A Super Flyover
Story and photos by Joe Kates, additional photos by Scott Plummer
Photorecon was invited to attend the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation media day leading up to the Super Bowl LVI game day flyover.
The U.S. Air Force performs close to 1,000 flyovers a year, which serve as a way to showcase the capabilities of its aircraft while also inspiring patriotism and future generations of aviation enthusiasts. These flyovers are done at no additional cost to the taxpayer and serve as time-over-target training for Air Force pilots, aircrew and ground control teams.
The flyover is a Super Bowl ritual spanning more than half a century. This type of flyover is also a tradition at many other sporting events and academy graduations. When all those graduation caps are launched, the jets are right above them in the sky. At other events, as the last notes of the U.S. National Anthem echoes across the field… “and the home of the brave…” the perfectly timed flyover of the stadium takes place. So precise, it all seems that simple?
Time On Target or TOT was a phrase we heard a lot that media day, as the coordination of the flyover event was being practiced.
Time On Target is the military co-ordination of many weapons systems so that all the munitions, or assets, arrive at the target at precisely the same time. The military standard is plus or minus three seconds from the prescribed time of impact. Now take into account the events at a sports stadium; one error in the presentation of the anthem and the whole flyover will be off time. No stress at all right? Whether that be surgically placing a JDAM down an exhaust stack on a building or arriving on perfect timing over the biggest sporting event of the year. That’s what they are trained to do.
This Super Bowl fly over was special in so many ways this year. It would be the 75th Anniversary of the United States Air Force. Steve Hinton, who has spent the last 25 years flying warbird aircraft with the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight team, would be conducting his final Heritage Flight. And, for the first time in history, the Air Force would have a 5-plane formation consisting of legendary planes. The flight included five historic and important U.S. military fighters and attack aircraft:
• P-51D Mustang, based at Planes Of Fame Chino, California
• A-10 Thunderbolt II—aka “Warthog”, based at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona
• F-22 Raptor, based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
• F-35 Lightning II, based at Hill AFB, Utah
• F-16 Fighting Falcon, aka “Viper,” based at Shaw AFB, South Carolina
This event was a great opportunity to meet all of the Demonstration Team pilots, to introduce ourselves, and “talk shop”. Photorecon is very proud to produce some of the finest aviation lithographs available. Dave Budd was very busy in the weeks leading up to the event. He produced all 4 demo teams a custom lithograph, which we were able to present to the pilots and have a few signed for our office as well.
One of the highlights for me was Steve Hinton walking up and saying “Hey, I know you guys”. That led to some 45 minutes or so of uninterrupted time chatting with Steve Hinton about everything from his early days at Planes Of Fame, of Racing at Reno, and his opinions on everything from world events to the future of air shows in general. The highlight for Dave was when Hinton asked him to climb up on Wee Willy and help him install the canopy, that was removed the previous day for some maintenance. It’s not often you get a chance to assist a legend of aviation just out of the blue like that. Dave also presented Steve with a pack of lithographs featuring all 4 jet demo teams he would be leading his final heritage flight over Super Bowl LVI.
All eyes were on Steve as the media representatives were very interested in this fixture of the world of warbirds. Steve was quoted at one interview saying “It’s an honor to be a part of this elite group. The demonstration teams are made up of our finest aviators, not that they’re any better than the rest of them, but they represent our armed forces well, and in my experience with them for the last 25 years, I’m so proud to be a part of that. This is one way to present taxpayers with what the Air Force has, their abilities. It, of course, only scratches the surface, but these are amazing pilots and amazing equipment that the United States Air Force has. Their capabilities are hard to even describe.”
He continued… “To me that’s what’s so impressive being able to show the taxpayers, show the mom and dad and the kids growing up that they’d be proud of what we have in the United States. I love my job, I love what I get to do and I love being available for these kinds of events. I still pinch myself all the time. It’s hard to believe that I still get to do this stuff.”
While speaking with Steve, he informed us he is not done yet. At 70 years old, he will be jumping ship to the NAVY. The USN Legacy Flights schedule and its’ more flexible age restriction limit, works better for him moving forward. He will now help honor the Navy legacy at events, while continuing to work at the museum and film projects. His other plans involve expanding the Planes of Fame Museum from Chino, CA to Santa Maria, CA in the coming years.
This event, being practice time for the fly over for Super Bowl LVI, featured visits by former NFL stars, team mascots and cheerleaders. They were escorted around to meet the demo pilots, see the jets and learn the mission of the USAF.
One former player was NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Warner got a ride of a lifetime with Air Force Captain Aimee “Rebel” Fielder. Warner suited up and completed an abbreviated egress training session. Normal egress training can the better part of a day to cover for an incentive flight.
As he walked to the aircraft with a fighter pilot swagger, he looked the part, albeit the silver beard he was sporting in his retirement from the NFL. After strapping in and getting a cockpit briefing by “Rebel”, the canopy closed and the ‘Comeback Kid ‘ was rocketing into the air for his flight of a lifetime. He was airborne for about an hour experiencing all that the Viper can do. After returning, he climbed down from the jet, and thanked “Rebel” and the jet’s crew for the amazing opportunity.
The assembled media started with the questions about his flight and how it went. To these he responded “Well I didn’t have to use the bag, but if we had stayed up there any longer, I probably would have!” When asked what call sign she would give Warner, “Rebel” Fielder joked that maybe it should be “Mercy” because he was begging for that in the back seat. Warner chuckled and did not argue with the assessment. The former QB then took the opportunity to meet and greet the other pilots taking part in the flyover.
What a spectacular ending to a day that started with stellar, non-cluttered ramp access for some amazing sunrise photos of all of the participating aircraft. We took home a real sense of pride in the mission of the USAF Heritage Flight Team, and how they represent the best Air Force in the world, honoring the men and women who built that over 75 years and those who gave all.
Oh yes: As most of the viewing world saw during the pre-game events, they made the “TOT” – Time Over Target – with perfect precision. What else would you expect?