LUKE AIR FORCE BASE — The whoosh of planes overhead. Jet trails over a screaming crowd. For most people watching the Super Bowl, the pre-game flyover lasts little more than a few seconds.
But for the crew that makes it happen, those few seconds are the culmination of months of teamwork and preparation.
And the flyover for Super Bowl 57 on Sunday will add some history to the spectacle as an all-female air crew takes to the skies to celebrate 50 years of women flying for the Navy.
“In a lot of ways, if you’re doing any type of flyover, it’s always a cool experience,” said Jacqui Drew, a pilot who will help coordinate the flyover. “But if you’re a sports fan, I mean, this is as big of a stage as you get.”
Drew is a sports fan, but her allegiance to the New England Patriots makes this “no-win Super Bowl” for her. Except, of course, the win of getting to do what she loves.
“Fifty years ago, there were six women (who) got their wings, and any kind of adversity or whatever they faced made it so that we can very easily go out and accomplish this,” she said.
Members of the flyover team all serve in tactical aircraft squadrons, and Drew said Navy pilots are skilled at flying within feet of each other and making precise calculations about geography and speed — maneuvers they’ll use Sunday.
Even so, it takes dozens of people and plenty of practice to pull this flight off.
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Preparing for ‘time on target’
How does the crew get ready for their moment? Before the planes can ever take off, they have to be as safe and well-maintained as possible.
That’s where maintainers like Ariana Scott come in. An Arizona native, Scott grew up in a family of mechanics and says she always wanted to serve in the military. When it came time to choose her field of interest, she was drawn to something where she could work with her hands. That’s how she came to her current position as an aviation structural mechanic, specializing in the egress system, including ejection seats. She also helps train pilots on cockpit safety.
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For an event like this one, she gives pre-flight briefings to make sure that every person involved is informed of what’s going on, and helps ensure that every component of the plane is working at an optimal level.
“The engineering that went into these jets is beyond impressive,” she said.
Scott will work alongside several other service members to do their routine tasks on game day. It’s a hard job, but for her, the moments before a flyover are a rush.
“The flight line’s exciting,” she said. “Any time you see jets flying, it’s high energy, you’re checking jets, you’re making sure everyone’s good, safe for flight, and it’s just a fun time.”
With the planes ready for takeoff, there’s still plenty more to do. All the pilots are well practiced flying in formation, but the key with an event like the Super Bowl is to hit “time on target,” or TOT for short. In other words, the four planes that fly over State Farm Stadium have to do so at precisely the right time — and that time might vary depending on when Chris Stapleton starts singing the national anthem and how long he takes to belt it out.
That means the flyover crew has to do some math, Drew said. Someone on the ground will deliver radio updates and crew members will use systems in the aircraft to adjust their speed and position to hit the target.
If there are any significant delays, they might have to turn the planes around or make some changes to the flight path, she said. There’ll also be three backup planes in the air, in addition to the four scheduled for the flyover, in case something goes wrong.
But adjusting on the go is all part of the job, Drew said. Each step in the process of flight school teaches pilots like her how to manage nerves, make decisions on the fly and control a machine that can break the sound barrier.
Even with the pressure, she loves what she does.
“It gets really loud and the aircraft shakes a little bit, but it’s pretty fun,” she said. “It’s fun going fast.”
Camaraderie among women
Like Drew, many of the women participating in this flyover are enthusiastic about their careers. Katie Martinez, a weapon systems officer who will be in the back seat of an F/A-18F Super Hornet, said her first flight after becoming a winged aviator was a “pretty amazing experience.”
Lyndsay Evans, who will be in the back seat of the EA-18G Growler, was similarly excited to take to the skies when she started out. Her mom worked for NASA, and she grew up wanting to be an astronaut. Now, every time she takes off, she said, “it touches the kid in me.”
Evans noted her appreciation for the all-female air crew, an experience she and other women in the military don’t have very often. She’s used to being one of a few, or sometimes the only, woman in a group.
Most of the time, she’s just another aviator. But every so often, gender is a factor.
It’s the little things, like “just trying to pee in the aircraft,” Evans said. “(The men) have, like, their little pee bags, and we have this entire contraption.”
She described the pad that goes in their underwear, essentially a vacuum with its own battery pack that fits under their flight suits.
“I have not had to do it. I’m very glad I haven’t,” she added, laughing. “It’s just something silly like that that the guys don’t have to deal with, and you’re like ‘oh, must be nice.’”
Despite the occasional inconvenience, Evans expressed gratitude for the women who came before her.
“The best thing that I can say is for the young women out there, if this is something you want to do, then by all means, you can do it,” she said.
Drew also emphasized the sense of equality she’s felt in the Navy. When it comes down to the wire, she said, gender is the last thing on anyone’s mind.
“When you get to a squadron, nobody cares who you are, what you look like, what your background is,” she said. “It’s either you go out in the air, you do your job, or you don’t.”
And this Sunday, Drew and all the others intend to do their jobs right on time.
Melina Walling is a general assignment reporter based in Phoenix. She is drawn to stories about interesting people, scientific discoveries, unusual creatures and the hopeful, surprising and unexpected moments of the human experience. You can contact her via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @MelinaWalling.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Super Bowl 57 flyover: All-female air crew makes history