Air Force

July 13, 2012

729th AS sets Air Force 4th of July flyover record

Overcomes weather and traffic congestion challenges

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by Staff Sgt. Megan Crusher
452 AMW public affairs

Lt. Col. Tim Harris, pilot, 729th Airlift Squadron, is pictured as he pilots the massive C-17 Globemaster III, over Big Bear during the aircraft’s 16 flyovers performed in support of Fourth of July celebrations held throughout southern California, July 4.

A single March Air Reserve Base C-17 Globemaster III crew went above and beyond the call of duty when they performed a jaw-dropping 16 flyovers in a single sortie throughout southern California in celebration of the 236th birthday of the United States of America, July 4.

The 729th AS has been conducting flyovers for the past six years, with Lt. Col. Tim Harris flying the mission the last five years. He explained that when he first started, supporting four flyovers was a big deal. The majority of requests were left unfulfilled because the demand was too great. This year, every request was supported, except one because that particular venue wanted a smaller jet.

Performing a whopping 16 flyovers in 2012 compared to four in 2006, was perpetuated by the knowledge and continuity Harris brings to the table. Because of the many years of experience he has gained through flying, he knows which route yields the best results.

“I’m benefitting a lot from having done this before, so I know this particular ground track works and it de-conflicts itself with other things,” said Harris. “We fly this route, because it takes us around the trouble areas and we’re avoiding the tight airspaces.”

There were additional challenges the crew had to contend with besides avoiding the countless congested areas, the biggest being the weather.

“I’ve never had an issue with the weather on the Fourth of July before, but this time we had a real problem with it for the first three flyovers,” said Harris.

“The ceiling was at about 1500 feet, so we had to fly just below them in order to get visual confirmation of our route of flight.”

After passing through the beach areas, the weather issues subsided, but resurfaced with more storms in Big Bear. Fortunately, the crew was able to avoid major obstacles.

Lt. Col. Tim Harris conducts a series of flyovers around Southern Calif., during 4th of July celebrations. The mission had to be flown with exact timing and precision because several flyover points were skillfully coordinated to have the aircraft pass over just as the National Anthem ended.

Missions are typically flown in accordance with instrument flight rules, however, this particular mission was flown with visual flight rules. The difference between the flight rules is the pilots are responsible for staying clear of other aircraft when using VFR and when using IFR, air traffic controllers assume that responsibility.

A factor that made flying VFR difficult, was the extremely bright sun blazing in the crew’s eyes. They had to visually locate small jets and helicopters in and around the southern California basin to avoid collision. The crew worked seamless together to identify smaller aircraft and avoid them with no problems.

In addition to staying on the lookout for small aircraft, the crew marveled at all of the people on the ground looking up and flashing their cameras, as the C-17 flew over the various event locations, ranging from the Huntington Beach boardwalk to the Rose Bowl to beautiful Big Bear.

“There must have been 40 or 50 thousand in Ontario alone and to have a C-17 fly over their event, really gave the event a boost, said Harris. “We’re pretty used to seeing our aircraft here, but outside of March ARB, having one of our jet’s fly over is pretty special.”

That sentiment was re-enforced when footage of the C-17 flying over the celebrations was uploaded to YouTube within 24 hours of the mission from folks who witnessed the flyovers first hand.

“It was so cool to see this enormous aircraft flying so low, right over the ocean and in my city to celebrate our country’s independence, said Huntington Beach resident Brenda Hendricksen. “I was very impressed.”

Approximately 400,000 people throughout southern California witnessed the agile cargo jet fly over southern California.

The 729th AS supports, on average, approximately 35-45 flyovers a year, with roughly 10 each on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, 15 on the Fourth of July and a handful flown for military funerals or in support of airshows.




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