America’s Aviators and Their Flyovers of Honor
Anne Constantin Birge
What are flyovers! Two words answer that question – they’re awesome! Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, in central Oklahoma, my family and I never got to experience flyovers, like the ones we appreciate today. Nooooo! Ours were much better! Back then, when those daredevil jet aviators, headed south out of Tinker Air Force Base, near OKC about 16 miles north of us, they’d head right for our house. We never saw ‘em coming. We only saw them leave – after they blasted us with their calling cards – those wonderful sonic booms (which occur when aircraft exceed 768 mph or the speed of sound.). Their speed of sound flyovers were window-rattling, horse-bucking, sheep-scaring, days-long cessation of egg-laying and kid-squealing exhibitions of speed and military might. Although sonic booms probably weren’t allowed back then either, those rowdy aviators just had to do it, probably still do and doubtless still smirk during their official dressing down.
I always thought those eardrum-rupturing flyovers, were the first flyovers. As it turns out, the first recorded flyover was performed by sixty US Army Air Service biplanes on Thursday, September 5, 1918. Just as America is at war today with a viral pandemic, on that day she’d already spent about 18-months engaged in WWI. After Game 1 of the World Series, the attendees who came to see the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs play, probably never cared who won that game. After witnessing the Army biplanes flyover and then being a part of the first time our National Anthem was played at a World Series, perhaps it didn’t even matter who won Game 1.
These days, America’s military may not be causing sonic booms. But, they’re sure making lots of beautiful noise. As part of Operation America Strong, our Army, Air Force, Navy, National Guard and Coast Guard are flying over our cities to honor our first responders, medical personnel and essential business employees, who put their lives on the line every day during the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic. These flyovers, at relatively sedate speeds, have been and will be done in at least 35 US states and the District of Columbia, from New York and Maryland to Oregon and Arizona and from Hawaii and Alaska to Florida and the Carolinas.
The Vancouver, WA Pearson Air Museum, has
a static display of a rare 1918 DeHavilland DH-4b
Liberty aircraft (aka: The Flaming Coffin)
just like Lt. Oakley Kelly’s DH-4 (pictured).
Some of the aircraft involved in America’s recent and upcoming flyovers, include the B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress, A-10 Thunderbolt, C-17 Globemaster, C-130 Hercules, LC-130 Hercules (lands on ice), F-15 Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning, KC-46 Pegasus, KC-135 Stratotanker, T-1 Jayhawk, T-6 Texan and Doc, one of only two airworthy WWII B-29 Superfortress bombers left in the world. In northern California, Beale Air Force Base’s 9th Reconnaissance Wing formations, led by Capt. Parker “Betty” Dodds and 1st Lt. Kyle Carver, conducted two Salutes to Northern California flyovers from Redding to Placerville and from Nevada City to Vacaville, from the cockpits of their four sleek, gleaming black Northrop T-38 Talons. (maximum speed 858 mph!)
Meanwhile, turnabout is fair play. Delighted citizens all across our country, flocked to their driveways, residential streets and side roads along flight paths, to honor America’s aeronauts as they soared overhead, on their journey to the next honorees. These beautiful formations of polished paint and roaring jet engines, not only honor our Veterans and frontline workers, they give us gravity-bound earthlings a chance to witness what they do and thank them for their aerial prowess.
Since 1957, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) – Ghost Squadron, which was founded in Texas, has purchased, restored and maintained more than 170 vintage aircraft and WWII Warbirds. And, Texans have big, wonderful and caring attitudes. Multiple Texas CAF members went REALLY BIG in honoring front line personnel, military Veterans and residents of their cities. Some of the 32 Texas Wings and Squadrons included the Houston Wing, P-63 Sponsor Group, Tora Sponsor Group, Gulf Coast Wing, Centex (Central Texas) Wing, Devil Dog Squadron, High Sky Wing and the Lone Star Flight Museum. The Tex Hill Wing flew the Archbishop of San Antonio, in what was called a Spirit Flight, over San Antonio as he blessed her populace.
USAF – Beale AFB, CA T-38 Talons – 28 Feb 2013 (photo by S/Sgt. Robert M. Trujillo – Released)
But, Texas wasn’t the only happenin’ place for the CAF. In New Orleans, the Big Easy Wing, flew the Rabbi from the Gates of Prayer Synagogue and the Archbishop of New Orleans over the city, so they could bless the inhabitants. The Waukesha Wisconsin Wing and Airbase Arizona in Mesa, flew over their cities to salute war Veterans and to honor the 75th anniversary of VE Day (May 5, 1945 – Victory in Europe Day).
Don’t worry, like researchers did when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. If you’re ever lucky enough to witness to a sonic boom, the pilots will emerge unscathed. Next time you hear the scream of a jet, long after it’s disappeared, please remember – that sound is the sound of freedom. Lastly, I know firsthand, that although all us kids on the ground loved to hear those Tinker Air Force Base jet pilots break the sound barrier, Mother didn’t.
‘til next time, signing off,
Colonel – CAF SoCal Wing
BTW Don’t fret about the cost of these flyovers. They’re part of our military aviators’ essential training and the costs are covered in their annual budgets.