- Washington Guardian - Monday, November 26, 2012

The roar.  The whoosh.  The cheers. 

Military flyovers have become a staple of American sports, from the thunderous blast of Navy  F/A-18s swooping past a NASCAR race track to the stealthy appearance of the Air Force’s B-2 bomber at Major League Baseball’s All-Star game in Kansas City this past summer.

In fact, the Air Force, Navy and Marines tell the Medill News Service and the Washington Guardian they scrambled aircraft for more than 1,000 flyovers at sporting events, funerals and air shows in 2011 alone, one of the first-ever accountings of the how widespread the practice has become.

Amazingly, though, none of the services nor their Pentagon overseers tracks the specific tab to taxpayers for the public relations use of fighter aircraft whose operational costs can soar above $10,000 per hour. In fact, military officials say they treat flyovers as part of pilot training, meaning the costs are drawn from training budgets.

But some question whether the costs are worth it in an era of trillion-dollar deficits and talk of an impending “fiscal cliff” poised to impose steep cuts to the Pentagon budget as early as January.

The Army recently banned flyovers. And some in Congress along with taxpayer advocates are pressing for more scrutiny and oversight of flyovers by the other military branches, questioning whether flying over a stadium really provides the best training for combat conditions.

“Some may find these flights to be of good use, others perhaps not, and all those views should be taken into consideration,” said Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union. 

“Even though our pace of combat operations may be slowing, it is still important that pilots get every possible value out of their flight time because it could save their lives,” he said.  “I think there should be a constant evaluation as to the best use of scarce training dollars.”

There is no single repository inside the Pentagon for flyover information, so the Medill News Service in conjunction with the Washington Guardian contacted each service separately to gauge the scope of the practice.

The Air Force is the most popular recipient of flyover requests, receiving more than 3,000 invitations in 2011 and performing approximately 1,000 flyovers last year, according to Tynisha Jones-Vincent, a public affairs officer for the service. It did not have figures available for 2012 yet.

The Navy conducted 102 flyovers last year and 54 so far this year, said Cmdr. Pauline Storum, a spokeswoman for the Navy.  The Marine Corps has completed approximately 25 funeral flyovers and 14 flyovers at public events this year, said spokeswoman Lt. Maureen Dooley

In the midst of more than a decade of war, the Army placed a moratorium on flyovers in 2009 “to preserve flying hours and reduce stress on the aviation force,” Army public affairs specialist Maureen Ramsey said. 

The military defends flyovers, saying the benefits extend beyond training to public education and recruitment. But they have, on occasion, created some awkward moments.

Four F/A-18 Super Hornets zoomed over the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium before the February 2011 National Football League Super Bowl.  The only problem?  The stadium had a closed roof for the game, prompting many to question why a flyover was even necessary. 

Flyovers can be requested through a simple online form. 

Story Continues →