For third year in a row, no military aircraft will fly at Tacoma’s Freedom Fair

For the third year in a row the military is sending only regrets to Tacoma for its Independence Day celebration.

Freedom Fair, the annual Fourth of July celebration along the Ruston Way waterfront, will have its popular air show devoid of participation from the armed forces.

“The Navy’s not coming, the Marines are not coming, and the Air Force is not coming,” said Doug Fratoni, the organizer for the air show.

“We’re furious,” said Gary Grape, director of events for the Tacoma Events Commission, which puts on Freedom Fair. “We got totally shut down again this year.”

It’s not like the military has grounded all its exhibition aircraft.

Seattle’s Seafair will once again get the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s precision flying team, as well as a Marine Harrier jump jet. July’s Oregon International Air Show in Hillsboro will have an appearance by the Blue Angels as well.

Nationally, military aircraft largely disappeared off the air show radar during the 2013 sequestration and government shutdown but reappeared at civilian events in 2014.

Except at Freedom Fair, which last saw military aircraft in 2012.

Fratoni said he’s been given several reasons for the no-shows. In some cases, there’s a limited number of aircraft. In other cases, other, bigger shows take precedence. He also suspects politics has an influence.

Asked last year about why no Air Force planes were coming to Freedom Fair, a spokeswoman said the service gets from 120 to 150 requests from air shows for the same aircraft.

Its goal, the spokeswoman said, is to widely disperse its aircraft based on location and timing.

Grape is sending letters to state and national politicians this week, asking them for help getting military aircraft to Freedom Fair.

Grape doesn’t know why the military has said no for this year’s show but suggests Tacoma’s proximity to Seattle is a factor.

“It’s always us versus Seattle,” he said. “It’s always been that way.”

Growler jets and a helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island performed flyovers at the NFC Championship game Jan. 18 in Seattle between the Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, he noted.

“Jets did flybys over CenturyLink, and we can’t even get a plane out of McChord,” Grape said.

“We draw over 125,000 people down here. We have a strong military family support in this area. When you have a base within 10 miles it doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Freedom Fair air show has always been two hours but Fratoni said he has enough funding for only four acts this year — enough for an hour.

He uses money from the Wings and Wheels car and air show at the Tacoma Narrows Airport to pay for Freedom Fair’s air show.

It costs about $5,000 to bring each civilian act to Tacoma, Fratoni said. Military aircraft cost organizers less money, mostly hotel rooms and rental cars, he said.

“If we find some sponsors, then we can expand it,” Fratoni said of the air show. He estimates $25,000 would cover another hour of acts.

Grape would like to see a two-hour show as well but the commission did not budget money for it, assuming military aircraft would return in 2015.

The military aircraft add variety to the show and often are the highlight, Grape said.

“People love those jets on the waterfront,” he said.

Fratoni promised an exciting hour on July 4 but added, “It’s never been only an hour.”