Daniel Hutchison lifted one inquisitive kid after another from his olive drab Apache helicopter Saturday afternoon at Fairchild Air Force Base.
“It’s going to be a long day,” he said, chuckling.
The U.S. Army attack helicopter, designed to destroy tanks, was one of many aircraft-turned-jungle-gyms at Aerospace Day, an aviation celebration which attracted some 20,000 people.
“It’s amazing how knowledgeable even the 6- and 7-year-olds are,” said Hutchison, a chief warrant officer from Boise.
“Most of them have computer games that simulate these. A lot of those games are pretty close.”
Nearby, Senior Airman Evelyn Beck smiled politely as kids - and their parents - pressed buttons and played with controls on a Blackhawk rescue helicopter.
“That’s why we disconnect the batteries and double-check all the switches,” said Beck, an avionics technician.
Overhead, parachutists, civilian stunt pilots and a military aerial demonstration team kept spectators craning their necks from noon until 3:20 p.m.
A grass fire stole the show momentarily just after pilot Tom Staggs had landed his single-engine stunt plane. Staggs was basking in the applause after his performance midway through the show when a fire siren sounded.
“My most exciting moment today?” he said, fielding questions from the crowd. “Probably when I saw that fire. They didn’t see it because they were too busy watching me. I called and told them about it.”
Firefighters who extinguished the blaze said they didn’t know what had started it.
“There’s always something exciting that goes on on Aerospace Day,” said a spectator.
Last year’s Aerospace Day was canceled after a B-52 bomber crashed while practicing for the show. Its four-member crew was killed.
In 1980, the air show was cut short after skies blackened with volcanic ash: Mount St. Helens had erupted.
This year, despite sunny skies and warm temperatures, far fewer people than usual attended. Sometimes, crowds have exceeded 100,000.
Still, spectators sitting on lawn chairs, crouching on hot asphalt and ducking into the shade of aircraft wings declared Aerospace Day ‘95 a success.
Eleven-year-old John Daschbach darted from one parachutist to the next, collecting autographs on a poster after the opening jump.
“I might frame it,” he said, proudly displaying his prize.
Kids weren’t the only ones dazzled by dizzying performances.
Ping-Hung Chen, 33, carried one camera around his neck while using another to videotape about 30 minutes of stunt demonstrations.
He spent the rest of the day admiring planes and running his hands across the smooth metal.
“You can even touch the wings,” said Chen, from Taiwan.
“Here, it’s free. You can see whatever you want to see. In the country I’m from, only the guards stand beside the planes.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A LOOK BACK The air show was canceled last year following the crash of a B-52 during practice for the event.