Happy Thursday, FighterSweep fans.  With College Football’s Bowl season winding down, we continue our two-part series taking a look at the precision and awe-inspiring spectacle of game-day flyovers!

In the Dallas-Ft Worth area, we are fortunate to have multiple annual sporting events that regularly attract military flyovers.   One of those events is the annual Armed Forces Bowl. Fitting the official Bowl name, the Lockheed-Martin Armed Forces Bowl, this year’s flyover was a 4-ship of Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning IIs.

Providing the support was the 61st Fighter Squadron “Top Dogs” – part of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base (AFB).  This was only the second flyover for the F-35, with the first one taking place at the NFL Pro-Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona on January 25, 2015–also supported by the Top Dogs.

The 61st Fighter Squadron Flagship departs Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. (Photo by Scott Wolff)
The 61st Fighter Squadron Flagship departs Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. (Photo by Scott Wolff)

As G.M.  described in our first installment, the Forward Air Controller (FAC) is responsible to communicate timing adjustments to the flight lead in order to achieve the desired ToT and coordination–typically right at the last note of the National Anthem.  The FAC for the 2015 Lockheed-Martin Armed Forces Bowl was Captain Kyle “Scrum” Babbitt.

After four years driving A-10 Thunderbolt IIs at Osan Air Base and Whiteman AFB, he joined the 61st FS at Luke AFB in early 2015 for the transition (TX) course to the F-35A.  Upon completion of the TX, Babbitt moved over to the 62nd FS, which received their first F-35s this past August.  His day job at the 62nd FS is that of Instructor Pilot, as well the squadron scheduler.

Asked how he was chosen to be the Ground FAC, Captain Babbitt laughed and explained it usually falls to the youngest guy in the squadron.  However, with only about 40 F-35 pilots at Luke, his previous experience with flyovers made him the best choice.  As an A-10 pilot with the 303rd FS at Whiteman AFB, Babbitt participated in flyovers at the US Air Force Academy and at Arrowhead Stadium – the home field of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs.

The original flyover plan for the Lockheed-Martin Armed Forces Bowl called for the aircraft to transit from Luke AFB to Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth–the closest secure military airfield, the day prior to the game.  Unfortunately, unseasonably warm Texas weather took a turn for the worse on 26 December, with a strong cold front creating ten confirmed tornados and multiple fatalities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

On December 28th, with heavy cloud cover, intermittent precipitation, and airfield temps hovering just above freezing, locally-based F-16s from the 301st FW reported icing during the RTB (return to base) descent to NAS Fort Worth. The Top Dog flyover team postponed the leg from Luke AFB to Fort Worth until the morning of the game.  The final flightplan included the transit flight to Fort Worth the morning of the game, followed by a holding pattern near the stadium, and finally, the main event before landing at NAS Fort Worth for an overnight stay.

Captain Babbitt described the major planning elements of the flyover to include: weather, airspace and logistics – essentially the same, regardless of the airframe.  Gameday was mostly sunny with a high temp near 50°F (10°C), so although the weather affected the transit flight schedule, it was near perfect for the flyover.  Understanding the local airspace was critical.  A TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) was in-place over the stadium before and during the game.  The F-35 flight lead, Major Joshua “CATA” Arki, worked with Approach (ATC) to navigate the Class-B and Class-D airspace near the hold area, the stadium, and around NAS Fort Worth, which lies just five miles from the stadium.  Captain Babbitt was at the stadium well before the game to coordinate with the band performing the national anthem.

The band quoted 70-seconds for the National Anthem, and the flight lead-in time and countdown were coordinated by Babbitt.  After a textbook flyover, the F-35s landed at NAS Fort Worth a few minutes later, and the pilots were able to quickly transit to the stadium to catch the rest of the game.  The Air Force Falcons fought hard, but the California Golden Bears won the high-scoring game 55 to 36.

A Lightning II with 56th Fighter Wing markings rolls on runway 18 at NAS Fort Worth - heading back to Luke AFB. Photo by Carl Richards.
A Lightning II with 56th Fighter Wing markings rolls on runway 18 at NAS Fort Worth – heading back to Luke AFB.  Photo by Carl Richards.

While a flyover typically occupies only a few seconds at the end of the National Anthem, it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to plan and split-second precision execution.

See you next time, FighterSweep Faithful!