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Chicago's 60th Annual Air And Water Show Costs Millions

CHICAGO (CBS)—This weekend brings the 60th annual Chicago Air and Water Show. CBS 2's Vince Gerasole explores how much the aerial aerobatics cost.

The event advertises itself as free, but U.S. taxpayers actually foot most of the bill for the show, which draws about a million people to the lakefront every summer.

The City of Chicago pays about $200,000 of the cost, with sponsorships covering about 2/3 of the price tag.

Federal taxes pay for military planes like the fleet of U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds showcased in the Air and Water Show. The Thunderbirds cost an estimated $11 million to operate just for staffing and support, Gerasole reports.

The numbers are even higher for the Navy's Blue Angels--$35 million.

History Photo Of Air Show
Chicago Fire Department performs at the 1966 Air and Water Show. (Credit: City Of Chicago)

The fleet of Thunderbirds has 56 shows scheduled this year at 30 locations.

Maj. Kris "Nimitz" Elmstedt of the U.S. Air Force is an F-35 pilot and says the Air and Water Show is an opportunity to display the best in U.S. aviation while also serving to educate the public.

"We are the world's greatest military and we like to show off our toys," Elmstedt said. "If any of the youngsters are interested in this occupation we are here ready to talk."

Major Branden Felker said during last year's series of shows, about 4,000 people were recruited to join the Air Force.

Jets whizzed over Chicago's beaches Friday practicing for the show, while beachgoers enjoyed the sneak-peak.

It was a perfect day to be on the beach. River North resident Dan Cline said he's been going to the show for years and it never gets boring.

"Huge fan of the Air and Water Show," he said. "Every time I come back it feels like the first time."

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