JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --
Taking an inside look into the flyover process peels back many layers of mystery and magic that go into a perfectly timed flyover.
There is a lot of coordination that goes into a flyover, and recently the 446th Airlift Wing performed one for the University of Washington Huskies football game Saturday. Right on cue, as the last verse of the national anthem was sung, the C-17 hit its timing mark and made the audience roar with excitement seeing the aircraft fly from end zone to end zone at Husky Stadium.
But as the spectators looked skyward and cheered, the aircraft was being directed not by an E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system miles away nor by some distant air traffic controller or even North American Aerospace Defense Command. The aircraft was being controlled by Capt. Anthony Bianchi, 62nd Operations Support Squadron executive officer, using a hand-held radio on the northwest deck above the tunnel used by the Huskies as they enter the field.
But long before the flight happens, there is a lot of preparation involved.
The flyover process starts with the civilian organizers requesting the flyover using the Air Force’s Aerial Events website — airshows.pa.hq.af.mil — and getting approval from the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.
Once approved, local units can sign up to support the aerial event and that kicks the planning process into high gear.
Planning includes coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and local air traffic controllers, and the key component to understanding the trick behind the magic is to know that all planning centers around the time-on-target.
“The tricky part is making adjustments the closer it gets to the time on target.” Bianchi said. “On the final approach, the only adjustments that can be made are to slow down or speed up.”
This is closely coordinated with the overall sporting event coordinators, and in this case, that was Josh T. Chan, Husky Athletic Bands and Spirits Squads program coordinator. Chan works closely with other pregame event coordinators during rehearsals to determine the length of each event and trigger points to formulate the sequence of events timed down to the second.
Once the time on target is determined, Chan kept Bianchi updated on pregame activity timing, which he relayed to keep the aircrew appraised of any variation in the timeline of events.
While the aircrew remained in a holding pattern east of the stadium, Bianchi placed himself in a high point of the stadium where he could see the approaching aircraft and called the aircrew to inform them when each event began and ended and what adjustments were needed to the time on target.
For the Husky flyover, the aircrew had to start its final approach when the national anthem began and could only adjust its speed from that point on, Bianchi said.
The aircrew uses an onboard computer to make adjustments to hit the mark right on cue. In the case of this particular flyover, the national anthem was timed to last 66 seconds.
When the song started, Bianchi radioed that into the aircrew piloting the C-17. And just like magic, the C-17 appeared from behind the scoreboard and hit the mark exactly as planned.
Communicating with event organizers is a key element to successfully timing the flyover.
“It was an honor working with Captain Bianchi,” Chan said. “He was a professional the whole time and he was certainly key in nailing the flyover timing.”
Bianchi is a Seattle native and had a number of years flying experience even before joining the Air Force. Earning his pilot’s license when he was 15 years old, he flew commercially for six years before deciding to serve his country as a C-17 pilot. Now with four years of military flying experience, he is set to become the new 62nd OSS executive officer.
The C-17 aircrew were all members of the 728th Airlift Squadron with the 446th AW and, appropriately, University of Washington graduates. Reservists fly with their active-duty component 62nd Airlift Wing, and this event was another example of the seamless integration of the two components.
The next time you’re at an outdoor sporting event with a flyover, look around up high and you just might see the magician at work making radio calls communicating with the aircrew.
To view the pregame ceremony from the UW flyover flown by the 728th AS, check out &feature=youtu.be.