For some, the Chippewa Valley Air Show means buying a ticket and showing up to the event early to ensure good seats. Others don’t have to go any farther than their front lawn to find the best views.
Eau Claire residents living in the neighborhoods near the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport may have been in for a noisy weekend, but they didn’t have to worry about finding a place to park or the cost of tickets for this year’s air show. Surrounding the airport this weekend were groups of people in lawn chairs gearing up to watch the excitement happening right above them.
Since they moved to their home on Guthrie Road in late 2014, Sarah and Seth Gilbertson have made their “air show party” a tradition among friends and family. Before their first air show in summer 2015, Seth Gilbertson suggested they host a party. Since then it’s become a tradition.
They make food, have drinks, listen to music and play bean bags — even after the air show has ended. Watching from the comfort of her home and front yard are an advantage, Sarah Gilbertson said, because they keep a fan running in the garage and they can watch under a shady tree if it gets too hot outside.
Sarah Gilbertson said she loves when the Blue Angels do their triangular formations.
“The smaller planes are cool too, with the parachuter coming down,” Sarah Gilbertson said, “but I love the jets.”
While the shows over the weekend are entertaining, Sarah Gilbertson said she likes the days leading up to the weekend because the pilots are practicing in the air. One year, the jets were flying so close to the ground during practice that she could see the pilot from her window, she said. This made for a unique, albeit loud, experience.
The air show brings in people from far away, which Sarah Gilbertson said is something she likes about it.
“It makes it more exciting to have the Blue Angels there and that it draws in people from all over,” Sarah Gilbertson said. “It’s neat watching people stop what they’re doing and point at the sky.”
Pat Heacox, an Eau Claire native, has been watching the air show since she was “a youngster,” and has lived in her current home on North Lane across from the airport for about 15 years.
Her favorite part of the show is the camaraderie among family and friends the event creates.
“We’ve been out here every day,” Heacox said. “We have a good seat.”
The adults on Heacox’s lawn were lounging in their lawn chairs, staring at the sky to see the planes. Nearby, children were spraying each other with squirt guns and playing around the pool to keep cool, with Sunday’s high temperature being 92 degrees, according to The Weather Channel.
Heacox’s nephew, Andrew Woychik, lives in Arcadia but came up for the air show after he heard about it on the radio.
“It sounded like a fun thing to do on a Sunday,” Woychik said.
A few streets over on Jupiter Avenue, Steve and Carol O’Rourke were admiring the aerobatics while in the shade underneath an umbrella on their driveway. On Saturday the O’Rourkes watched together, but on Sunday their children and grandchildren came to join them for a family picnic.
Steve O’Rourke said he appreciates being able to watch from the comfort of their front lawn.
“We have great seats, so why would we (go inside)?” Steve O’Rourke said. “There’s a bathroom nearby and a beer cooler nearby.”
Living so close to the airport gives them an opportunity to not only see the planes but to people watch too. Attendees park on the streets nearby to avoid the traffic and walk the rest of the way — sometimes right past the O’Rourkes’ home.
Both agreed the Blue Angels were their favorite part of the show, but the aerobatic aspects were impressive as well.
An estimated 25,000 people attended Sunday’s show, bringing the total for the weekend up to 60,000, event spokeswoman Meghan Kulig said. They were happy with the turnout, she said, and they’re thankful the rain held off long enough for the Blue Angels to perform the finale. Kulig said Sunday evening’s wind gusts and heavy rain showers did not cause any known injuries after the show.