High-Flying Family Fun

Aerial acrobatics and skydiving stunts are just part of the fun that’s drawn people to the Northwest Illinois Air Show for the past two years. This year’s experience promises even more.

(Northwest Illinois Air Show photo)

All eyes are on the skies at the Northwest Illinois Air Show, coming to Albertus Airport in Freeport on Sept. 16.

“We are pleased to bring back our Northwest Illinois Air Show for the third year,” says Mark Mannino, an aviation enthusiast and one of the volunteer organizers of the event. “There had been a void for this type of spectacular show in this part of our state due to the loss of both the Rockford and Janesville air shows. There was a lot of interest in our own community from local pilots in the Freeport Pilots Association, Cliff and Kristen Wilewski from Heritage Aero, businesses and people who love aviation to get together and bring the soaring excitement here.”

This year the air show is dedicated to Randy Burkas, Freeport’s now-retired city manager.

“Randy was very instrumental in supporting and helping us to get this show started from the very beginning,” says Mannino. “And airport manager Angie Janssen has been a tremendous help in making it happen.”

The instincts of the organizers were spot-on as attendance has significantly grown each year since the show launched in 2021.

“There were 2,000 people who attended last year’s show,” says Nicole Haas, brand director for Greater Freeport Partnership. “Attendees at the show traveled from eastern Iowa, southern Wisconsin, eastern Indiana, Ohio and all across Illinois.”

There are thrills for the entire family, with amazing aerobatic maneuvers and sky divers, whose expert skills have been honed to perfection. The lifelong dreams of these aviation entertainers are to perform in the skies and delight fans.

“We have planned a well-rounded show for everybody to enjoy,” says Mannino, whose enthusiasm for aviation started with his interest in warbirds and military aircraft. “The variety of events we offer at our air show is a magnet for everyone who enjoys aviation, from commercial and hobby pilots to those building experimental aircrafts at home.”

In addition to enjoying a wide range of high-flying action performances, fans can get up close to a variety of aircraft and gliders. A number of warbirds – T28, T34 and Stearman – are also on display. Visitors can even honor service members and World War II veterans who plan on attending.

Last year, more than 19 aircraft were on display. Mannino expects more this year, including an appearance of the Short C-23 Sherpa military transport aircraft and the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk – a four-blade, twin-engine, medium-lift utility military helicopter.

Expect a special appearance from the massive GreenState Credit Union hot air balloon, which comes from Iowa and is tethered to the earth for fans to enjoy.

Adding to the family-fun atmosphere, the show has a special kids’ area with bounce houses, an entertainment stage and up to 12 food trucks.

Mannino adds that most aviation enthusiasts, like himself, began their interest when they were young.

“That’s why we feel it is important that the show is filled with a variety of events to entertain all ages and give them the chance to see the energy that builds in the sky.”

The lineup of aviation air performers, skydivers and formation teams offers sky-high excitement. These aerobatic professionals have crisscrossed the country and have collectively logged thousands of hours soaring the skies. Their planes fly, dip and dive while swirling smoke fills the atmosphere. The colorful parachutes descend and glide with precision, guided by expert skydivers.

Phil Dacy, the air show announcer, is a crowd favorite. The professional air show host brings high levels of enthusiasm and experience as well as a deep knowledge of aviation. Spectators learn about the performers, their aircraft and their equipment as they watch these daredevils swirl and spiral through the air.

Susan Dacy brings her Big Red Stearman, a 450-horsepower Super Stearman, and puts it through paces to the delight of spectators below. Her passion for flying has been fueled since she was a child. Dacey is a Chicago-based International Captain with American Airlines and one of only a few females to pilot a biplane.

Michael Vaknin brings the excitement of full precision, speed and head-dazzling gyroscopic and high-G maneuvers in his Extra 300 airplane.

Bob Richards also brings an adrenaline-charged performance in his dazzling bright-yellow Machaira. This one-of-a-kind muscle biplane is named for the Greek word meaning “double-edged sword.”

Looking for a change of pace? Erik Edgren, aka Hobie Washburn, delights audiences with his family-friendly comedy and finesse aerobatics flying his clipped-wing Taylorcraft. T-Clips were originally built by Taylorcraft in 1939 and were clipped for aerobatics in 1997. Edgren is a gifted pilot showcasing his comedy/aerobatic act to the delight of all.

Another spectacular sight to see is the precision of pilots performing in formation. Two formation teams are scheduled to fly at the Northwest Illinois Air Show. The Vanguard Formation Team features expert fliers with a variety of backgrounds whose passions for flying began at an early age. The BeechNutz Formation Team primarily flies Beechcraft Bonanzas, along with a few Barons and Mooney aircrafts.

Skydiving teams also thrill the crowd. The fan-favorite Misty Blues are back this year. This all-women’s skydiving team demonstrates their skydiving skills for all to see. Owner Amanda Scheffler and her exceptional Mistys team are based in Ann Arbor, Mich., and have been performing for more than 30 years. Their spectacular-looking parachutes make a sensational, shockingly vibrant pink display in the sky.

The Northwest Illinois Air Show serves as a key factor in promoting tourism for Freeport and Stephenson County as it showcases the area and one of its assets, Albertus Airport.

“The Air Show has been a fantastic addition to our community,” says Haas. “It is always a great show, and we welcome all of the aviation enthusiasts who attend and come to our region. A successful event like this doesn’t just happen. I’d like to thank all of the organizers, volunteers, sponsors and friends for this great event and its positive contribution to helping our community thrive and grow.”

The Northwest Illinois Air Show’s popularity and momentum are growing across the Midwest as visitors flock to Freeport to enjoy the warbirds, aerobatics and demonstrations of military aircraft, as well as the camaraderie and expertise of those who attend. Spectators can bring their own chairs, sunscreen, binoculars and ear plugs to make so they don’t miss a second of the excitement.

Gates open at 10:30 a.m. and the show starts at 1:30 p.m. Parking is free at the Stephenson County Fairgrounds, where a free shuttle is on-hand to transport visitors to the airport.

More information is available about tickets and the air show performers at nwilairshow.com.