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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Thunderbirds returning to Fairchild for Skyfest 2017

The Thunderbirds are set to return to Fairchild Air Force Base this summer for Skyfest 2017.

The Air Force squadron’s last appearance at the Spokane air show was in 2014.

The dates for Skyfest, July 29 and 30, were chosen to match the availability of the Thunderbirds. A Thunderbird pilot was at Fairchild on Tuesday doing advance planning for the show.

More than 200,000 people are expected at Skyfest, in part because of the drawing power of the famed Thunderbirds and their precision at the controls of F-16 fighter jets.

“The Thunderbirds are the premier aerial demonstration team in the world,” said Col. Ryan Samuelson, the 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander.

“It’s a very, very professional team with exacting standards,” he said.

Samuelson told visiting Thunderbird 8 Capt. Erik Gonsalves that the squadron’s appearance this summer is “incredibly special” and that the Spokane community will be excited by the visit.

The show will depend in part on weather conditions that day. If the weather is good, the performance will take advantage of clear skies to soar high, but the squadron also has two other lower-altitude shows it can do, Gonsalves said.

Expect loops, rolls and opposing maneuvers from the six-jet formation. “We perform the whole gamut,” he said.

“They are absolutely a blast to fly,” Gonsalves said. “They are powerful.”

The Thunderbirds will perform from 3 to 3:30 p.m. both days of the show. Skyfest gates will open about 10 a.m. and close between 4 and 4:30 p.m.

In addition to the Thunderbirds, the show will include standing and flying demonstrations from a variety of military and civilian aircraft.

Jacquie Warda, of Jacquie B Airshowsin Danville, California, is expected to perform.

Also expected is the Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Competition Team out of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Planning for the show includes consultation with the Federal Aviation Administration and logistical issues such as fuel supply, he said.

Fairchild will provide public access to the base while maintaining security. Safety is a primary consideration, Gonsalves said.

The Thunderbirds squadron is made up of 12 officers with a large contingent of support staff for a total of about 120 air personnel.

Pilots have to apply for the squadron and can be accepted for a two-year rotation. The squadron is based at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.

In addition to Skyfest, Fairchild is also celebrating three anniversaries this year.

In March, Fairchild will mark the 75th anniversary of activation of the base in 1942.

September will bring the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Air Force as a separate branch of the military.

This year is also the 70th anniversary of the arrival at Fairchild of 92nd Bombardment Group, now the 92nd Refueling Wing.

Base activities are being planned around those anniversaries, Samuelson said.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017 to correct the title listed for Col. Ryan Samuelson.

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