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Thousands flock to Fairchild Air Force Base for Skyfest 2019

UPDATED: Sat., June 22, 2019

Charolette Erwin reacts to the sound of a passing F-22 Raptor as she sits on her grandfather Bill Oswalt's shoulders during Skyfest 2019 on Saturday, June 22, 2019, at Fairchild AFB in Airway Heights, Wash. Oswalt said his granddaughter's father Mack Erwin is an Air Force pilot. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Charolette Erwin reacts to the sound of a passing F-22 Raptor as she sits on her grandfather Bill Oswalt's shoulders during Skyfest 2019 on Saturday, June 22, 2019, at Fairchild AFB in Airway Heights, Wash. Oswalt said his granddaughter's father Mack Erwin is an Air Force pilot. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Hours before fighter jets and skydivers would take to the skies, Robert Maughan already had his lawn chair set up in what would soon become the front row of the Skyfest air show.

Maughan, who has been attending air shows for decades, said he parachuted out of planes when he was in the Marines between 1958 and 1968. He now lives in Winthrop, Washington, but said he still remembers what it feels like to jump out of an aircraft.

“It’s always an adrenaline rush,” he said.

Maughan was one of thousands of veterans, active military and families who attended this year’s Skyfest, which showcased aircraft the military has been relying on for decades, as well as a few of its newest and most advanced fighter jets.

Attendees could board aircraft, or sit in the cockpit of helicopters. One helicopter that had a constant rotation of children clamoring to climb in was the UH-1N Huey. The helicopter, used for survival training and search and rescue at Fairchild, was one of the commonly used helicopters during the Vietnam war.

Jimmy Needler, a flight engineer for the Huey, said the helicopter was built in the late 1960s and was one of the more unique aircraft on the airstrip Saturday. He said he was also pleasantly surprised how much attention it was getting when fighter jets and other new aircraft were on the same field.

“It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside to see all the attention it still gets when all of those other aircraft are here,” he said.

Joshua Walker, another flight engineer for the same aircraft, said the helicopter was not only popular with children but anyone who had been in the military in the last 50 years.

“You have hundreds of thousands of soldiers that have flown on it, seen it or been around it,” he said. “It has touched more lives than some of our other airframes.”

He said many of the other aircraft on the field were only used by specific teams for certain types of tasks, and they don’t have the history the Huey does.

Aircraft parked down the runway were only a small part of the larger airshow. The Golden Knights, a U.S. Army parachute team, performed several demonstrations, including how a soldier would respond if his parachute malfunctioned. The parachuter, who was falling at around 90 mph, was still able to deploy his back-up chute and glided safely to the ground.

The F-22 Raptor, one of the Air Force’s most advanced, stealth fighter jets, also drew applause. The fighter jet’s demonstration was one impossibly tight turn after the other, flying close to the ground before shooting up into the cloud cover. Every pass was also accompanied by a loud boom that reverbrated through the crowd, drawing cheers from many, with many of the smallest attendees covering their ears.

Aaron Berry, 10, was one of the many children who climbed in cockpits and in the back of planes at the air show.

He said helicopters are by far his favorite, and he hopes he can fly them someday, or be in the Air Force.

Aaron Berry’s father, Dean Berry, said he’s been fascinated by aircraft since he was a child and also wanted to join the military when he was growing up. Berry, who grew up in California, is now a diesel mechanic and lives in Wallace, Idaho.

He said he grew up drawing pictures of planes, building them with Legos and watching air shows from his grandparents’ house. He said he wanted to join the military and become a pilot, but couldn’t pass the physical exam due to a football injury in high school and eyesight issues.

“That’s all I wanted to do my entire childhood,” he said.

Berry said he’s had a chance to ride along on military flights since becoming an adult, which is still far better than flying in commercial airplanes, calling them “cattle cars in the sky.” Everyone on a military airplane, he said, feels like they’re a part of something bigger.

“It’s a whole different feel than sitting in a flying bus,” he said.

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