All three fighter aircraft of the U.S. Navy will be on display ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl in a rare flyover with a special salute to history.
While the Air Force gets the lion’s share of Super Bowl flyover showcases, this year’s show, on Feb. 12, is exclusively about the Navy. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first female naval aviators entering flight school, the pregame flyover for Super Bowl LVII will feature four fighter jets from three tactical aircraft squadrons: two F/A-18F Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122, the “Flying Eagles;” one F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from the VFA-147 “Argonauts;” and one EA-18G Growler from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129, the “Vikings.”
VFA-122 and VFA-97 are based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, CA, while VAQ-129 is from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA. They’ll pre-stage at and depart from Luke Air Force Base, AZ, before flying over the State Farm Stadium about seven miles away in Glendale, according to a Navy release. As is traditional, the flyover will be timed precisely to allow the jets to scream over the stadium just as the final notes of the National Anthem are ringing out before the start of the game.
Appropriately, three of the 15 naval aviators supporting the flyover are women: Lt. Kathryn Martinez, Lt. Saree Moreno, and Lt. Lyndsay Evans, according to aviator “trading cards” released by the Navy ahead of the event.
Martinez, a naval flight officer with VFA-122, said being part of the event was a huge deal.
“It’s not a feeling I can even put into words,” she said in a released statement. “It doesn’t get bigger than the Super Bowl, and I am humbled and honored to be able to participate with my friends and fellow Naval Aviators as part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
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Military Super Bowl flyovers in recent years appear to be getting bigger, more elaborate, and more meaningful. While 2023 will be at least the 55th year since the military flyover tradition began, recent years have seen increased efforts to make each Super Bowl flyover unique and significant, even if the public can only glimpse the aircraft for a few seconds before they hurtle out of sight.
There’s a reason for that: flyovers cost the military money, typically well upwards of $100,000 in fuel, transportation, and logistics costs. Military fighter squadrons have to fly for training anyway, so costs for special flyovers are arguably a wash. But flyovers are also a massive military recruiting ad in the sky, and they offer added value if the services can highlight aspects of their history or the range and capabilities of their aviation platforms. In an era when all military services are intensifying efforts to meet recruiting goals, that’s not an opportunity you want to squander.
Here are some stunning, notable, and surprising military flyovers from the last dozen years of Super Bowls.
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The epic bomber trio
As incredible as it is to watch the nation’s fighter jets fly in formation, the 2021 display featuring all three American bombers is hard to beat. As the Air Force pointed out, this show was timed just right: the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit all added up to 55, the number of that year’s Super Bowl.
The first-of-its-kind Super Bowl flyover with all three bombers was a masterpiece of coordination and planning, as Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk wrote at the time. Flying just 250 feet apart wingtip-to-wingtip, the bombers were in the air an average of eight hours each to complete the final brief formation flight.
With spare bombers and personnel on standby in case anything went sideways, the spectacle cost an estimated $4 million to execute. But the effect was breathtaking.
The Air Force dream team
Last year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles was an aviation geek’s dream. For the Air Force’s 75th anniversary, the service put together a historic display of aviation GOATs, including, for the first time, two fifth-generation fighters. The epic flyover included a classic P-51D Mustang as well as a who’s who of the currently serving combat planes: the A-10 Thunderbolt II, or Warthog; the F-22 Raptor; the F-35A; and the F-15 Fighting Falcon.
Flying Magazine described how former world speed record holder Steve Hinton, flying a P-51 known as Wee Willy II, teamed up with the Air Force for the formation flight. Since the Mustang is a propeller aircraft and not a jet, it took extra coordination for the aircraft to sync up to within 10 feet of each other for the 45-second flight over the stadium, the magazine reported. With all that preparation, though, the ultimate five-abreast flyover went off like a dream.
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The F-35 debut
The Super Bowl LIV flyover, which took place in February 2020, just before COVID-19 locked the world down, didn’t receive as much coverage as the previous entries on this list. But it’s notable for two reasons: first, it was the first time that Navy and Marine Corps aircraft were featured together at the big game; and second, it was the debut appearance of the Marines’ F-35B and the Navy’s F-35C at the Super Bowl. The Air Force’s F-35A variant had conducted its first-ever flyover at the NFL Pro Bowl back in 2015, but this was the first opportunity for the Joint Strike Fighter to shine at the Super Bowl itself. The other planes in the lineup included the Navy’s Super Hornet and Growler.
How did the Marines choose the F-35 pilot who would have the rare opportunity to represent the service in the Super Bowl? According to We Are the Mighty, it came down to a coin toss. How fitting.
The helicopter changeup
Super Bowl XLVIII’s flyover received mixed reviews, but it deserves full points for originality. The 2014 game swapped out the traditional fighter jets for an array of Army helicopters, giving the military’s largest service a chance to highlight its air assets.
The 101st Airborne Division contributed choppers including a trio each of CH-47F Chinooks, UH-60M Black Hawks, and AH-64D Apaches. The fixed-wing-for-rotorcraft swap wasn’t just a creative way to highlight Army assets but also came at the conclusion of a year when military air demonstration teams including the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels had curtailed their show seasons due to sequestration budget cuts. The helicopter flyover cost a relatively economical $90,000-$100,000, a Pentagon spokesman said at the time.
Unfortunately, the flyover was a bit of a bust. It was hard to see amid smoke from the pyrotechnics on the field, and Fox TV did not even bother to air it after National Anthem performer Renee Fleming belted out her final notes.
That’s a shame because videos captured by fans from the stadium prove it was quite the show.
The $450,000 fakeout
This last entry proves that, with a little luck, anything can turn into a boondoggle. Super Bowl XLV, held in 2011 at Cowboys Stadium in Texas, was set to have a standard military flyover of four Navy F/A-18 Hornets. But, as it turned out, the stadium’s retractable roof was closed when the jets passed over the stadium. Thus, the display began to look to many observers – including some members of Congress – like a massive waste of military cash.
One Dallas-based reporter estimated the unseen flyover cost as much as $450,000, although the Navy claimed it was closer to $110,000. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska went on to make the flyover a key talking point when discussing places the military could reasonably cut back to save money.
Ultimately, though, the flyover tradition survived the wave of bad publicity – and stadiums have been sure to keep their domes open for the show ever since.
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Harvey Jacobson says
I’ve been searching for the pre-game of Super Bowl 30, held in Tempe. The lead fly-over plane was the son of a person killed in either the Columbia or Challenger shuttle disaster.
Perhaps just seconds before they cleared the stadium, the squadron maintained their course, as the lead pilot went full vertical – in a tribute to his late father.
It remains the most touching thing I have ever seen on TV.