Local plane spotters who enjoyed watching gravity-defying stunts at this summer’s Chicago Air & Water Show won’t have to wait a whole year to see parachute jumps, mock dogfights and pyrotechnics in the skies above Lake Michigan.
Although smaller than its flashier neighbor to the south, the Northern Illinois Air Show – set to take place at the Waukegan National Airport on September 9 from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. – is one of the few air exhibitions in the United States that will fly historic military warplanes and not just active duty aircraft. The air show also offers attendees the opportunity to view airplanes at close range and engage with the pilots who fly them.
Now in its 16th year, the interactive, hands-on air show typically draws more than 10,000 attendees from across the North Shore.
The air show’s president, Tom Coogan, is a former Navy pilot who served 10 years in the Persian Gulf during the 1980s and ‘90s. He believes a significant measure of excitement and learning takes place when the airshow’s planes are not in flight.
“We may not have the large acts like The Thunderbirds or The Blue Angels, but at our air show, you can actually walk up the ramp to the aircraft to touch them and talk to the pilot,” said Coogan, a Northbrook resident. “Many people never get that experience.”
The air show benefits from its proximity to the Warbird Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization that owns and maintains a large fleet of antique military aircraft in flying condition. The foundation’s mission is to preserve military aviation history by remembering the past and honoring those who have gone before.
Air show attendees can expect to see paratrooper jumping and mock dogfights between vintage fighter jets. Pilots of the North American F-86 Sabre, flown during the Korean War, will demonstrate aerobatic maneuvers alongside the Soviet era MIG 17 Fresco.
“The launch of this air show is a rare opportunity for families to understand American military history,” said Coogan. “It’s a chance for young people to learn what it was like for their grandparents who experienced wartime.”
Coogan says one of the most interesting ramp attractions will be two A-10 Warthogs, the famously ugly, high survivability war craft used in front line low altitude action. A duo of T-6 Texan IIs will also be available for tours.
Blended into the tactile, educational aspects of the airshow will be plenty of entertainment and spectacle in the skies overhead.
The air show’s opening ceremony will kick off at noon with a 9/11 tribute featuring a color guard, the singing of the national anthem, and a dramatic presentation by the Quad City Skydivers.
Also flying in for the show will be the T28 Trojan Horseman and the Yak-52 Aerostar Aerobatic team. Pyrotechnics supplied by The Mad Bombers will be timed to coincide with the military simulated attack runs.
Also featured is a repeat performance by the Dragons Fyre Jet truck – a 1940 Ford pick-up truck powered by an after-burning turbo jet engine –set to make several high- speed sprints down the airport runway.
On a somber note, the air show will also feature a “missing man” formation in recognition of the recent death of popular Northern Illinois Air Show performer and Burr Ridge resident Vllado Lenoch. A local legend and fixture for many years at air shows around the country, Lenoch crashed in Atchison, Kansas two months ago while flying his P-51, the “Baby Duck.”
The Northern Illinois Air Show’s $15 entry fee covers only a small portion of the cost of producing the event; the majority comes from corporate sponsors, donated aircraft, and volunteer staff and crew. The airshow contributes net proceeds to local charities.
If blessed with sunny, clear weather, organizers hope to break attendance records and draw as many as 15,000 spectators on the day.
“Last year, we started out with rain and high winds and things looked ‘iffy’” recalled Coogan. “But then the clouds parted, the sun came out, and people poured in.”