What it's like to fly over the Super Bowl in an Air Force F-16

For the pilots it's a training mission with a real-world purpose.

MINNEAPOLIS — There are few things as “USA, USA” as the jets screaming overhead at the start of the Super Bowl. But making that happen at exactly the climax of the national anthem is a pretty complex logistical challenge, particularly when the formation has three generations of air power flying together: an F-16, two A-10 "Warthogs," and a World War II-era P-51.

I wanted to find out how this works first hand, so we headed to Minneapolis and linked up with the Air Force team getting ready to do the flyover of Super Bowl LII from Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station.


The toughest part of the stadium flyover is the timing. My pilot, Maj. John “Rain” Waters, explained how the process works. Basically, the jets take off early and circle a 12 mile radius around the stadium. The team knows how long it will take to fly to the stadium, and the team inside the stadium Super Bowl knows how long it will take Pink to sing the national anthem.

The trick is to start the approach so you’re flying over just as the singer is belting out “home of the brave.”

Lt. Col. Chris "Nike" McAlear was the Air Force lead inside U.S. Bank Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held. His job was to keep the pilots aware of any schedule changes inside the stadium to make sure they can adjust in time.

It turns out the flyovers have a real military training purpose. Close air support missions require perfect timing on the battlefield, otherwise you might bomb the wrong troops. Stadium flyovers offer the opportunity for pilots to train how to be at a given place at an exact time, a situation that is hard to simulate outside combat conditions. “What this does is forces our pilots to go up there and recalculate speeds and routes," Waters said.

The Air Force wasn’t able to tell me the exact cost of the flyover, but they did explain that flyovers are typically at no additional cost to the taxpayer (other outlets have estimated the cost of previous flyovers at $450,000) as the funds for the flights come from training budgets.