Skyfest 2022 - Fairchild AFB, Spokane, WA

Skyfest 2022 - Fairchild AFB

by John Thow

“A Brief History”

2022 marks the 80th anniversary of Fairchild Air Force Base and the return of the SkyFest Airshow. Located just 12 miles West of Spokane, near Spokane International Airport, the base was officially activated on March 1, 1942, as Spokane Air Depot. The base served as a repair and supply depot, servicing damaged aircraft returning from the Pacific Theatre during World War II. By November 1944, more than 1,250 B-17s had been repaired, along with an impressive collection of warplanes including B-24s, B-25s, C-47s, P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s.

In September 1947, the base was transferred to the Strategic Air Command and assigned to the 15th Air Force. The 92nd Bombardment Wing was activated in November 1947 as the parent wing at the base, (now called “Spokane AAF”) and provided oversight of the 98th Bomb Wing and the 111th Bomb Group (a reserve squadron also assigned to the base). The 92nd Bombardment Group included the 325th, 326th, and 327th Bomb Squadrons and the 98th Bombardment Group included the 343rd, 344th, and 345th Bomb Squadrons. All were organized under the 92nd/98th Bombardment Wings and flew the B-29 Superfortress. Their combined total of 60 B-29s made the base the largest B-29 base in the entire Strategic Air Command.

In January 1948 the name was changed once again to Spokane Air Force Base, and it finally received its current name Fairchild Air Force Base in November 1950 in honor of Air Force Chief of Staff, General Muir S. Fairchild. The formal ceremony for the new name was held July 20, 1951, and coincided with the arrival of the base’s first B-36 Peacemaker. The Peacemaker was a massive bomber with six propeller-driven engines and four jets, often referred to as “six turnin’ and four burnin’”. Some of you may remember the B-36 from the 1955 movie starring Jimmy Stewart, “Strategic Air Command” (way before my time, but so worth watching if you haven’t seen it).

The first B-52 Stratofortress arrived in March of 1957 and The 92nd Air Refueling Squadron transferred to the base with their KB-29s in September of that year. The KB-29 was a modified version of the Superfortress equipped as an air-to-air refueling aircraft and was used as they prepared for the arrival of the new Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, which incredibly is still in service today at Fairchild and around the world.

Today, Fairchild’s aircraft and personnel make up the backbone of the Air Force’s tanker fleet on the West Coast and operate as the Air Force’s premier tanker base, housing the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, the 141st Air Refueling Wing, and 336th Training Group, Survival Training School.

USAF Thunderbirds Knife Edge Pass

Thunderbirds solo pilots perform the Opposing Knife Edge Pass at Fairchild AFB Skyfest 2022. Photo Luke Thow ©

FA-18F Rhino

VFA-122 Flying Eagles Super Hornet Demo Team turned out to be the high point of Saturday’s show with an action-packed, vapor-filled demo in the wet. Photo John Thow ©

T-38 Talons

A pair of T-38 Talon jet trainers from California’s Barksdale AFB started the show with a formation take-off.   Photo John Thow ©

Thunderbirds F-16 Fighting Falcons

The USAF Thunderbirds F-16s sit ready for some air show action on the Fairchild Flightline. 

B-29 Superfortress "Doc"

B-29 Superfortress “Doc” is a former resident of the base from its active duty days and is pictured here during an amazing flight demo at Skyfest 2022.  J. Thow ©

FA-18F Rhino

VFA 122 Flying Eagle Super Hornet makes its way back to the hot pit area after some pulse-pounding, fast-paced air show flying.  J.Thow ©

“On With the Show”

After a long hiatus due primarily to the pandemic related closures of so many events, the May 2022 event not only represented a return to hosting an air show at Fairchild AFB, but a return to a military air show for those of us here at This was our first base air show since 2019 and it was great to be back out on the flightline with aviation friends old and new.

Saturday, May 14 was the first day of the 2-day event and unfortunately the weather was simply not cooperating. While performers tried repeatedly to get into the air, the periodic rain and low clouds were simply too much to be able to fly a safe show, with a couple of exceptions. Things started off in the light rain with a pair of T-38 Talon trainers making a formation take-off and a quick flight past the crowd prior to circling around and landing. Next came the B-29 Superfortress “Doc”, whose crew was kind enough to bring the beautiful polished aluminum bomber out in the rain, to taxi past the crowd prior to returning to the hangar to dry it all off again.

