or younger can travel for free until Labor Day.
If you’re leaving from one of the main Chicago terminals, it’s better to buy your ticket ahead of time or through the Ventra app. Metra charges a $5 surcharge for buying tickets on board if you could have purchased a ticket at the station before boarding from a ticket agent or vending machine.
The city’s bike ride-share program, Divvy, is an excellent way to get around the city without having to walk or look after your own bike.
A single ride up to 30 minutes costs $3. The 24-hour Explorer Pass offers unlimited three-hour rides for $15, and you can re-dock your bike along to the way to avoid paying additional fees; alternatively, you can pay $3 for each additional 30 minutes you use your bike.
Rides and passes can be purchased through the Divvy app or from kiosks at each Divvy station. Check stations and bike availability on the Divvy website.
🚦 Driving, parking
If you have to drive, there is no parking available at the event. The Millennium Park Garage is offering reduced rates and free shuttles to North Avenue Beach at the parking garages in the Loop. Shuttles begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and run until the end of the show.