Military jet’s flyby was a rare treat for Homecoming Parade

About 15 minutes after Saturday’s Homecoming Parade began, a United States Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flew over University Avenue Southeast from the southeast.

The flyby was a planned element of the University’s 2003 homecoming celebrations.

Air Force ROTC cadet Scott VanOort came up with the idea of a homecoming flyby and coordinated the event with the University, the Department of the Air Force and Air Traffic Control.

“After a friend from Madison bugged me about the Badgers getting a flyby and the Gophers not, I figured that as a member of both Air Force ROTC and the marching band, I would be the one able to pull it off,” VanOort said.

Two F-16s were scheduled to participate in the flyby, but because of mechanical problems, one was grounded.

The F-16 that flew by was sent to conduct a training mission in the area, said Maj. Gregory Webster of the University’s Air Force ROTC.

The Air Force does not send planes for flybys at the expense of taxpayers – each mission has a specific purpose, Webster said. Flybys are not top priority for the Air Force, but they raise public awareness, boost patriotism and help with recruitment, he said.

“If there is a more important mission out there, (a flyby) will be canceled,” Webster said.

The fighter jet flew out of the 148th Fighter Wing base of the Duluth Air National Guard, said Capt. Chris Cloutier, community manager of the 148th Fighter Wing.

Because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the jet flies at about 287 mph at an altitude of 1,000 feet above any structure, Webster said.

However, for the $22 million plane, 287 mph is marginal compared to the plane’s top speed of 1,400 mph, Cloutier said. At that speed under hostile conditions, an F-16 could travel from the Twin Cities to Duluth in 10 to 20 minutes.

Having a flyby over campus was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some students, faculty and alumni.

“In the six years that I’ve been involved with the University, I can’t remember ever seeing a flyby, especially one involving a military jet,” said Brian Naslund, who graduated from the University in 2003 with an aerospace engineering degree.