Next up the Huey helicopter and the SERE (Static Line Jump and Recovery Demo) managed to get into the air. Other aircraft followed Doc’s example and came out to taxi past the crowd, but at this point in the day we were definitely watching more of a “ground” show than an air show. A KC-135 and C-17 each took off and promptly disappeared into the low hanging cloud layer prior to coming back in to land.

Then things got better. The Super Hornet (Rhino) Demo Team pilots of VFA-122, climbed aboard their F/A-18F Super Hornet, spooled up the twin General Electric F414 afterburning turbofan jet engines, taxied to the Southeast end of the runway and blasted off in a low level pass before the crowd, retracting their landing gear just prior to crossing behind the row of red, white and blue Thunderbirds F-16s. They proceeded to tear up the sky, streaming vapor from the tips of the wings and tails, and from atop the fuselage and wing surfaces. The mighty roar of the twin jet engines filled the air alongside the streams of water vapor pouring from the jet and we finally had an air show. Fly Navy!

F-22 Raptors

A Pair of Alaskan F-22 Raptors sit on static in the Saturday rain.  Photo: John Thow ©

UH-1 Huey

UH-1 Huey during the SERE (Static Line Jump & Personal Recovery Demo)  Photo: John Thow ©

Long EZ Aerobatics

Go EZ Aerobatics performs in his bright yellow Rutan Long-EZ. Photo: John Thow ©

B-25 Mitchell "Grumpy"

B-25D Mitchell “Grumpy” from the Historic Flight Foundation in a beautiful show pass during Skyfest 2022. Photo: John Thow ©

F/A-18F Super Hornet

FA-18F Superhornet “Rhino” Demo pilot makes a fast, low altitude pass with vapor streaming from the wingtips. Photo: Luke Thow ©

Refueling demo KC-135 Stratotanker and C-17 Globemaster III

C-17 Globemaster, affectionately known as the Moose, lines up to refuel below KC-135 Stratotanker. Photo: Luke Thow ©

Next up would be the Thunderbirds. They did their normal ground show, saddled up, got strapped in, and taxied down to the Northeast end of the airfield. Thunderbird 1, Lt. Col. Justin “Astro” Elliot took off on a scouting flight to see if there was enough room to perform their show. We watched hopefully as he flew the perimeter of the show box. All was looking good, but then he disappeared behind a cloud and we knew we were done for the day. He landed and with apologies to the crowd, the team taxied back in and shut it down, absolutely better to be safe than sorry.

When I was very young and attending annual air shows at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, it didn’t take long to learn that the weather can change very quickly, often resulting in a reduced amount of flying or cancellation. Ever since I have maintained the habit of planning to be at the show on both days. This way if Saturday’s weather is bad, as in this case, we get another shot at it on Sunday… and at Fairchild a day made all the difference, Sunday was GREAT!

Sunday the 15th was a whole different story, while not perfect, the weather was much better and everything flew as scheduled. For us, one of the show highlights has got to be the flight demo of the B-29 Superfortress “Doc”, which at some point in its service career was actually based right here at Fairchild along with Snow White and the rest of the seven dwarfs. No, seriously, there were B-29s named after Snow White and each of the seven dwarfs based right here in Spokane. In any case, it is still absolutely incredible to see that massive flying aluminum cigar-shaped wonder take to the sky. Hopefully, some of our included photos convey even a small amount of the wonder it is to be up close to the B-29.

There was a flag jump to start things off, with flybys from the T-38s from the day before, aerobatics, warbirds from a bygone era, flight demos galore, a B-1 Lancer fly-by, the Super Hornet demo team flew another great demo, even with slightly less vapor, and of course the Thunderbirds.

We were informed that the Thunderbirds had a somewhat last-minute schedule change and Fairchild moved up the date of their show from June to May so they could get the team to appear at the show. It was great to see all that hard work pay off when the T-birds took to the air.

If you were one of the ones that came out for Saturday and missed Sunday, I hope you still enjoyed the day as much as we did, and remember, it is always worth giving it another shot for day two. I have attended hundreds of air shows and have had one of the teams get grounded due to weather many times, but I think in all those years, I only remember one occasion that going back and trying again on day two didn’t reward us with more of the great flying we were hoping for. See you at the air show.

A very special thank you to Fairchild Public Affairs for all your efforts and hospitality, it was a great weekend.

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