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Back in action: Crowds converge as SkyFest returns after three-year hiatus

UPDATED: Sat., July 29, 2017, 10:35 p.m.

Cloudless blue skies stretched for miles above Fairchild Air Force Base on Saturday as the return of SkyFest sent a cavalcade of biplanes, jets and tankers buzzing through the air.

At least one plane, however, happened to be flying a lot closer to the ground. At the very edge of the airfield, 11-year-old Brayden Schwab propelled a toy figurine B-2 bomber back and forth in his seat.

Ears plugged with bright orange plugs, Brayden – along with his little brother Ryder – said he didn’t know much about planes, but that he couldn’t wait to see everything.

“Definitely the Thunderbirds!” he said.

Brad Schwab, who lives in nearby Airway Heights, said he jumped at the chance to bring his sons to SkyFest for the first time. After a three-year hiatus, SkyFest has returned this year with the arrival of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds show squadron.

This year, too, marks two important anniversaries for the base: The 75th anniversary of Fairchild, and the 70th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force.

After some coaxing, Ryder, 3, showed his model U.S. Navy Blue Angels plane, which Schwab bought for his sons along with the B-2 toy from a vendor on the base.

When asked what he was excited to see, the 3-year-old just smiled at the ground and hugged his toy plane tight to his chest.

While many kept their eyes on the skies and their ears open for the telltale hum of the next spectacle, SkyFest attendees also scrambled through a number of planes and other military machinery stationed on the tarmac for tours.

From fighter jets and drones to helicopters and Humvees, the static displays allowed visitors to interact up close with the equipment and the men and women who command them.

Capt. Alejandro Reyes, of the 22nd Airlift Squadron based at Travis Air Force Base in California, said the large Lockheed C-5 Galaxy plane is used to transport just about anything across the globe. Standing in the shade inside the plane’s cavernous body, which he said can hold 73 troops as well as any vehicles that will fit, Reyes said the 22nd Airlift Squadron even can provide support to NASA.

Reyes has spent six years working with the C-5 Galaxy, and has served in the Air Force for eight years. During his service, Reyes has deployed to Afghanistan, working with the MC-12 surveillance aircraft.

Service members from the military branches, reserves and the National Guard were all present in large numbers. SkyFest also featured a number of recruiting stations scattered across the base where interested individuals could find out more information about the armed services.

In addition to the men and women in uniform, a notable contingent of veterans could be seen at SkyFest, decorated in caps and insignias from the past century’s battles and conflicts.

Herbert Coburn, 66, leaned on his cane as he blinked up into the sunny sky, trying to catch sight of a naval fighter jet – one of his favorites – as it screamed by. A veteran of the Vietnam War who has been deployed as far as Jordan and the demilitarized zone of Korea, Coburn served for nearly a decade in the U.S. Army, retiring as a staff sergeant.

Coburn received a Purple Heart after a bullet ricocheted and struck him behind his right ear during fighting in Vietnam, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke, Coburn said, he didn’t realize he was injured so he kept on fighting.

Seeing all the service members in uniform and the lines at the recruiting booths brought joy to his heart, Coburn said.

“Never been so proud,” he said in a shaky voice, his eyes wet. “They’re still carrying the torch. It’s been 242 years since Concord and the dream still lives on.”


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