Flyovers: Sight, sound of freedom

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — They are breathtaking, flawless and can cause the viewer to have goosebumps. They look easy, but, according to those who perform them, flyovers take training, skill and precise decisions to execute.

The most recent flown in the area was the Super Bowl flyover, where the Thunderbirds, officially known as the U.S. Air Force Aerial Demonstration Squadron, passed over the University of Phoenix Stadium in a Delta formation, a tight six-aircraft V formation.

In a typical flyover, after the specific location is chosen, the pilots are given a general way of getting in and out of the area, usually arriving within 10 to 15 minutes, with a specific speed and altitude determined by Air Force operational and public event regulations.

“Aircraft avionics give the pilot the necessary information to reach the target at specific time,” Artiges said. “For instance, this particular flyover had to come at the end of the national anthem, at the right moment, to make a better impact on the crowd.”

Because every singer has their own timing and unique finish to the national anthem, a pilot is placed at the event to coordinate the timing of the pilots to fly over precisely at the end of the song. Knowing the location of the jets, the pilot at the event instructs the formation of jets to slow or increase their speed, so they arrive with exact timing.

“It’s a matter of being on time when you’re flying this type of flyover,” Artiges said. “The type of aircraft and formation plays an important role as well.”

The most common F-16 flyover is called the four-ship fingertip formation, while the Thunderbirds present six-ship formations.

Along with pilots, the maintainers play an important role in accomplishing a flyover. They’re given a schedule telling them when the pilots will arrive and the time the jets need to be ready and postured. Once the jet is ready, the maintainers must execute the take-off sequence in a timely manner, avoiding late takeoffs or ground aborts.

“The biggest thing is teamwork,” said Master Sgt. James Yount, 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-35 lead production superintendent. “The pilots are able to execute the mission well with all the information they’re given, while the maintainers work together with operations to ensure the event is executed on time. It requires a lot of time and patience to execute a flyover perfectly.”

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