Flyover plan for the W
By Airman 1st Class Jeremy Exley, 349th Air Refueling Squadron
/ Published January 07, 2019
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- It was radio check-in time for Turbo 20 as Master Sgt. Jeremy Pratt queued to establish communication with the KC-135 Stratotanker circling just 20 miles away. “Turbo 20, Radio check…Turbo 20, Radio check...” No answer. We quickly grabbed our bags and scrambled to the roof.
The day prior, Dec. 29, 2018, Maj. Jason Osgood, Capt. Jonathan Stevens and I drove up to Kansas City, Missouri. We were there to prepare for the KC-135 flyover for the National Anthem prior to the Raiders vs. Chiefs game. Our job was to be on the ground to communicate with the aircrew for the flyover, and our mission was to ensure the KC-135 flew over the stadium at exactly the right moment.
We arrived at Arrowhead Stadium at 11:30 a.m. where we met with Kristen Pugh and Bruce Dougherty from the KC Chiefs production team. We discussed the schedule of events and best location for us to get the proper interference-free radio contact with the jet, timing of the national anthem, and a number of other variables. Kristen and Bruce gave us a small tour of the stadium, which was really great because I am a huge Chiefs fan!
The following day was go time -- you could feel the stress and excitement. The timing has to be perfect, or this mission would be a public failure. Besides for entertainment purposes, flyovers are intended to exhibit our readiness—making it a win-win for all parties involved. We arrived at the stadium as the gates were opening and the tailgating started! Arrowhead is one of the best tailgating environments in the NFL, if not all of sports. I am going to be honest…it was weird being at a Chiefs game and not being able to wear my game day attire, but at least I am at the game.
At 11:30 a.m. we go to the tunnel entrance to meet up with Mr. Nick Stegmann, another Chiefs employee. He was our host for the day, and he gave us another tour of the stadium. We went down on the field and timed the National Anthem rehearsals. We had to know their exact timing, down to the second.
As we were nervously sitting around our table, we knew that the next big thing was for the jet to get off the ground. We kept in contact with the crew and McConnell’s Command Post. We closely followed as the jet passed each mark: preflight complete…engines started…airborne! Now the true moment was about to begin.
Here we go! We were only about 30 minutes until kickoff, and it was time to check in with our main attraction. “Turbo 20, radio check…Turbo 20, radio check…” No answer. We quickly grabbed our bags and scrambled to the roof. “Turbo 20, radio check.” Finally, “Loud and clear.” Thank goodness!
We check in with the crew and their timing is looking good. We relay this to Kristen and she ques the National Anthem to begin on time. We continued to communicate with the jet as they maintained their timing. Time goes on as the National Anthem is being sung, and in the distance you can see the plane starting to approach. Let me tell you, the nerves are through the roof at this point. We have to make sure the jet crosses overhead at exactly the right time. And then it happens…the jet nails its timing perfectly and crosses the 50 yard line at exactly 3:21:00 p.m., and just like that all the nervousness was gone. High fives and hugs all around! We were beyond thrilled!
Now that the mission complete we could enjoy the game!
Not only was this flyover a big event for the Chiefs and McConnell, it was also a big deal for me personally. I am a die-hard Chiefs fan and getting to go behind the scenes of a flyover is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have been a Chiefs fan since I was about eight years old. Growing up in western Pennsylvania it was rough being a Chiefs fan because that is Steelers Country, and those fans were relentless when it came to football! I have been asked countless times, “Why are you a Chiefs fan? You’re from Pittsburgh; that is where the Steelers are from.” My response is typically the same every time, and my answer is just “Honestly, I’m not sure.” I just found a team at a very young age and just stuck with them through thick and thin.
We ended up watching the game from inside the press box suite as we waited for the aircrew to land and join us at the game. I’m still in awe of this kind of treatment. As the game reached the third quarter the aircrew arrived, and we migrated to the field. We weaved through special entry ways, halls and elevators behind the scenes of the stadium, then all of a sudden, there it was--the dark tunnel that led to the field lights and sea of red-dressed Chiefs fans. Walking through a tunnel that Chief players had walked on before me and out to the field during the game was probably the coolest thing I have ever experienced as a fan.
The Chiefs plan was to honor us on the field during one of the TV breaks. Once it was our time to go, the crowd went crazy! They start chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” which reminded me why I wear this uniform every day. The Chiefs went on to beat the Raiders 35-3 and win the division. It was so satisfying to watch my team succeed in front of a sellout game of over 70,000 other fans, and I am honored to be part of the Air Force team that helped with this flyover.