World War II Airshow Catastrophe

Horror Rode the Skies Crashing Down to Earth

For a crowd of 100,000 in the Inland Northwest a war show became a little too real when two airplanes crashed and exploded.

During World War Two war shows, like airshows today, were a popular way the military drummed up a patriotic spirit in local communities. The shows demonstrated military equipment to awe viewers and show just what all of the homefront efforts had produced.

Spokanintes were looking forward to attending the “Stay On The Job” war show on the afternoon of July 23, 1944. The show was conceived by Spokane air service command deputy commander Colonel Paul Schidecker to encourage the workers of the Inland Northwest to keep working to produce military equipment and vehicles. By having mock firefights and air battles to show how effective the equipment was in use along with how much wear and tear they underwent, the SPASC hoped to curve the high turnover rate the defense industry was seeing.

With the show beginning at 3 P.M., a crowd of over 100,000 viewers gathered in a natural amphitheater north of Spokane to watch the parades, weapons demonstrations, aerial maneuvers, and bomb droppings. About half an hour after the show began, during the parade of military aircraft the crowd’s attention was called to three A-25 dive-bombers flying into sight. Moments later tragedy struck as two of the planes collided and fell to the ground, bursting into flames. The crowd initially believed the explosions to be a part of the show, which promised realism, but soon they began to realize just what they had witnessed. Crews rushed to control the fires, and after a 45-minute interruption, the show continued. The next day it was announced that four men died in the crash, two pilots and two engineers.

The deaths of these young men lived on, in a sense, in the 1956 science fiction film Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Film crews recording the event caught the accident on camera and the footage of the two planes crashing and exploding became stock footage for Hollywood movies.