Skyfest 2024 - Fairchild AFB, Spokane, WA

Skyfest 2024 - Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington

by John Thow

June 21-23 marked the return of the Fairchild AFB “SkyFest” Air Show. The team was on hand for all the fun and excitement, and we’re eager to share some of the highlights with you.

While scaled back a bit from the 2022 show, SkyFest still proved to be a great way to get up close with some of the Air Force’s best aircraft and the people that fly and support them.

The 2024 event kicked off with the SERE Team presenting the flag for the opening ceremony and national anthem, promptly followed with a demonstration of their UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the “Huey”. They also showed off some of the many rescue techniques used by SERE. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape and their primary mission is the recovery of downed personnel.

Upon the conclusion of the SERE demo, out came the aerobatic acts. First up was John Melby in his Pitts S-1-11 dubbed “Fear Boss”, and then Stephen “Christo” Christopher and Todd “Woody” Rudberg’s “Undaunted Airshows” flew their pair of RVs in a heart-pounding, two-up aerobatic performance, complete with formation aerobatics and multiple head-on passes, as shown in my photo below. Brad Wursten rounded out the trio of aerobatics acts in his MXS.

A-10Cs of the A-10C Thunderbolt II Demo Team await their turn in the airshow on the ramp at Fairchild AFB. Photo: John Thow ©

The Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape Specialists (SERE)  opened the show following a flag persentation and national anthem. SERE is focused on the recovery of downed pilots and personal. Photo: John Thow ©

John Melby in his Pitts S-1-11 dubbed “Fear Boss” kicked off the aerobatics acts over SkyFest 2024.  J.Thow ©

John Melby appears to flies his Pitts directly into the sun over Fairchild AFB as the small biplane stalls and tumbles through the air.  J.Thow ©

Stephen “Christo” Christopher (in the foreground) and Todd “Woody” Rudberg make an exhilarating head-on crossover pass in their RV7 and RV8 aircraft in front of cheering onlookers at Skyfest 2024.  J. Thow ©

USAF Wings of Blue

Then from high above the crowd at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the Wings of Blue Parachute Team jumped from the rear ramp of a C-130J Super Hercules. They formed up in two groups, the first releasing their chutes at 6,000 feet and the second at 5,000 feet. Wings of Blue is comprised of US Air Force Academy Cadets, and after their jump we had the opportunity to speak with one of them about the program.  Be sure to watch our video with Air Force Cadet Katy Tharp for more.

The 2024 Wings of Blue Parachute Team at Fairchild AFB, Spokane Washington.
Photo: John Thow ©

After a relatively short break for lunch, it was Greg Collier’s turn at the airspace in his T-33 Shooting Star, Ace Maker. Greg has been a long time favorite of air show goers for years, making appearances at a multitude of shows all over the Unites States each season. The T-33A was America’s first jet trainer and was created by  elongating the fuselage the F-80 (P-80) Shooting Star.

The show continued with a flight demo from one of Fairchild’s own KC-135 Stratotankers in a mock refueling with a C-17 Globemaster III. It is always cool to see two jets of that size in low formation. After “separating” each jet flew a few passes in a flight demonstration of their own. 

Photo: Greg “Wired” Collier in his T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker”.  Luke Thow ©

Refueling demonstration with one of Fairchild’s own KC-135 Stratotankers in formation with a C-17 Globemaster III. Photo: John Thow ©

C-17 Globemaster III makes a slow pass, gear down over Fairchild AFB. Photo: John Thow ©

“Yellow Thunder” featured a pair of WWII era North American Harvard trainers, one of which was still in immaculate, unrestored condition.  Photo: John Thow ©

F-35A Lightning with after burner ablaze in a climbing turn over Fairchild AFB. Photo: John Thow ©

F-35A Lightning II over the Washington countryside in route to Fairchild AFB, during Fridays practice show and media day.  Photo: Zach Turner ©

As the show neared, the schedule changed to be able to include a pair of F-35s from Luke AFB. Photo: John Thow ©

F-35A Lightning II

After a few more aerobatics, we had finally arrived at the exciting final acts of the show that included the F-35A and later the A-10.

We noticed that in the last couple days before the show, there were some changes to the schedule, the most notable of which changed the status of the expected F-35s from static display to “demonstration”.

While this was not the F-35 Demo Team, air show fans were treated to some fly-bys and “pattern work” from not one but two F-35A Lightning IIs from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

We had heard that the Lightnings were to be in-bound Friday and Slickpixels contributor, Zach Turner was on site as they passed through Washington in route to Fairchild, as seen in some of the pictures featured here. The F-35s were a nice edition to the show and it was especially nice to have two in the air at once. 

A pair of F-35A Lightning II fighters in route to Fairchild AFB from Luke Field, Arizona.  Photo: Zach Turner ©

F-35A Lightning II in a formation pass over Washington.  Photo: Zach Turner ©

F-35A Lightning II makes a beautiful show pass over Washington in route to Spokane.  Photo: Zach Turner ©

A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team

On to the grand finale, the A-10C Demonstration Team was the show headliner, and put on a great show in their final year of publicly demonstrating the aircraft. The current plan is to retire all A-10s from service by 2028, and in the process of standing down the aircraft, the demonstration team will no longer appear at air shows after the 2024 season. So if you have yet to see the A-10 in action, get out to an airshow and see it while you still can, the A-10 Demo Team schedule can be found here.

“Black Snake” A-10 in a show pass. Photo: Luke Thow ©

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a legendary Close Air Support (CAS) aircraft and has been successfully fulfilling that role since entering service in 1976. Over the years, I have known or spoken with several A-10 pilots, all of whom rave about the aircraft. It was great to see the A-10 in flight and the 2 current demo team paint schemes are extremely cool.

First is the “Black Snake”, the black and gray was originally painted for the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing “Blakesnakes”, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of aviation in the Indiana National Guard. The livery was so cool that when the demo team inherited the airplane, the decision was made to keep the the beautiful “Blake Snake” paint scheme.

The second jet is painted to resemble a Vietnam era F-105 Thunderchief and wears the moniker “Memphis Belle III”. You may recall that the original Memphis Belle was a B-17F Flying Fortress that achieved legendary status for becoming the first US heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions over Germany prior to returning to the United States. It was later made famous in Hollywood movies, but most are unaware of the F-105 Thunderchief named Memphis Belle II. It served in the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, based at Takhli Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand during the war in Vietnam and was credited with two Mig kills. It is this aircraft that inspired the great looking camouflaged Thunderbolt.

We had the privilege of spending a few minutes with A-10 Demo Team pilot, Lindsay “Mad” Johnson and thought you would enjoy meeting her and hearing a bit more about the amazing A-10 Thunderbolt II. in this video interview.

Be sure to leave a comment on YouTube and let us know your thoughts about the retirement of the A-10. What’s next? Is there a better aircraft to fulfill this mission?

The A-10C Demo Team was the hit of the show, performing in their final air show season prior to the retirement of the A-10s. The team features two jets with special paint schemes, the “Black Snake” and “Memphis Belle III” painted in the commemorative camo of a Vietnam era F-105 Thunderchief. Photo: John Thow ©

A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team in their final season appearance at Fairchild SkyFest.  Photo: Luke Thow ©

Major Lindsay “Mad” Johnson in a simulated attack run dives toward the flightline at Fairchild AFB.  Photo: John Thow ©

A-10C Thunderbolt II Demo Pilot/Commander, Lindsay “Mad” Johnson flies A-10C “Memphis Belle III” in a slow “dirty” pass down the Fairchild flightline. Photo: John Thow ©

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