Thunderous jets and pesky showers mark abbreviated opening of Air and Water Show

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Thousands of people flocked to the lakefront on Saturday, enduring rain and thunder to catch the 61st annual Chicago Air and Water Show.

The skyward celebration kicked off at North Avenue Beach with former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios landing the tandem parachute jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

The Hockey Hall of Famer was beaming with excitement as cheering fans applauded the parachute mission.

“You can’t beat this feeling,” Chelios said. “They didn’t even give me time to think. They just strapped me on and sent me out.”

Chelios said the Golden Knights told him if he was too nervous to jump, they would push him out of the plane.

“And he did push me,” Chelios said with a laugh.


Former NHL star Chris Chelios speaks to reporters after his tandem parachute jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
Jake Wittich/ Sun-Times

Additional performers included the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs and the Red Arrows, the U.K.’s Royal Air Force Aerobatics Team.

The Red Arrows streaked the sky with their intricately choreographed flight formations, painting the air with red, white and blue jet clouds.

Storm clouds loomed over the lakefront for most of the day with overcast weather halting the show twice. An early rain shower left pilots grounded for a quick 20 minutes, but the show took a longer, midday hiatus when heavier rainfall rolled in.

Thunder rumbled in the distance as commentator Herb Hunter, the Air and Water Show mainstay affectionately known as Voice of the Show, instructed attendees to seek shelter while pilots waited about an hour for the storm to pass.

Aerial onlookers, undeterred by the rainy weather, cheered as a military aircraft formation took to the sky, with the jets’ vibrant colors shining boldly against the gray sky.


Seth Townshend with his wife, Jazmin Townshend, and their 2-year-old son, Zeke, at the 2019 Chicago Air & Water Show. | Jake Wittich/Sun-Times

Two-year-old Zeke Townshend gasped in amazement, pointing to the aircraft as they soared above. His mother, 27-year-old Jazmin Townshend, clasped sound-reducing earmuffs over his head, cheering over the roaring jets.

“We last came to the show three years ago, but were excited to bring Zeke this year,” the boy’s father, 28-year-old Seth Townshend, said. “Zeke loves anything mechanical, so he’s all about these planes.”

Pamela Jackson brought her family from Hammond, Indiana, out to see the show. The 45-year-old grew up in the Cabrini Green neighborhood and has gone to the show almost every year of her life.

“I’ve only missed this three times in my entire life,” Jackson said. “I always wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, but couldn’t when I had my oldest child, so it’s fun to bring her out to see this with me.”


From left: Yasmine Johnson, Amelia Jackson, Lakenya Shelton, baby Rense Jackson, Keylan Jackson, Journee Wilson, Pamela Jackson and Melanie Johnson. | Jake Witich/Sun-Times

One of Jackson’s daughters, 22-year-old Melanie Johnson, is a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. She called the Air and Water Show a beloved family tradition.

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer or to help people out, so the Marine Corps is my way into that,” Johnson said. “It’s a family tradition to come here, and it’s great to honor the military.”

The show ended about 15 minutes early due to a bleak weather forecast.

According to the National Weather Service, more rain could be in store as the jets are scheduled to take off again Sunday from 10 a.m. through 3 p.m.


Samantha Salazar (left) and Michelle Urbina try on U.S. Army combat helmets Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 at the 61st Chicago Air and Water show off North Avenue Beach.

Samantha Salazar (left) and Michelle Urbina try on U.S. Army combat helmets Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 at the 61st Chicago Air and Water show off North Avenue Beach.
Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times


The Royal Air Force Red Arrows releases a stream of color Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 at the 61st Chicago Air and Water show off North Avenue Beach.

The Royal Air Force Red Arrows releases a stream of color Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 at the 61st Chicago Air and Water show off North Avenue Beach.
Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times


The Blue Angels perform aerial stunts at the 61st Chicago Air and Water show Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 above North Avenue Beach.

The Blue Angels perform aerial stunts at the 61st Chicago Air and Water show Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019 above North Avenue Beach.
Rick Majewski/For the Sun-Times

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