Eight-year-old Preston Degerman gazed up at the Canadian pilot in front of him and hesitantly handed over a pen to get the pilot's autograph.

Capt. Yanick Gregoire of the Canadian CF-18 National Hornet Demonstration Team happily obliged and later wrapped his arm around Preston's shoulder for a souvenir photo.

Aviation met entertainment to strike awe in the hearts of spectators such as Preston during the final day of the Fargo AirSho on Sunday, when between 5,000 and 10,000 people were estimated to have attended.

Preliminary counts Sunday evening showed between 20,000 and 25,000 spectators total attended the two-day event, AirSho co-chairman Dick Walstad said.

Walstad added that more accurate numbers will be available within the next few days.

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The AirSho provided aerial entertainment - culminating in the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels - and up-close views of military and civilian planes on the ground.

And as Gregoire said, air shows are where the aviation dream begins.

Preston said he wants to be a pilot when he grows up and loved the chance to meet one in person during the Fargo AirSho.

"It's really cool," he said, holding Gregoire's autograph tightly in his hands. "It was amazing how they did all those tricks."

Gregoire's aviation career started much the same

way - by attending air shows as a child with his parents.

"It's how dreams begin," said Gregoire, who has flown the CF-18 for five years. "It's got to start somewhere."

Preston's father, Roger Degerman, said watching the planes fly from afar is nothing compared to seeing them up close.

"It's always an awesome show," said Degerman, 44. "We saw the Blue Angels fly over our house on Saturday, but coming today makes it all the more breathtaking."

AirSho officials worried that days of rain might drive away weekend crowds, and a Saturday night thunderstorm had crews scrambling to adjust for Sunday crowds, Walstad said.

"We had people out here at 3 this morning," he said. "The committee was here by 6:30 to make sure everything that needed to be done was being done."

Volunteers worked fast to lay down wood chips and straw, pump out the grass and move VIP seating out of muddy puddles in the lawn, Walstad said.

But the skies cleared up by noon Sunday, leaving spectators to bask in the summer sun, 80-degree temperatures and 25-mph winds for the last hours of the show.

And co-chairman Darrol Schroeder said he noticed more people arriving on the AirSho grounds Sunday as the skies cleared.

"The weather forecast was a little dicey this morning," he said. "I think it just took people a little while to get out here."

"We couldn't be happier with the turnout."

Schroeder and Walstad are now looking to 2009, when they hope to bring back the Fargo AirSho.

"It's a lot of work because we're all volunteers," Walstad said. "But just about every time we do this - we're all tired, then two weeks later, someone says, 'Why don't we do another AirSho?' "

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 235-7311