SANTA CLARA, CA -- The National Football League signals the start of every game with the National Anthem and quite often the last note is punctuated with the roar of fighter jets streaking overhead in a show of patriotism.
Sunday, Dec. 4 was no exception as the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Miami Dolphins for an afternoon game.
The 173rd Fighter Wing lent the roar of four F-15 Eagles to the crowded stadium, flying over the nearly 70-thousand fans to cheers, clapping and pyrotechnics.
“There’s a lot of coordination that goes into it,” said Capt. Logan Smith, the flight lead for the event. A primary concern for air traffic in the area was shifting wind direction and the resulting deconfliction of air space with three major airports in the immediate area, he explained.
“It was actually in question whether we would be able to fly it until 15 minutes before time-on-target and we were only able to take off three minutes before time-on-target,” he said.
And three minutes later they were there showcasing the U.S. Air Force above the most popular and highest rated sport in our country.
The 49ers organization arranged to say ‘thank you’ to those same Airmen before the game was even over.
After landing, Smith, his fellow pilots, two crew chiefs and a radio operator made their way onto the playing field. The announcer addressed the full stadium thanking the Airmen and honoring their service at the 173rd Fighter Wing, even as the teams huddled during a time-out not 30-yards away.
“I will never forget that,” said Tech. Sgt. Jeff Southern, a dedicated crew chief for the lead jet during the earlier flyover. “We didn’t really know what to expect but when we got down there everybody started cheering and clapping—it was so loud it made my ears ring.”
“For my first TDY and first NFL game, that was pretty special,” said Senior Airman Riley Hinshaw, the radio operator for the trip.
Following the on-field recognition the group was able to head to the stands where the fans welcomed them with lots of fist-bumps and high fives as San Francisco outpaced Miami 33-17 to end the game.