Arizona Air Guard to watch over Super Bowl XLIX

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(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Brian A. Barbour)

Pilots and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 162nd Wing’s Aerospace Control Alert Detachment at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base may take to the skies to help protect thousands of spectators at Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Arizona, Feb. 1.

Arizona’s Air National Guard is among the units teaming up with the North American Aerospace Defense Command in a consolidated effort with federal, state and local agencies to provide security for the National Football League’s championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Federal Aviation Administration will establish a 30-nautical-mile-radius temporary flight restriction over the venue from 3:25 p.m. until midnight on game day. As a precaution, Guard fighters will be readily available to help enforce it.

“If there is a violation of this restriction, we intend to find the aircraft, get the pilot’s attention and get him on the right radio frequency for instructions and, if required, we will safely escort the aircraft out of the restricted airspace,” said Lt. Col. Chris O’Neill, the alert detachment commander.

O’Neill and his team of pilots and aircraft maintainers are well-seasoned in the area of homeland defense. Their unit has provided an around-the-clock rapid response force in support of Operation Noble Eagle, the U.S. air defense mission that began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The 162nd Wing, one of several NORAD alert units in the country, maintains the ability to quickly scramble in response to airborne threats in the Southwest United States as well as proactively defend large gatherings and high profile events. The 162nd Wing last performed a Super Bowl mission in 2008 when its aircraft and pilots enforced the FAA’s temporary flight restriction during Super Bowl XLII.

During the extended mission, the F-16s will stay aloft with assistance from fellow Arizona Air National Guard members assigned to the 161st Air Refueling Wing based at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.  They will refuel the fighters as necessary from KC-135 Stratotankers.

“The F-16s alone could go up for a short period of time and then they would have to land,” said 1st Lt. Julie Keeney, a tanker pilot with the 161st.  “Having the refuelers up there is going to give the operation more efficiency and timely response.”

Airmen here said they are content to dutifully watch the skies while everyone watches the game.

“We are proud to support civil authorities with this vital mission and we want our guests and fellow community members to have a safe and memorable Super Bowl in Arizona,” said Keeney.