How Low Is Too Low For A Military Flyover?

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Photo: Silas Walker (Getty Images)

The U.S. armed forces putting on displays of military spectacle before sports events is pretty awesome on the one hand and a blatant attempt at recruitment on the other hand. However, the military shouldn’t put the public at unnecessary risk by the display itself.


The Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Army have opened investigations into a flyover at a National Football League game. Last month, the Tennessee Titans played the New Orleans at home in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium. Before the start of the game, a formation for four military helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division performed a flyover.

While military flyovers have become a commonplace component of pre-game rituals in North American sports, this flyover was slightly different. The UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-70 Chinook and two AH-64 Apaches flew over the stadium at an altitude that could be best estimated as the spectators in the nosebleeds could make eye contact with the pilots. The helicopter formation appears not even to clear the highest row of the stadium’s seating.

In an investigation, Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 pointed out that all four helicopters seemingly flew beneath a cable stretched across the top of Nissan Stadium. It doesn’t take much imagination to consider the potential outcomes of a rotor blade or a helicopter frame striking a taut cable. With the flyover occurring last month, this local reporting seemed to be the impetus of the FAA and Army investigations being officially launched this week.

The Combat Aviation Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit in question, isn’t a stranger to misconduct. Colonel Travis Habhab, the brigade commander and pilot of the flyover formation’s lead Apache, was recently cleared after misconduct allegations during a rotation in Europe. Other officers were not as fortunate. The Army found that senior brigade battalion officers had gone on a drunken, debaucherous adventure to an off-limits strip club in Gdansk, Poland. There, an Army major was drugged and then bitten by dancers to keep him conscious while money was taken from his credit card.

My expectations for military flyover altitudes and professionalism were much higher, but I guess I was incredibly off the mark.

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