Air and Water Show will feature high-tech F-35 fighter’s debut, honor Chicagoans

CHICAGO -- Lots of oohs and aahs are in store, as usual, for the Chicago Air and Water Show this weekend on the lakefront, including the debut of a high-tech fighter and a few Chicagoans who are being honored with a spot in the cockpit.

One of the big headliners is a newcomer not only to Chicago, but to airshows in general. The very expensive and technology-driven F-35 is flying in one for the very first time.  The stealth fighters are part of the world’s most expensive airplane program, costing about $90 million -- each.

What Air Force officials call one of the “most capable aircrafts in the skies,” the F-35 can travel speeds of over 2,000 mph and are built around a single massive engine with 48,000 pounds of thrust.

Even the helmets are impressive. Costing $400,000 each, each carbon fiber helmet weighs only six pounds and includes night vision and heat-seeking technology that’s integrated into the F-35 itself. It’s basically the helmet from Iron Man.

The F-35 will fly along with the B51 in the Heritage Flight, which is a nod to aviation past, present and future.

A couple of the lucky civilians are also getting their chance to hit the skies with the professionals. Among them is Chicago Police Sargent Ernest Spradley, who was named by the Thunderbirds as “Chicago’s Hometown Hero.”

They’re honoring him for his efforts to make dreams come true for 6-year-old Madison Pruitt, a young Chicago girl who passed away this past April from a rare form of cancer. Her one dream was to become a police officer, and the 15-year CPD veteran made that dream a reality just days before the little girl’s death. Spradley will fly with the Thunderbirds Friday.

And Susan Dacy, a local career pilot and the only woman flying in this year’s show, will take to the skies in big red a 1942 Boeing Stearman.