Wings Over Waukegan Air Show aims to wow crowds with aerial acrobatics

In Waukegan, it’s all about the planes.

Crowds at the 14th annual Wings Over Waukegan Air Show can keep their eyes locked on the sky the first weekend of September as vintage planes will fly over the Waukegan National Airport. Attendees also can check out wing walkers, skydivers and watch the popular wall of fire that ends the show.

“The kids love it and the adults love it too,” air show president Grant Farrell said of the wall of fire, which actually is a simulated bomber run. “You can feel the heat, it’s a lot of fun.”

The entire lineup of aerial festivities will commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

“We will have two P-51’s, which were the planes that were actually up in the air during the invasion. It’s a salute to D-Day,” Farrell said of the day the Allies invaded Western Europe in World War II.

The event begins at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, with tours of many of the planes that are part of the Warbird Heritage Foundation, which based at the airport, 3550 N. McAree Road in Waukegan. The cost is $10, and the aerial show follows at noon and runs to 4 p.m. with the field closing an hour later. Food and beverages will be available, but no alcohol is allowed. For more information go to www.Waukeganairshow.com.

“It’s a great community event, it’s reasonably priced, it introduces our youth to aviation to maybe inspire them to maybe seek a career in aviation,” said Jim Stanczak, who has managed the Waukegan National Airport for the past 12 years.

Farrell added that before the big birds fly, remote-controlled airplane models from R/C Fly Club out of Chicago will be showcased at 11:45 a.m.

“They’re a pretty good size,” he said of the models. “They have little jet engines.”

The Warbird Heritage Foundation will also have some of its old planes up and flying for spectators.

Paul Wood of Lake Forest, one of the foundation’s founders, expressed excitement over old planes that cover three eras: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

“All of these airplanes had significant roles to play in each conflict,” he said.

On Wednesday, he showed off the bright yellow, open cockpit of the N2S-3 Stearman, in which a great majority of military pilots first trained. Then he explained the role of the AD-1 Skyraider that bristled with weaponry and was used in the Korean War and beginning of the Vietnam War. It was the backbone of the Navy carrier force, he said, explaining that it could fly longer distances than jet fighters because of a 1,000 drop gas tank. It was famously used to escort helicopters when they went to pick up marines, Wood added.

The AD-1 Skyraider carried 250-pound bombs, 100-pound bombs, a wing gun and a Gatling-type gun that could be used to strafe enemy positions. It also had tubes that held small explosives like grenades that would fall out of the back to hit their targets.

“It’s very rare to have any of these vintage planes actually fly,” said Wood, but the foundation’s team of aircraft mechanics keep them in flying shape.

While the P-51 Mustang helped change the air war over Europe in World War II, Wood said it was the F86-Sabre that had the best kill ratio for air-to-air combat.

“It can break the sound barrier, but we don’t do that,” Wood said. “It was the first swept wing fighter and to this day it has the highest kill ratio in air-to-air combat at 8-to-1.

Organizers are expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 people to attend.

For more information about the Warbird Heritage Foundation, which opens the airport museum to private tour groups, visit www.warbirdheritagefoundation.org.

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