By Michael Dukes, 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 24, 2018
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- While the Jacksonville Jaguars lost their Oct. 21 home game against the Houston Texans, 20-7, the game at least started off with a thunderous roar from a Charleston C-17 Globemaster III flown a mere 1,500 feet above by the 701st Airlift Squadron also known as the “Turtles.”
There’s more to a flyover of a sporting event than the 5-10 seconds of excitement as seen from the ground, though– it takes a lot of coordination from some very skilled professionals like the Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 315th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. On this flight there were three pilots and four loadmasters in the jet during the flyover, and two on the ground at the stadium to coordinate timing.
“I was very fortunate to have such a great team to work with for this flight,” said Capt. Dennis Conner, the aircraft commander and 701st Airlift Squadron pilot. “I really wouldn’t have been as successful without their teamwork.”
On the flight deck, Conner was joined by his copilot, 1st Lt. Trey Jones, and instructor pilot, Lt. Col. Susan Gordon. While Conner and Jones controlled the jet for the flyover, Gordon kept in radio contact with the flight’s ground coordination team to ensure precise timing to enable the C-17 to pass overhead as the National Anthem was completed.
Col. Gregory Gilmour, 315th AW commander and , Lt. Col. John Russi, 315th Operation Support Squadron Current Ops Chief, were the wing’s ground coordinators working with Jaguars team coordinator, Chris Kerford.
When asked why the Jaguars asked for the flyover he said, “The Jaguars consider it a privilege to support those who defend our country and their families.”
“Northeast Florida is home to 150,000 veterans and 50,000 activity duty military and Department of Defense personnel, many of whom are avid Jaguars fans,” he added. “This flyover went perfectly and was very well received by the teams and the fans.”
While the public view of the flyover was impressive, flyovers like this are actually an excellent training opportunity for the aircrews according to Gilmour.
“It all comes down to timing; being in a specified place at a specified time,” Conner said. “Just like real world flight operations, especially in places like Southwest Asia, there are troops on the ground depending on us to make our deliveries within critical and very tight time windows.”
“In the situation of this flyover, that tight window was after the fireworks launched and as the Anthem was ending, and Dennis & Trey nailed it,” said Gordon, who has a few stadium flyovers under her belt.
“While we were in our holding pattern about 15 miles out from the stadium, we marked the time and adjusted speed to compensate,” Jones added. “We arrived in Jacksonville a little early from Charleston, so we had plenty of time to plan and adjust our flyover while in the holding pattern.”
Running things on the back end of the jet were 701st AS loadmasters, Master Sgt. John McNiece, Staff Sgt. Richard Russel, Staff Sgt. Shawn Whetstone, and Senior Airman Adam Allen. Despite not carrying any cargo or passengers on this trip, these guys were not just there for the ride, they had a series of inflight checks for the back half of the jet.
But when the jet was in the immediate area of downtown Jacksonville, Conner asked them to assist on the flight deck by helping to maintain situational awareness from the view of the flight deck windows for radio towers and unexpected small aircraft. Connor wanted to devote as much attention as possible to flying over the stadium as close to the scheduled time as possible, but he was focused on doing it as safely as possible.
For example, right next to the stadium was a 1,000 foot high radio antenna, and while the top was still 500 feet below their path, it’s always good to be cognizant of their surroundings.
After Conner and Jones flew the jet over the stadium, they throttled up and climbed steeply away. Within minutes they landed at nearby Cecil Airport, the crew secured the jet and was shuttled into town for the remainder of the game. As they made their way through the crowds, dozens of people stopped them to ask if they were the ones who flew over the stadium and to thank them for their service. Countless fans asked to take a photo with them, a request to which the crew were happy to oblige. As they made their way through the crowd to the field, they also handed out commemorative 701st AS 75th Year Anniversary patches and 701st Turtle stickers.
Once on the field the aircrew met up with Gilmour and Russi, and soon after were called out onto the field as their names and photos flashed up on the Jumbotron screens. The Jaguars presented the crew with a custom Jaguars jersey with the name “Airlift” printed at the top and the jersey number “315” printed boldly below. The announcer thanked them for their service, and the crowd cheered loudly as they waved back to everyone.
The next morning when the aircrew was rested and ready to return to Charleston, the loadmasters had their checklists to accomplish while the pilots performed their preflight checks. As the junior loadmaster in the group, Allen was given the task of fueling the jet. McNiece and Russel who have refueled jets countless times before, watched over Allen in case he needed any assistance.
Gilmour, or “Happy” which is his pilot nickname, flew the jet back to Charleston, with Gordon as his copilot. Gilmour chose to do a touch-and-go landing before landing and parking the jet.
Community and public engagements, like sporting event flyovers, are a crucial Departmental activity that reinforces trust and confidence in the United States military and in its most important asset – people. These engagements showcase our superior combat power, demonstrate readiness to defend the Nation, and help to preserve the all-volunteer force. Effective engagement builds an informed public that is more inclined to support military operations and less susceptible to the effects of adversary misinformation or inaccurate information in the public sphere.