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There are few things as “USA, USA” as the in-formation military flyover at a sporting event.. As a fan, there’s really nothing quite like the sensation of being in a packed stadium, hyped for the game to start, then hearing jets roar overhead right at the climax of the national anthem.
I wanted to find out how this works first hand, so we headed to Minneapolis and linked up with the Air Force team getting ready to do the flyover of Super Bowl LII.
There isn’t a more high profile event in American sports, so getting the timing right is essential. Pilots in the air have to be in constant communication with the team on the ground to make sure they pass over the stadium at exactly the right moment. Every second counts when you’re trying to get a flyover just right.
My pilot, Maj. John “Rain” Waters, explained how the process works. Basically, the jets take off early and circle a 12 mile radius around the stadium. The team knows how long it will take to fly to the stadium, and the team at the Super Bowl knows how long it will take P!nk to sing the national anthem. The trick is to start the approach so you’re flying over just as the singer is belting out “home of the brave.”
Lt. Col. Chris “Nike” McAlear was the Air Force lead at U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held. His job was to keep the pilots aware of any schedule changes to make sure they can adjust in time.
But these flyovers have a real military training purpose. Close air support missions require perfect timing on the battlefield, otherwise you might bomb the wrong troops. Stadium flyovers offer the opportunity for pilots to train how to be at a given place at an exact time.“What this does is forces our pilots to go up there and recalculate speeds and routes” to make sure they pass overhead at just the right time.
The Air Force wasn’t able to tell me the exact cost of the flyover, but they did explain that flyovers are typically at no additional cost to the taxpayer (other outlets have estimated the cost of previous flyovers at $450,000) as the funds for the flights come from training budgets.