Even the most rational among us tend to lose our minds — in a good way — in certain situations.
Fireworks and stadium flyovers are two of those situations for me. They might seem unnecessary and expensive, but none of that matters when they are happening. They’re just cool.
To see a stadium flyover from the stands is one thing, though. On Sunday, I had a chance to be in a Blackhawk helicopter for a flyover of Target Field in celebration of Armed Forces Appreciation Day.
That’s a far more complicated, amazing experience. Here are a few of the highlights and observations:
• Final clearance for a stadium flyover has to come from Washington D.C, and it arrived only a couple days before the game. On Sunday, I had to arrive at St. Paul’s downtown airport by 10:30 a.m. for a safety briefing.
Those who have been on an airplane enough times tend to tune these things out. When you are about to get on a helicopter for the first time in your life — a Blackhawk at that — you pay MUCH closer attention to words like “water landing.”
• Departure from St. Paul was at noon; from there, we flew to Crystal to land and link up with a Chinook helicopter, with which we were flying in tandem. We then left Crystal shortly before 1 p.m.
• The route to Target Field followed almost directly down Central Avenue into downtown Minneapolis, with a flight time of 10 minutes to the field. Pilots knew exactly when to be there, but they also looked for the flares that shoot from Target Field during the “rocket’s red glare” part of the national anthem. At that point, they wanted to be 45 seconds away from flying over the field.
• They nailed the timing pretty much perfectly, flying over the stadium to the delight of the crowd. It was all very cool except for one thing: as it turns out, the worst place to see a flyover of a stadium is from the helicopter itself. From my seat, I was buckled into my harness so tightly that I couldn’t really move to see directly down to the ballpark.
The rest of the views of the Twin Cities, from no more than 1,000 feet off the ground, were amazing. And the only really nerve-wracking part was flying so close to another helicopter. When the helicopters went their separate ways a few minutes after the flyover, I was not heartbroken.
• As it turns out, by the way, the flyover isn’t just an expensive luxury. Sure, it’s cool. But it also doubles as a training exercise.
“It’s good exposure for us to be flying over the stadium, but at the same time if we’re going to be out flying we want to find a training value,” said Lieutenant Brandon Hale, one of the pilots on our flight. “More than anything, we just like to say thank you to everyone in the state of Minnesota who supports us.”