Sports fans are very familiar with the concept of the military flyover–military aircraft have graced major league sporting events for almost as long as there have been major league events to attend, but the practice of the flyover isn’t limited to sports.
There is a long history of using military aircraft to show military might, improve morale, reinforce the military’s public image, and quite importantly, to honor those who serve and those who have died while performing such service.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Military Flyover
While sources may differ on the date of the very first military flyover (and its purpose), in general we can look to World War One for the origin of a version of them. After aerial combat, pilots would regroup and fly over battlefields to let those on the ground know which aircraft had survived combat and which did not.
This was a utilitarian action, not a ceremonial one. This is also the origin story (in part) of something known as the “missing man formation,” which refers to how military aircraft fly in formation to honor a fallen member of it.
The “missing man” is indicated by an incomplete formation. The aircraft fly in a pattern as though the missing plane was still flying with the group. The missing man formation is used today for the same purpose, paying tribute to a fallen pilot and jet.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute, the very first military flyover as we know it today may have happened in 1918 during the opening day of the World Series in Chicago. This event featured approximately 60 aircraft flying over Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox.
This day is also significant as it was a shutout game for pitcher Babe Ruth. Military flyovers have become a big part of certain sporting events ever since, from the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute team delivering the game ball at the Football Hall of Fame game to patriotic flyovers of major league baseball stadiums on the 4th of July.
Not all flyover formations are performed to entertain or inspire; some are done in memoriam for the fallen. Missing man formations are common at some military funerals for highly decorated soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members.
These formations are somber affairs, with none of the flashy jet maneuvers you might expect from the Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds.
Not Just Flyovers
Jets in the sky are often only one part of an event where they are scheduled. There may be parachute demonstrations, static displays on the ground where decommissioned aircraft, helicopters, and ground vehicles can be seen up close, and even seminars and panels about them (depending on the event). Flyovers can be as simple or elaborate as the planning process and schedule permits.
Who Can Request A Military Flyover
Interest in flyovers exploded according to some sources in the wake of 9/11. Anyone is permitted to request one. The military cannot pick and choose who it supports with such requests, but that said the event must meet certain requirements in order to be approved.
You may also be required to make contact with the Federal Aviation Administration to clear the event. Aircraft cannot simply be scheduled to fly over a certain area–clearances must be granted and air traffic controllers must know about the event to schedule incoming and departing flights around the flyover event.
This coordination is crucial for maximum safety and contingency planning.
Requesting a military flyover is not centralized; you will need to approach a specific branch of military service and use the appropriate channels to make your request. Your first step in making such a request is to check with the military public affairs office that operates on the base where the request should be made.
Active duty military, Guard, and Reserve bases may all provide such services if mission requirements permit, resources are available, and the event meets the guidelines for such support.
In order to request a flyover you may be required (depending on the branch of service) to complete DD Form 2535, Request For Military Aerial Support. Doing so means knowing which aerial demonstration team you wish to feature. They include:
- Army Golden Knights
- Navy Blue Angels
- Navy Leap Frogs
- Air Force Thunderbirds
- Air Force Wings Of Blue
Your options for the request also include the following:
- Static Display
- Single Aircraft Demonstration
- Parachute Demo
But before you complete this form, you should ensure your event meets certain guidelines. The military asks a series of questions about the nature of the events they will support. Such questions include:
- Does the event have official government support?
- Will event planners provide a post-event report on request?
- Does any sponsoring organization allow membership, “without regard to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or color?”
- Does the event require a waiver by the FAA?
- Is air traffic control coordination required?
- Is the event open to the general public?
Costs Associated With Flyovers
The operational cost of the flyover in terms of jet fuel, maintenance, pilot training, and executing the actual event are usually borne by the branch of military service doing the event.
However, event planners may be required to pay for the travel expenses of the team and this may cost upwards of $3,000 per day, conservatively estimated in FY 2020 dollars. These expenses are naturally subject to change, but it gives a good idea of what an operating budget should be for event planners wanting to request aerial support.
Considerations For Approval
When your request is submitted officials are responsible for determining a variety of factors that include safety, expense, and other variables. What do the approving authorities have to contend with while processing your request?
- Ensuring that AA or “other governmental waiver” is not required
- Ensuring coordination with the air traffic control facility with jurisdiction, OR
- Determining that air traffic coordination is not required
- Determining whether a demonstration site feasibility study is required, and
- Ensuring a site plan was submitted by the event sponsor
What About Events Including Aircraft Without A Flyover?
Ground-based support is also possible from the military in the form of the previously-mentioned static displays, ground demonstrations, etc. In such cases, in addition to covering the travel expenses of the military crew, the sponsors of the event must agree to pay for fuel at “military contract prices” for non-flyover shows. The sponsor may also be required to provide security for the military hardware on site, which is another expense for non-flyover events to contend with during the planning and budgeting stage. Additionally, fire protection, ambulances, and medical personnel may be required to be at the event on standby–this may also come at the event planner’s expense for non-flyover events and for parachute-based events.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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