Pilots to perform flyovers as tribute to fallen
SPANGDAHLEM, Germany — It takes only a few seconds for an Air Force jet to roar over a memorial ceremony honoring America’s fallen warriors.
What most people don’t realize is that it takes days to prepare for a flyover and up to 30 hard-working airmen to make sure it goes off without a hitch.
“We’ve been working for a week to get ready,” Tech. Sgt. Jerry Thomas, a crew chief with Spangdahlem’s 22nd Fighter Squadron, said Tuesday. The 22nd is sending four F-16 Falcons to three separate events this Memorial Day weekend.
In addition to the four pilots who usually put together a “missing man” formation, a ground crew must be on hand to inspect the jets each time they land. Crash teams and air traffic controllers also must be ready.
And there is usually a forward air controller at the event that lets the pilots know when it’s time to make the pass, because they could be 400 miles away waiting for the end of a prayer or the last syllables of a speech on the ground.
“It’s a challenge because timing is really tight,” said Capt. Matt Allen, a 22nd Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot who will fly over services in Luxembourg, France and Belgium this weekend.
Allen and three other pilots in the squadron volunteered to do the flyovers on Memorial Day weekend, which would normally be a holiday for them. Allen said the team has satellite maps to help them know where everything is. They even took a road trip to each site to get a grasp of the history on the ground, which they’ll see next from up to 3,000 feet in the air.
“Our job is not to show off. It’s to pay our respects,” Allen, 26, of Nashville, Tenn., said.
Just down the flight line from the 22nd Fighter Squadron, airmen from the 81st Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem also were getting ready for flyovers this weekend.
Six A-10 Thunderbolts from the squadron will be ready to fly over services in France, including an event honoring the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Four of the jets will be used, and two will be there as backup.
Sgt. Christopher Haney, an A-10 engine maintainer, will be at the site to inspect each plane before every flight.
“It’s fun to be able to do something like that to support the history of the country,” said Haney, 26, of Colorado Springs, Colo. “Although it might be a little more work for us, we’re proud to do it.”
Hanley said his mother’s uncle fought in World War II.
“They shaped the world the way it is today,” he said.
Capt. Tim Sumja, the lead pilot on one A-10 flyover team, said the Normandy flyby on June 6 will be spectacular — 40 jets passing over Omaha Beach in four-plane formations.
Sumja, whose grandfather was a pilot for the Royal Air Force in World War II, said the flyovers have a personal resonance.
“It’s a huge honor for me. The thousands of guys who never walked off that beach that day, they helped save the world.”
Several U.S. Air Forces in Europe units are participating in events for Memorial Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Normandy invasion. They include:
Sunday Normandy (Coleville): 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, flyover.Lorraine St-Avold, France: 22nd Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, flyovers.Paris: 493rd Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, flyover. USAFE Band, color guard.Saint Mihiel, France: 492nd Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, flyover, Ramstein color guard.Warregem, Belgium: 494th Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, flyover.Margraten, The Netherlands: 493rd Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, flyover.
Monday Brittany St. James, France: 494th Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, flyover; USAFE Band, color guard.Nettuno, Italy: 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Airbase, flyover.Neuville-en Condroz, Belgium: 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano, flyover.June 6: 81st Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, flyover.
— Marni McEntee