The Federal Aviation Administration has been in contact with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division about a flyover earlier this month at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. Four helicopters — two AH-64 Apaches, a CH-47 Chinook, and a UH-60 Black Hawk — from a unit assigned to that division flew extremely low over the stadium at the start of a football game between the Tennessee Titans and the New Orleans Saints. Though there has been no formal review of the flyover so far, experts and observers have since raised safety concerns about the event.
The investigative team at NewsChannel 5, a CBS-affiliated television in Nashville, first reported on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reaching out to the 101st Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Campbell in neighboring Kentucky, yesterday. The flyover at Nissan Stadium took place on Nov. 14, 2021, and was part of a “Salute to Service” for men and women of the U.S. armed forces that the Titans organization incorporated into that game that day.
“The unit that conducted the flyover is in contact with the FAA Nashville,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Kari McEwen, a spokesperson for the 101st, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. “At this time, there is no scheduled review.”
“The FAA is following up with the military about this overflight,” a spokesperson for that agency also told that outlet in a separate statement.
The dramatic flyover certainly drew applause from many fans at the game and others who saw the footage, though others expressed reservations. Video of the helicopters flying over the stadium had immediately prompted discussions among us here at The War Zone, as it did elsewhere.
Some have floated points of potential concern with the flyover, including the possibility for the helicopters to have struck some part of the stadium as they flew over. A video shot from the cockpit of one of the AH-64s, seen earlier in this piece, which the Tennessee Titans posted online, shows that the helicopter was below the highest point in the stadium as it passed overhead. Some sort of mechanical failure at such low altitude was another concern.
A video that NewsChannel 5 Investigates reviewed appeared to show the helicopters passing by a cable. When the outlet asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Titans asserted that this was only an “optical illusion,” which appears to be the case.
NewsChannel 5‘s segment below includes the clip showing helicopters appearing to pass under a cable.
It’s also possible that downwash from the rotors could have kicked up objects and debris in the stadium, posing an issue for bystanders down below. “That flyover was a little [too] close to knocking down the flags and camera,” one fan Tweeted out afterward, highlighting these concerns.
FAA regulations require military flyovers to “be accomplished at 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle,” Larry Williams, the retired aviation safety inspector, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. If civilian aircraft had been involved, “most likely those pilots would have had their licenses suspended or revoked,” he added.
That being said, this is a recurring issue for the U.S. military and disciplinary action has been taken against pilots who have flown fixed-wing aircraft low over sporting events in violation of those regulations in the past.
However, an official “Guide to Low-Flying Aircraft” available on FAA’s website says, “Helicopter operations may be conducted below the minimum altitudes set for fixed-wing aircraft. The reason: They have unique operating characteristics, the most important of which is their ability to execute pinpoint emergency landings during power-out emergencies.” It also says includes the caveat that “helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed … [in] this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface.” It isn’t clear if any Army regulations applied in this case in addition to the FAA’s directives for rotary-wing flyovers or if any waivers had been secured in advance.
Whether or not the FAA or the Army feels that this particular flyover above Nissan Stadium violated any official regulations and warrants some sort of formal review remains to be seen.
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