FAA, Army Investigating Low Flyover During NFL Game

Four combat helicopters flew low during pre-game military celebration in Nashville

A military helicopter flyover at a recent Tennessee Titans football game in Nashville is under investigation by the FAA and U.S. Army officials after the four combat aircraft flew low over a stadium filled with spectators.

The AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Blackhawk, and CH-47 Chinook helicopters were flown by the Combat Aviation Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during the November 14 game as part of a “Salute To Service” event. 

It didn’t take long for the focus on the Titans besting the New Orleans Saints on their home turf to shift to whether or not the combat aircrafts’ altitude in proximity to fans in the stadium was safe.

In video taken from a cockpit, the helicopter approached the stadium scoreboard, and appeared to dip into the arena below the level of the upper rim of stands filled with spectators. The team posted the video on its Twitter feed, and it was later retweeted by the 101st Airborne Division.

Comments from fans online indicated not everyone was excited about the close-in view of combat aircraft in flight.

Altitude was concerning as I stood and watched from the top row of the stadium,” said one fan in a tweet. “I was above these guys. I had a mini heart attack.”

More like a fly in than a flyover,” said another.

Official scrutiny into the event—and whether any FAA or U.S. Army safety regulations were broken—did not come, however, until two weeks later, following a series of investigative reports by a local news station.

Initially, the event did not provoke official review, according to an Army spokesperson.

“The unit that conducted the flyover is in contact with the FAA Nashville,” Lt. Col. Kari McEwen, 101st Airborne Division spokesperson, told Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 on November 29. “At this time, there is no scheduled review.”

The FAA said it was “following up with the military” about the flyover, the station added.

By Thursday, the FAA had launched an official probe.

The Investigation

“The FAA is investigating this incident. We do not comment on pending investigations,” the FAA told FLYING.

The Army has also opened up a formal review of the incident, the station reported.

“The 101st Airborne Division is conducting a commander’s inquiry into the event,” division spokesperson Lt. Col. Kari McEwen told NewsChannel 5 Investigates in an email.

That inquiry was ordered by the 101st Airborne Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph McGee, and is being led by Col. Bernard Harrington, who is deputy commanding officer for the division, Army Times reported.

While footage of the flyover looks jaw-dropping, was it really out of bounds?

Retired aviation safety inspector Larry Williams told the Nashville news station he had never seen a flyover “that low,” and that had the pilots not been in the military, they likely “would have had their licenses suspended or revoked.”

According to FAA regulations regarding minimum safe altitudes, no pilot may operate an aircraft below 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft when over a congested urban area or open air assembly of people. 

“A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed … provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA,” the regulation said. A waiver may also be in effect for civilian fly-bys, but few (if any) allow for demonstrations within a certain distance of any people assembled, such as the crowd at a football stadium.


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