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McChord Globemaster plays dual role at SkyFest

62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Published: 06:36PM June 5th, 2014

A McChord C-17 Globemaster III aircraft was one of dozens of aircraft on display and open to the public May 31 and June 1, during SkyFest 2014 at Fairchild Air Force Base.

SkyFest is Fairchild’s air show and open house. This year’s event featured aerial performances by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team. Fairchild opened the the gates of the base to approximately 210,000 visitors, according to base officials.

During the two-day event, McChord C-17 aircrew members welcomed the tens of thousands of visitors to the jet and answered questions about the airplane’s capabilities and its mission, as well as questions about the roles of the aircrew members.

“We got asked a lot of questions about what types of equipment we can carry,” said Senior Airman Josh Mitchell, 4th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. “There were a lot of people who asked if we can carry Army tanks — a lot.”

The crew members answered many questions about the payload of the 174-foot-long C-17, which was designed to carry virtually all of the Army’s air-transportable equipment. They also answered very specific questions that they said were not quite as easy to answer.

“One person asked me how many total buttons the airplane has,” said Staff Sgt. Orial Christopher, 4th AS loadmaster.

Mitchell received similarly tough questions.

“One kid asked how many wires are on the airplane,” he said. “I joked with him and said that I wasn’t sure, but perhaps if you stretched them all end to end, they would reach the moon.”

The crew members said that seeing the reactions of the thousands of children as they toured the airplane was a rewarding experience.

“Just to see the kids’ eyes light up when I would tell them they could sit in the pilot’s seat was great,” said 1st Lt. Alicia Robillard, 4th AS pilot. “I liked watching them try to move the flight controls using all of their might.”

Children were not the only ones who were amazed at getting the chance to tour the airplane and meet the crew.

“It was really interesting to see people in awe when they would step onto the plane and just gasp when taking in the size of the jet,” Christopher said.

Getting to see the amount of community support, and seeing the gratitude and respect the visitors had for the crew members themselves, was one aspect of the event the crew said they found very endearing.

“Just having so many people asking to take photos with us, and for so many to have such an interest in what it is we do was an amazing experience,” Christopher said.

For Capt. Mike Zinkgraf, 8th AS pilot and aircraft commander for the mission, hosting the Spokane-area SkyFest attendees on the C-17 had personal meaning. A native of Spokane, Zinkgraf hosted many of his own family members on the jet.

“Bringing my family into the cockpit for just two minutes to show them what I do was much greater than what they’ve been able to get in seven years of me having conversations with them about it,” Zinkgraf said.

Greeting the air show attendees on the C-17 was only part of the contribution the crew made to the event. They also helped transport a large portion of SkyFest’s headliners, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Prior to the air show, the crew flew from McChord under the call sign “Thunderbird One-Four” to Colorado Springs, Colo., where the Thunderbirds had just performed a flyover for the Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony. From there, they flew more than 50 Thunderbirds support personnel and nearly 50,000 pounds of their equipment to Fairchild.

After the air show, they again transported the support team and equipment to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the Thunderbirds’ home base.

Providing support for the Thunderbirds and SkyFest, and meeting with so many visitors, reminded many crew members of the responsibility inherent in their jobs.

“A lot of people are really impressed that such a large aircraft can be managed by just a few people, and they say it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to have the amount of responsibility that’s given to us,” Robillard said. “It’s easy to take what we do with this aircraft for granted, so when you hear things like that from so many people, it really helps puts things back into perspective.”