WORDS AND PHOTOS: JEREMY MEYERS
After a three-year hiatus, the Fairchild Skyfest returned on the 14th-15th May 2022, celebrating the 80th anniversary of Fairchild AFB and the 75th anniversary of the USAF. This airshow is one of my favourites, being my hometown show, and thus, coverage includes Thursday through Sunday.
Kicking the weekend off was the arrival of the USAF Thunderbirds C-17 support aircraft along with a KC-46A Pegasus for static display and B-25D “Grumpy” from the local Historic Flight Foundation. The Thunderbirds themselves were escorted by a 92nd ARW KC-135R Stratotanker, which then landed to clear the airspace for the Thunderbirds’ site survey. This was a particularly special moment as it was the first time I have seen the Thunderbirds in such a formation, and it was a rather rare catch.
Practice day on Friday saw by far the best weather of the weekend. The Air Force Academy Wings of Blue parachute team and a pair of Beale AFB T-38’s started the show, followed by Greg Howard in his Giles 202. It was a good display, despite showcasing gentle manoeuvres rather than the high-energy aerobatics the Giles 202 is capable of. Following that was B-29 Superfortress “Doc” – to my knowledge the first time in a great number of years that a B-29 had graced the skies of Fairchild. One of just two B-29s flying, it was a very welcome bonus for the base’s anniversary theme, and was one of four bombers from various periods to fly over the weekend. Wrapping up the first segment was Kyle Fowler in his Long-EZ.
The next group of displays included a mix of military and civilian acts, including a recovery demonstration by a UH-1N Huey of the 336th Training Group SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training school. The KC-135 departed to the hold for to join up with the C-17 West Coast Demonstration Team (which also performed a solo display), Undaunted Airshows performed with their pair of RV-7 and RV-8, and the Historic Flight Foundation’s B-25 performed several flybys before the KC-135 and C-17 returned for their single flypast.
Perhaps the most anticipated demonstration of the weekend was that of the US Navy West Coast Rhino Demonstration Team of VFA-122, flying an F/A-18F Super Hornet. The Rhino has made a roaring comeback in recent seasons and is one of the most dynamic fighter jet demonstrations around; the Friday crowd was treated to two practices as the team is keeping two crews current on the display.
After the good weather on Friday, Saturday brought rain, low clouds and even some fog. This meant that inevitably that the B-52 flypast was cancelled, along with most of the other flying display participants, several of which taxied past the crowd, while others, such as the T-38, KC-135 and C-17, took off only to return ten minutes for touchdown. Similarly, Thunderbird #1 launched to survey the weather, which turned out not to meet the team’s requirements. Towards the end of the day Kyle Fowler managed to take to the air, followed by an outstanding flat show by the Rhino Demo Team filled with afterburner, vapour cones and heat haze.
Saturday provided the first chance to see the static displays, however, and it was a surprise to see two F-16s from the 79th FS at Shaw AFB, including one with a specially-painted Tiger tail. Other statics included the KC-46, KC-135, KC-10, A-10, UH-1, T-38, F-22, F-35 and C-17. The planned C-6 did not make it, and there was no C-130 – Fairchild usually has a good number of Air Mobility Command aircraft on hand. Another absence felt was that of Global Strike Command, with no bomber on the ground as it usually the case. The civilian acts, meanwhile, were parked in a hangar, where the pilots were on hand to talk to the crowd.
Sunday’s show was identical to Friday practice day, with the addition of a B-1B Lancer flypast from Ellsworth AFB. It was a single flat, non-afterburning pass that certainly lack flare and left one perhaps wishing for a more dynamic appearance before it departed the airspace. There were also additional SERE team jumps showing a downed pilot and recovery team before the UH-1 came to extract them.
Overall, it was a great show, but one with room for improvement. For example, water stations around the showground were free, but there were limited maps and mentions of them, making them hard to location. Additionally, it took around 90 minutes to get off base both days – perhaps traffic flow could be addressed in future years.
One last note: if you find yourself fin Spokane, I highly recommend the Historic Flight Foundation Museum at Felts Field. All of their aircraft fly and the staff have expectational knowledge.
Let us hope it is not another three years before the next Skyfest – I would highly recommend attending in the future, but perhaps pack a snack for the mass exit.