Anatomy of a Flyover

When you look up in anticipation of hearing a roar go across the sky, or catch a glimpse of the aircraft as it zooms overhead, have you ever wondered what is involved in making that flyover happen? 

Let us look at the process involved in making those few seconds so very memorable. With our upcoming flyover on May 12th, 2020, here is what went into the planning:

Step 1: Define the Purpose of the Flyover

In this instance, our purpose is to salute all those on the front lines: health care workers, first responders, and essential workers. The hard work and bravery of these individuals during this unprecedented time is crucial in keeping our community running, healthy, and safe.

Honouring those who have served, and are serving, is a key part of our organization’s mission. This flyover will also salute a fallen airman, Master Corporal Matthew Cousins, who was one of six crew members who recently lost their lives overseas during Operation REASSURANCE. Born in Guelph, MCpl Cousins will be commemorated during our Harvard’s flyover of the city.

Step 2: Establish the Budget

There is a saying in aviation: the cheapest part of owning an aircraft is the moment you purchased it! This rings even more true when those aircraft are warbirds.

Multi-jet fleets carry significant costs associated with the operation, maintenance, and support of each aircraft. To put this in perspective, having the U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly over an event starts at approximately $60,000 USD. The USAF Thunderbirds operate at a similar cost. Although Waterloo Warbirds currently operates a five aircraft fleet, for this upcoming flyover we are sending up two aircraft: our T-33 and our Harvard.

Waterloo Warbirds is a volunteer-operated, not-for-profit organization. From the pilots to the office administration team, each role is supported by a volunteer. As a result, the costs associated with this flyover are personally covered by the Waterloo Warbirds pilots. That plays a role in determining how much money is allotted to the budget and defines the overall parameters of the flight. Those parameters will include length of flight, altitude of flight, weather conditions, cost to operate, and distance of flight as key drivers to the overall budget required.

Step 3: Develop the Flight Plan

The flight plan will reflect the best balance between the purpose of the flight and the available budget for the flight. This is the hardest moment in any plan as we try to make the most of the parameters while trying to cover as much geography as possible. While we would like to visit every municipality and township, achieving this balance means the sentiment of the flyover has a far greater geographical reach than we are physically able to cover within our operating parameters. Even if we are not able to fly over your neighbourhood, know that our thoughts and appreciation are with you.

Once completed, the flight plan is produced in various media, both electronically in programs like ForeFlight and in hard copy for final review during the Pilot Briefing.

Step 4: Alert the Media!

Once the flight plan is complete, it is time to share the news that the flyover is happening! We will often notify the organizations we are flying above to make sure they know we are coming and explain the noise and smoke overhead!

Sharing the news of the flyover also means sharing it with our audience through our website and social media platforms. Using these tools, we can share timely details of the flyover such as the flight plans or news of any changes or delays.

While we try our best to plan for any challenge, the nature of aviation is that plans can change at a moment’s notice due to weather or other unforeseen concerns. In these cases, we work hard to share updates as soon as we can through our social media channels.

Step 5: Assemble the Ground Crew

As the flyover nears, we will build the roster of team members that will execute the various duties required to successfully launch the aircraft. The ground crew will arrive very early, often with the sunrise, to gather and prepare equipment needed for the day and to go over the aircraft with a fine-tooth comb in preparation for the flying ahead. In addition to the Pilot, each aircraft will often have several ground crew who have been involved in the preparation of the aircraft that day.

Our flyover for essential and front-line workers differs from past flyovers in that our ground crew will be taking extra measures to ensure their health and safety, as well as that of our pilots. While protective footwear, ear protection, and hi-vis clothing are part of every flight we take, for these flyovers we will also be donning masks and respecting physical distancing wherever possible.

Step 6: Contact the Air Traffic Control Tower

Ensuring the ATC team is aware of the intended flyover is a key part of a successful plan. This will ensure they are aware of things like our departure and altitude requirements for the required flying that day. This is completed by the Pilot(s) who can brief with ATC as needed.

Step 7: Pilot Briefing

In the days before the flyover, the Pilots gather to review the flight plan in detail, discussing details like landmarks, altitude, and departure order. For our flyovers, Waterloo Warbirds is held to a 1,000-foot altitude above the ground on the flight plan. This is a typical condition for executing a flyover, with special approval required by Transport Canada for a flyover at a lower altitude.

During the briefing, all electronics are checked to ensure they have all the required information uploaded for the Navigator and Pilot to have on hand. Safety measures are also reviewed at this time, including both typical and special safety requirements depending on the nature and circumstances of the flyover.

Step 8: Show Time!

On the day of the flyover, ground crew arrive and ramp the aircraft into the wind. They service the aircraft, remove the foam plugs from cavities like the air intake and engine outlet, and prepare for the Pilots’ walk arounds. As each Pilot completes a detailed walk around of the aircraft, they will remove the “Remove Before Flight” pins. Only Pilots remove these pins as they inspect the aircraft.

Following the walk around, the fuel truck arrives and, under the Pilot’s watchful eye, the aircraft is fueled. The Pilot completes one final walk around after fueling and then climbs into the cockpit to complete the pre-flight checks.

As the ground crew take up their posts, our Crew Chief awaits each Pilot’s signal that the plane is spooling up. This is when the conversations between our Crew Chief and Pilots become critical. The Pilot speaks to our Crew Chief through hand signals as they both complete a final check of the aircraft before launching.

With the signal to “remove the chocks” comes the final step of launching the aircraft. The Crew Chief lifts the chocks high in the air and salutes the Pilot as the plane taxis down the runway. The flyover has officially begun!