Thursday, June 24, 2010

Orlando Sentinel: Critics question wisdom, cost of military flyovers at sports events -- Flyovers a staple at big sports events, but critics question

12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, February 13, 2008

By Josh Robbins, The Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. – A fly-by at a sports event can inspire a crowd like nothing else. But is it the best use of military time and money?

[Click image for a larger version] FILE 2002/Staff photo
FILE 2002/Staff photo
Military flyovers, such as this one before a Fourth of July Rangers game in Arlington, have become more common at sports events in recent years. Defense Department directives issued in 2001 liberalized the rules governing which events can have them.

The noise inside University of Phoenix Stadium grew deafening as Jordin Sparks finished the national anthem before the start of this year's Super Bowl. It was time for that new-age American sports tradition that puts an exclamation point on the pregame ceremonies:

A military flyover.

Only this time, no one at the game noticed. The stadium's roof was closed, and it was so loud inside that no one could even hear the jets. But the almost 100 million watching on TV did get to see them for about four seconds.

A spokesman estimated the cost of sending the six F/A-18A Hornets from their training home in El Centro, Calif., to Glendale, Ariz., and back at $36,000.

"For the publicity aspect of it, I'd say it's definitely well worth it when you consider the cost to advertise during the Super Bowl," Blue Angels press officer Capt. Tyson Dunkelberger said. "The more people see our blue jets and recognize the Navy, the better it is for us."

Flyovers, once unexpected moments at major sporting events, are now almost the norm, expected parts of pregame festivities. But you don't have to reach a very high bar to get one.

Department of Defense Form 2535, the three-page application that must be filled out for every fly-by request, makes no mention of sporting events. Its instructions state that "requests for flyovers will be considered only for aviation-oriented events ... or for patriotic observances [one day only] held in conjunction with Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, POW/MIA Recognition Day or Veterans Day."

In 2001, the Department of Defense issued two directives – No. 5410.18 and No. 5410.19 – that allow the secretaries of each armed service to decide what events may receive flyovers and gives the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs the authority to create flyover policies for major events.

Those requirements are easy to meet. Aside from gaining Federal Aviation Administration approval, teams or leagues that request flyovers only have to stipulate that their events are open to the public, aren't political in nature and aren't fundraisers for any one charity. In addition, teams or leagues usually must provide space for military recruiters.

On Sunday, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will perform a fly-by before the Daytona 500 . Capt. Elizabeth Kreft, the Thunderbirds' press officer, said eight F-16 Fighting Falcon jets will fly from Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas to Daytona Beach, Fla., and back at a cost of $80,000.

For the flyover itself, six jets will be in the air for 40 minutes, at an approximate fuel cost of $6,000.

Lower-profile amateur events also have received some kind of military support in recent years. Once in the early 2000s and again in 2006, the Leap Frogs, the Navy's parachute demonstration team, did jumps for the Clairemont Hilltoppers Little League's opening ceremonies in San Diego, said the league's board chairman, William Conner.

Military officials insist that flyovers don't cost taxpayers any additional money, because each flyover counts as a training flight and comes out of already existing training budgets and schedules.

"Baloney," said Winslow Wheeler, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.

"It's atrocious training. They're flying from Point A to Point B. They're doing a couple of sort of low-altitude passes over the events and they go home. That's what pilots call 'converting gas to noise.' "

Josh Robbins,

The Orlando Sentinel

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