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Military does more than 1,000 flyovers per year but doesn’t track cost
“We look at the character and significance of the event, recruiting aspects, expected attendance, media coverage, any other military participation, and whether or not it can be incorporated into an existing mission or training,” Ramsey explained .
Representatives from all of the branches emphasize that flyovers must fit into existing training missions.
Each year, aviation squadrons are given a certain number of flying hours that must be completed, said John Wallach, deputy director at the Navy Office of Community Outreach. Squadrons are required to complete a number of operational training requirements, like takeoffs, landings and holding pattern training.
Once a flyover has been approved and sent to a squadron, the squadron then must find a way to fit that flyover into this already established budget of flying hours. If it can, the flyover request will be granted, according to Wallach.
The squadron members will use the time in the aircraft before or after a flyover to complete some of their operational training requirements, Wallach said. For example, after completing a flyover before a National Football League game, the squadron might also do other training exercises like airway navigation.
“If they don’t knock out the training requirements during a flyover they will do it over the Atlantic Ocean,” Wallach said. “The flying hours that squadron is given is a sunk cost.”
As a result, “flyovers are performed at no additional cost to the taxpayer,” the Air Force’s Jones-Vincent insisted.
But they don’t come free. The average per hour operational cost of an F/A-18 is approximately $10,000, Dooley said.
Flyovers provide needed training for aviators, said David Tretler, a retired Air Force colonel who has participated in flyovers and now teaches at the National War College. “Anytime you get in an airplane, it’s training,” he said.
Like many missions, flyovers are performed in formation, allowing aviators to practice for real- life scenarios, he said. “Flying in formation is hard,” he said. “It takes a lot of practice and repetition.”
Flyovers also allow aviators to work on precision.
“If you are a bomber pilot, you are supposed to be over a certain target at a certain time, coming from a certain direction,” Tretler said. “[Flyovers] don’t necessarily teach you how to bomb better, but there is a general training level that comes along with it.”
“I guarantee that there are number of young men and women who are attracted to go ahead and sign up because they think that looks really cool,” Tretler said.
Military representatives also view flyovers as a way of helping to educate the American people about the armed services.
“The Marine Corps is an unknown entity in some ways to many Americans,” Dooley said. “We have high recognition by name as an expeditionary fighting force, but our high-tech side and myriad career opportunities are often overlooked.”
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