“And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air!”
As those words are bellowed from inside LaVell Edwards Stadium, two F-15s are making their final approach over Springville — 45 seconds away, flying 350 miles per hour.
By the time the crowd sings “the home of the brave” they are on top of the sold-out home opener against nationally ranked Baylor. The engines roar like a pair of hungry lions as Cougars fans throw their arms into the air and roar right back at them.
In a flash of thundering joy, the jets are gone, but the buzz lingers as BYU takes the field in its final season as an independent before joining the Big 12.
For that heart-pounding, but terribly short thrill to happen on Sept. 10, to get the jets down the runway at Hill Air Force Base and up into the autumn sky, and over Edwards Stadium at just the precise moment, BYU senior associate athletic director Dave Almodova is already pounding his keyboard.
Unlike the dramatic way Tom Cruise does it in the “Top Gun” movies, this is how you actually “Request a flyby.”
On Tuesday, July 5, Almodova sent a formal request to USAF Aerial Events Support in the Air Force public affairs office in Washington, D.C.
As required, he highlighted the significance of the event, the size of the crowd and the potential for television exposure on ESPN. Almodova also described the support a flyover can lend to BYU’s campus recruiting efforts for the Air Force ROTC.
If approved, the Air Force sends out a request for a unit to volunteer the resources to do it.
“This is where a guy like me says, ‘Yes, we’d like to do it,’” said Major Clark “Slider” Haymond, fighter pilot and BYU graduate. “The squadron commander then says ‘yes or no.’”
The flight through the red tape typically lasts two months before Almodova will get final approval. He expects to hear from the Air Force the week before the Baylor game. As of today, the forecast for a flyover looks pretty good, but depending on world events, plans can change quickly. For Almodova, he’s banking on good news.
“Part of it is when those jets fly overhead, it literally shakes your venue,” he said. “From my end, you want to give your fans in that venue a special experience. One of those is a flyover.”
If Almodova gets the green light for the home opener, two F-15s will fly from Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho to Utah’s Hill Air Force Base outside Ogden on Friday, Sept. 9, the day before the game.
“We do everything with a time over a target,” Haymond said. “We train to place bombs precisely on time.”
That same discipline is used for a flyover.
“We will place a coordinate at the 50-yard line of LaVell Edwards Stadium the day before the game, and we’ll tell the jet that is our target, and it runs the timing for us.”
In this way, the F-15s can arrive overhead at the precise moment, much like the trio of F-35s did during the national anthem earlier this month at Stadium of Fire.
The cost? Nothing.
“We don’t spend an extra dime. The pilots use the time for training,” Haymond said. “They will do a flight schedule for that day and accommodate the flyover. The truth is we are going to fly these hours whether it’s over LES or the west desert. We are going to get our training in.”
Last year’s flyover prior to the BYU-Utah game almost didn’t get off the ground. Three days before the game, the flight was scrubbed. Haymond saw a Facebook post from “The BYU Mafia” — a group chat of BYU grads who are fighter pilots or support crew.
“The post asked ‘Does anybody know anyone from Nellis (Nevada) or Mountain Home? Hill just canceled the flyover for the BYU-Utah game,” Haymond said. “I responded immediately, “Yes! I know who to contact.”
Haymond reached out to Lt. Col Brandon “Bullet” Mackay at Mountain Home.
“I called ‘Bullet’ up and said, ‘Do you want to do a BYU-Utah flyover?’ He said, ‘Absolutely! Leave it with me. I’ll give the wing commander a call and we’ll make it happen.’”
There was no time for typical protocols. “Bullet” and his boys went to work and in less than 36 hours the flyover was back on.
The magical moment
Haymond ran the radio communication from the top of the press box at Edwards Stadium. The pair of F-15s, piloted by two BYU grads, including “Bullet,” and a Utah and Utah State grad made their approach from the south.
There was just one problem. South Field was in the flight path. BYU and Missouri were playing the second half of their soccer match under the lights with no indication they were about to get lit up.
“They had no idea we were coming,” Haymond said. “Nobody told them, and we flew right overhead.”
BYU soccer coach Jen Rockwood was sitting down with her focus on the game.
“It scared me to death!” she said. “I have never seen them so low, especially in the dark. It was so powerful and overwhelming. I thought it might be the end of the world in that split second. When I realized what happened, I thought it was amazing!”
The jolt shook everybody, especially the players on the field, while at the same time, the flyover declared to campus that something big was about to get started.
“I think it sets the tone that this is a big game,” said Cougars fan Dan Fey, who watched the jets zip above him from his seats at Edwards Stadium. “Once you see it, you feel it, you hear it, it’s big time! It enhances everything about the game.”
BYU defeated Utah 26-17. The night ended with a crowd-storming event on the field to celebrate the end of a nine-game skid to the Utes.
“I was there! I stormed the field in 2009,” said Haymond, who was a member of the campus ROTC and studying manufacturing engineering. “This time, (as a nine-year Air Force veteran), we were back on the field and I see (athletic director) Tom Holmoe run past us. He stopped suddenly, turned around and came back to thank us for the flyover and then he disappeared into the crowd. It was an amazing night.”
With World War I still five months shy of the Paris Peace Conference and eventual Treaty of Versailles, the Cubs and Red Sox met on Sept. 5, 1918, in Game 1 of the World Series in Chicago.
The two teams stood together for the playing of the national anthem and watched 60 planes go past Comiskey Park in the first military-sanctioned flyover at a sporting event in American history.
A tradition was born.
“For me, it’s one of the most patriotic things, to see America’s strength in action. The sound, the rumbling in your chest, it motivates you,” said Haymond who has performed flyovers for NASCAR and the NFL. “We’ve all seen them, so we know what it’s like to be down in the audience. You definitely get a sense of pride while sitting in the cockpit. To perform them on an epic night like BYU-Utah or BYU-Baylor is great. It’s a lot of fun.”
‘Top Gun’ boost
“Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby?”
“Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.”
“No! No! Mav, this is not a good idea!’
“Sorry Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower!”
Two iconic flyovers are fan favorites in the 1986 blockbuster movie “Top Gun.” The scenes triggered comedic relief to the film and excitement to jet flying. One year after the movie opened, the Navy reported a 500% increase in applications from inspired young men and women who wanted to be aviators.
This summer’s sequel, “Top Gun Maverick” is expected to create a similar buzz for future flyers. The Air Force even produced a 60-second commercial that plays on the big screen just before the movie starts, highlighting America’s military capability to “own the sky.”
“I was a freshman in high school when 9-11 hit and I remember walking out of PE class and seeing the towers on fire on television,” Haymond said. “It gave me motivation to serve and for me, the only way to do it was to live the boyhood dream of ‘Top Gun’ and become a fighter pilot.”
As for the sequel — “as fighter pilots we’ve been waiting for this movie for years. We loved it,” Haymond said. “It’s going to be another influencer for the young kids. I hope it is.”
There is physical and emotional power to a jet flying overhead at full speed and whether it’s at last week’s Stadium of Fire or September’s home opener against Baylor, or later in the season when BYU has requested a second one, a flyover can take spectators where nothing else can.
“I love that you can hear that engine roar before you can see anything. Then you are madly searching the sky and you have got to look quick or you will miss it,” said BYU fan Jill Lyon. “It’s so powerful when it happens. Then after they are gone, it’s go Cougs!”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.