Say goodbye to flyovers

A B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber flew over the Rose Bowl last month and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July. Flyovers are part of the pre-race ritual at many NASCAR races. Precision squadrons such as the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels have been fixtures at air shows. They fly in their six-jet delta formation over sporting events, too.

But with $85 billion in federal budget cuts set to take effect Friday if no solution is found in Congress (the cuts would total $1.2 trillion over 10 years), such flyovers will be grounded, and there could be cuts to service academy athletics departments.

A low cloud ceiling prevented the Thunderbirds from making their scheduled flyover Sunday at the Daytona 500. Next on their schedule is a flyover March 10 for a NASCAR event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

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“The Thunderbirds are expected to stand down effective April 1. (Las Vegas) is pretty much going to be, I think, the last flyover you’ll see for a while from us,” Wendy Varhegyi, chief of the engagement division for Air Force public affairs, told USA TODAY Sports Wednesday.

She said the curtailment would be at least through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30), “And then at that point, we’ll reevaluate. … Sequestration is a 10-year problem, so we just don’t know.”

According to Varhegyi, the Air Force conducts about 1,000 flyovers a year at sports venues and other events. They are made in conjunction with pre-allotted training hours for pilots.

“It’s no additional cost to the government for support of any public events,” she said. “Typically, if you see a unit fly over a football game, that is 90 seconds out of a several hour training sorte that they’re flying.”

Under sequestration, such training hours would be curtailed.

PHOTOS: Flyovers at sporting events


A Green Bay police officer salutes during a flyover during the playing of the national anthem before a Packers game at Lambeau Field.  Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
  • A Green Bay police officer salutes during a flyover during the playing of the national anthem before a Packers game at Lambeau Field.
  • The first flyover at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
  • Flyover of a stealth bomber during the national anthem before the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
  • The flyover during ceremonies at Game 3 of the 2011 World Series between the Cardinals and Rangers.
  • The flyover prior to the start of Super Bowl XLIV between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts.
  • The flyover during the playing of the national anthem before the 2013 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
  • The flyover above Paul Brown Stadium during the playing of the national anthem prior to the Browns-Giants game.
  • Navy jets perform a flyover of Lambeau Field prior to the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
  • The flyover at M&T Bank Stadium before the AFC Wild Card playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens.
  • The flyover before the start of the 2013 Rose Bowl game between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Stanford Cardinal at the Rose Bowl.
  • General view of a flyover and the goal posts during the playing of the national anthem before the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl between the Brigham Young Cougars and the San Diego State Aztecs at Qualcomm Stadium.
  • A general view of a pregame flyover at the Outback Bowl between the Michigan Wolverines and South Carolina Gamecocks at Raymond James Stadium.
  • General view of a flyover during the playing of the national anthem before the 2012 Maaco Bowl between the Washington Huskies and Boise State Broncosl at Sam Body Stadium.
  • A flyover during the National Anthem prior to Game 1 of the 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers at AT&T Park.
  • A general view as a B-1 bomber performs a flyover during the national anthem prior to the game between the Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox on opening day at Rangers Ballpark.
  • A general view of a flyover during the playing of the national anthem before the opening day game between the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park.
  • A general view as a stealth bomber performs a flyover during the playing of the national anthem before the 2012 MLB All Star Game at Kauffman Stadium.
  • Three U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter planes fly over the U.S. flag prior to the start of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish game against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium.
  • Aircraft from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater do a flyover  at the start of an NFL football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, in Tampa, Fla.
  • Jets are seen in a military flyover before an NFL football game betweenn the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012.
  • From left, New York Yankees' Tom Kahnle, Rob Segedin and Jim Miller watch a flyover before a spring training game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, in Tampa, Fla.

“We just have a reduced number of those training hours, and so everything is being dedicated to just preparing for that overseas deployment and for flying that’s actually happening overseas,” Varhegyi said.

The Air Force views the flyovers as a way to engage the public.

“Even for just 90 seconds, it is awareness,” Varhegyi said. “It’s just a great way that we can have connection with the American people and have that awareness to large groups of people, not to mention how patriotic everybody is.”

The Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., typically has flyovers at home football games. The Blue Angels were scheduled to perform in May during Navy’s graduation week. But the Navy says such displays will be halted under the sequestration cuts.

“Now if it’s resolved, I would hope that we would be back to the flyovers,” said Chet Gladchuk, Navy’s athletics director. “But right now, I don’t think anything is guaranteed, unfortunately.”

Gladchuk is concerned with more than flyovers.

“The Navy obviously is making some very significant cutbacks on a lot of different fronts,” he said. “You read about the furloughs and the budgetary cutbacks. … There are just so many uncertainties, and no one knows.”

Gladchuk says his academy’s 33 varsity sports are protected because they are operated under the Naval Academy Athletic Association. He said more than 95% of its budget is made up of ticket sales, TV rights fees, corporate sponsorships and donations. “We only have a very small percentage of our operating budget that comes from government,” he said.

But some of that government money goes to coaches who also serve as physical education instructors, which could make them subject to furloughs. “If that happens, they’ll have to take a day off, and we’ll have assistant coaches that will fill in,” ladchuk said. “We’ll kind of time it so the coaches will be back for the contests.”

Gladchuk also said that even though Navy sports has its own funding, it will be a “bit more parochial” in sports scheduling. “I don’t think you’ll be finding the teams traveling all over the country like we have in the past, some of the Olympic sport teams,” he said.

A spokesman for the Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., said athletics director Boo Corrigan was not available to comment on potential effects of sequestration. But the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs said it is also bracing for furloughs for its 53 coaches and several athletics administrators.

“We’re kind of waiting until we know exactly what’s (the impact),” said Troy Garnhart, associate athletics director for communications. “Is it going to really be 22 days, a day a week, the rest of the fiscal year, etc.?”

Garnhart said the Air Force Academy Athletic Association, similar to the entity at Navy, accounts for about half of Air Force’s $38 million annual budget for athletics.

He said the cutbacks from sequestration also could affect how Air Force teams travel.

“We, a lot of times, travel on Military Airlift (military aircraft). Some of our smaller teams travel on Military Airlift, and certainly we think that’s going to be affected, which means then an expense of going commercial airline,” Garnhart said.

Air Force’s jet flyovers at home football games also would be gone under the full effects of sequestration. But Air Force still has its live falcon mascot to perform demonstration flights at football games.

“We still do that, and I think we would probably still do that,” Garnhart said. “I don’t know that he’ll travel to some games because we take him to away games. But, yeah, he’s still here.”

Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY Sports12:06p.m. EST February 28, 2013