You’ve seen them before – six Blue Angels flying over a football field before a big Seahawks game or shooting across the sky during a festival. What you haven’t probably seen is all the planning that goes into a military flyover and why they even happen.
Military Flyovers can actually be requested by anyone – the military actually accepts the most of the 850 (or so) flyover requests received each year. Requests can extend from a flyover to an aircraft display or even an Aerial Demonstration Team. An “Aerial Demonstration Team” can range anywhere from the Navy Blue Angels or the Army’s Golden Nights coming and working the airshow. Events can also request “other aerial support” which means a parachuting team will accompany the planes in the demonstration.
To request a military flyover, groups simply need to fill out a Form 2535 and explain the event, purpose and group information.
According to Form 2535, flyovers are supposed to be restricted to aviation-related events or events taking place in relation to “patriotic holidays” — Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, POW/MIA Recognition Day and Veterans Day [source: U.S. Air Force]. So technically, flyovers are not supposed to occur at sports events. Nevertheless, 440 sporting events had Air Force flyovers in 2005 and 2006, and during the same period, the Navy approved flyovers or parachute demos for 469 sporting events [source: Robbins].
There are times that a flyover request will be rejected, usually religious festivals or exclusive events that don’t pertain to the military’s goals, missions or standing.
Each flyover costs at least $36,000 and that money is taken out of the military training budget. The military public relations sector goes about approving the requests and will do so (and spend thousands of dollars) for recruitment and community outreach purposes.
Flyovers have to be carefully timed, usually so that the fighter jets appear just as the national anthem finishes (during the “home of the brave” line). The calculations are all performed on a computer, using GPS coordinates and a target speed. Meanwhile, the planes are in a holding pattern near the event site. When a spotter positioned on the ground gives the command, the planes are off and soar over the event right on cue. The pilots may later appear at the event to be honored in person.
After the planes or helicopters go by, other associated activities may occur, like a parachute drop by the Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.
For more on how military flyovers work, check out this nifty article from HowStuffWorks.