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Above all, excitement: Displays delight crowds at return of Fairchild’s SkyFest

Lawrence Williams loves the Thunderbirds.

He wore his Thunderbirds T-shirt to Fairchild Air Force Base’s SkyFest air show Saturday, arriving at 7:30 a.m. As soon as the gates opened, he staked out a prime seating area with his folding chair on the tarmac next to where the F-16s were parked. “They’re the show-setters,” he said. “I’ve seen them probably 15 times in the last 30 to 40 years.”

Williams served in both the Army and the Air Force and was stationed at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma. “I love the air shows,” Williams said. “I’m so happy we’re having an air show again. It’s great that they’re bringing it back. We miss the fun.”

SkyFest drew an estimated 125,000 people to Fairchild on Saturday, after the two-day event was a victim of budget problems the last few years. It was last held in 2010 and looked to make a comeback in 2013 until the Thunderbirds had to cancel their season due to mandatory federal budget cuts.

Everyone seemed happy to have SkyFest back Saturday. Families wandered from plane to plane, taking tours inside if they could and taking cellphone pictures outside if they couldn’t. The Black Hawk helicopter was getting a lot of attention, as was the CV-22 Osprey. Other planes on display included an F-15E, a KC-135 Stratotanker, a C-5 Galaxy, an E-3 Sentry and a C-17 Globemaster.

Bodey Bierlink, age 2 1/2, clapped his hands eagerly as he finished getting a look at the inside of the Black Hawk. His favorite planes are “the ones that go that way,” he said, pointing off into the distance.

“He likes the big planes,” said his mother, Air Force veteran Jenae Bierlink.

Her husband, Kurtis, appreciated seeing up close the planes his wife used to work around. SkyFest was a hit, he said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s free and a super-good event for the family.”

Saturday’s show started with the entrance of the U.S. Army parachute team known as the Golden Knights, streaming red smoke as they parachuted down to the flight line. The Smoke and Thunder jet car screamed down the runway at 341 mph as clocked by the Washington State Patrol.

The only hitch was a broken oil line in the red Extra 300 monoplane being flown by Jacquie Warda, known as Jacquie B. Her cockpit filled with smoke as she taxied down the runway, causing her to abort her takeoff. Several fire engines screamed down the runway to make sure there was no fire. The plane was towed back to the flight line for repairs.

As the weather warmed, people sought out shade in the only spots available, underneath the giant tankers and bombers. Jamey Clark and her family set up their folding chairs under the tail of a tanker airplane. “There’s never a bad seat,” she said. “You can see everything.”

Clark was happy to see SkyFest back. “The kids don’t have to be quiet,” she said of her children, ages 12, 9 and 7. “They don’t have to sit still. We’ve brought them since they were little.”

She was hard-pressed to name a favorite part of the show, however. “It’s all good,” she said. “The vintage stuff is really cool.”