The Fairchild Air Force Base Air Show “Skyfest” demonstrates military pride and thankfulness for a supportive community.
Fairchild Air Force Base’s Skyfest 2022 more than doubled their attendance from the last event in 2019 (60,000) to 130,000 guests. The free community event, according to attendee Tara Funderburg who has attended since 2004, is a thrill because of the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels, the sound of the engines rumbling, and the aerobatics performed in the sky. As a fan of Fairchild’s Skyfest, she is also employed at the base as the Wing Commander’s secretary. She comes from a military background as her father was in the Air Force, and then she married into the Air Force as well. Funderburg said she also loves the static displays, especially the B-52s and KC-135, as her father worked on both aircraft in his career.
The event takes a significant amount of planning, and they offer Skyfest only every other year. For the uninitiated, the event consists of:
— Featured performers (Thunderbirds, parachuters, fly-bys, aeronautics, fixed wing, and rotor wing aircraft)
— Static displays of older aircraft, and both civilian and military equipment
— A professional air show narrator
— Vendors (food and merchandise)
— Open area for seating/standing and free parking for attendees
The 2022 Air Show Director was Lieutenant Colonel Harrison Gipple, a 15-year Air Force veteran. Gipple said he was chosen for the role in fall 2021, and it took about 10 months to plan this year’s event. The event was cancelled in 2021, and the prior event was in 2019.
With the cancellation, and the replacement show in 2022, the event will now return in 2024.
Gipple is a KC-135 instructor pilot who flies missions and teaches young co-pilots. He is an air commander and the director of operations for the refueling squadron. In his role, he operates multiple squadrons.
He has not organized the event in the past, but said, “I was fortunate that my name was brought up.” He indicated that the air show director changes with each air show.
National Air Force Base Air Show Origins
According to the Fairchild AFB Historian Rebekah Horton, air shows “date back to the early 1900s during a time of rapid innovation in aeronautics. In 1903 after the failure of Samuel P. Langley’s Aerodrome machine, the War Department adopted a policy to only invest in proven aerial weaponry.” The Aero Club of America (1905) and the Fédération Aéronautique
Internationale combined to, “promote and develop the science of aerial navigation.” (Nalty, 1997, p. 9).
Pilots were sponsored in exhibitions from balloon racing to other aerial competitions.
Today there are air shows countrywide throughout the year. The website, www.airshowcenter.com, denotes air shows for 2022 started in February and run through November for a national total of 164 events. The summer months seem to have the most air shows, likely to ensure better conditions; however, you can catch them year around.
Fairchild Air Force Base Air Show History
The show started in the 1920s as “The National Air and Derby Race.” Spokane became known as an aerial demonstration center even before being named as an air show location. In 2022, Fairchild AFB became active for 80 years.
Horton, the base historian, shared details regarding the early history:
“To drum up support and establish arrangements along the race route, Sergeant Raymond A. Carroll and Jack Fancher flew to New York and back in the “Swallow” — an aircraft belonging to Spokane’s legendary aviator, Nicholas B. ‘Nick’ Mamer. During the race events were several races beginning in New York and San Francisco that ended in Spokane. Various classes of aircraft, sponsored by cities and companies throughout the nation, competed for cash prizes and trophies. One of the exciting participants in these pre- and inter-race displays was Army Air Corps Ace Lieutenant James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle. In addition to his official events, Doolittle buzzed downtown Spokane upside down in one of his trademark ‘loops.’ As a result of the 1927 National Air Races, Spokane became known as a leader in our nation for aviation activity and eventually the city became home to Fairchild Air Force Base.”
The Skyfest website, www.fairchildskyfest.com, sums up the importance of this year’s Skyfest. “2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the Spokane Air Depot, now known as Fairchild Air Force Base.
The base has been an integral part of our nation’s defense strategy from the very beginning — from a World War II repair and supply depot, to a Strategic Air Command bomber, tanker, and missile wing during the Cold War, to an Air Mobility Command Air Refueling Wing fueling the fight and supporting combat operations during numerous contingency operations. Today, Fairchild’s aircraft and personnel make up the backbone of the Air Force’s tanker fleet on the West Coast. It is home to the Air Force’s premier tanker base and Survival Training School.
Over the years, the 92nd and 141st ARW’s have forged an enduring collaboration with the Spokane community. As Team Fairchild continues to meet future challenges, we will preserve the legacy of excellence that began more than 80 years ago, working together as partners with the Spokane community.”
Today’s Air Show
For Fairchild AFB, safety of the performers and attendees is the number one priority. The Air Show provides highlights for many people. Some love to see the pilots showing off their aerial maneuverability. Others love to see the volume of personnel that maintain the grounds, facility, and aircraft. Still others enjoy the static displays, whether because they had a parent or spouse who worked on one of the aircraft, or because they work on equipment today, such as emergency vehicle equipment, also on display.
The show’s narrator is an important part of the action. Lt. Colonel Gipple said, “We call them the narrator or announcer; (they) string stories together; give the crowd something to think about or ponder; the narrator helps people understand the history of the performer or the aircraft.”
He added that the stories are often of an “incredible” nature that are exciting for participants to hear.
The civilian pilots, said Gipple, are always in training to put together an exciting Air Show. The Air Force or Navy demonstrating teams, he added, are maintaining their combat capabilities day-to-day. For the pilots, he said “It is a chance to show the public what they love to do.” He said that for the greater community, we don’t often get to see what is going on at the Air Force base with the aircraft and/or pilots and staff.
Captain Ariana Greene has been with the Air Force for 10 years. She was also chosen to plan this year’s Skyfest. She said her role was as “co-ground boss — we ran everything from the ground until it was up in the air.”
Greene’s pride in the event becomes apparent when she said, “We wanted to show our community and anyone who wants to show up from around the world, that we provide something for all ages to enjoy.”
She cited the diverse age groups and interests of those who attend — from children, to families of service men and women, to retired veterans and the greater Spokane community from all walks of life — “people from a few months old to 99 years old” are in attendance.
The big draw Greene said, is “They are coming to see impressive aircraft.” She described the setting as busy with food vendors, memorabilia booths, static displays and local squadrons and vendors from the greater community.
“Seeing all of your hard work after 10 months is indescribable,” she said, and added that passion for this work is at “an all-time high,” during the Air Show.
For both Gipple and Greene, their goal is to set up the “next team for success” with a focus on bringing the community out to the base in 2024. They also want to ensure, “Everyone is safe, everyone leaves happy, inspired, and makes a personal connection with Fairchild and those that put on the show.”
Source: Nalty, Bernard C. (1997) Winged Shield, Winged Sword: A History of the United States Air Force. USAF History and Museum Program.
Contact Fairchild Air Force Base
Fairchild Air Force Base
1 Bong St.,
Fairchild Air Force Base, WA 99011