FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are back in Spokane after a seven-year absence to perform at this weekend's Skyfest at Fairchild Air Force Base.
The Thunderbirds kicked off the morning with a flyover of the graduation ceremony at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Thursday morning before linking up with a Fairchild KC-135 wich dragged the F-16s back to Spokane.
92nd Air Refueling Wing crews fly approximately five refueling sorties every day. Thursday morning's sortie involved flying to Colorado to link up with the Thunderbirds after their flyover.
"Our mission today was to go down towards Denver, pick up our seven Thunderbirds and bring them back to Skyfest at Fairchild," Senior Airman Cameron Bilyeu said.
Bilyeu, the tanker boom operator on the mission, uses lights and radio traffic to guide in each F-16 to take on 4,000 lbs. of jet fuel.
"I'll tell you what the tanker is my best friend because when I'm getting behind a tanker it's a relaxed moment for me knowing I'm taking on some gas," Thunderbird pilot Major Jason Curtis said.
Curtis, a Montana native, joined the Thunderbirds in 2013 as the opposing solo pilot, Prior to joining the flight demonstration squadron he served as a combat pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he first developed an appreciation for tankers.
"I depended on the tankers, more than I can tell you. They came at a time of need, they were overhead, helping us out with gas so we could help out the troops on the ground when they were in a time of need and they asked for our call," he said.
The leadership at Fairchild is excited to open its gates this weekend to bring the community in to check out the Thunderbirds and the other aircraft that will be on display and flying overhead.
"Fairchild is really excited to be opening the gates for the first time since 2010 to have this airshow and we'd love for you to come out here and see what your air force does for you everyday," Colonel Shawn Teague from Fairchild Air Force Base said.