LAS VEGAS --
While the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team makes history on the ice, the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet will make history with the Air Force’s first flyover of a National Hockey League Stanley Cup Final May 30.
The 6th Weapons Squadron will lead a four-ship F-35 aerial formation over the T-Mobile arena prior to the start of Game 2.
“We have a great relationship with the people of Las Vegas and the leaders,” said Maj. Gen. Pete Gersten, commander of the U.S. Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “Bill Foley and the Knights have been gracious enough to allow us do the flyby along with the National Hockey League. They coordinated everything for us. We’re excited to be the first ever Stanley Cup flyby, and we’re going to do it in our brand-new United States Air Force F-35s – our newest, most dominant air fighter we have on the planet.”
Before the 6 WPS pilots fly over downtown Las Vegas, they must complete a U.S. Air Force Weapons School training mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range, which provides a venue for training vital to national security.
While training missions happen daily at Nellis, the flyover is an opportunity for the Las Vegas community to view the F-35s in formation.
“Usually we take off and head north up to the range,” said Lt. Col. Michael Blauser, 6 WPS commander. “This is a unique opportunity to see a four-ship of F-35s over the strip of downtown Las Vegas.”
In order to meticulously execute the training mission and Stanley Cup flyover, the pilots, mission planners, aircraft maintainers and aircraft refuelers began preparations well in advance.
“A lot people think we just come out to the aircraft, turn the key and get started,” said Gersten. “The fact is, there really is no key. There’s a whole bunch of mission planning that goes in front of the actual flight that typically starts the day before. For every hour we fly, we have six hours of mission planning that goes into it.”
While pilots and mission planners discuss the flying mission, aircraft maintainers will spend upwards of 24 hours checking and rechecking the jets before the wheels leave the runway.
“It takes a full three-shift operation,” said Tech. Sgt. Steven Ward, 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. “It starts the night before when all the jets are down. The swing shift will come in and check the fluids and the struts to ensure everything is good to go on the jet. Mid-shift will come in at night and do the full inspection on the jet. Finally, day shift will come in, do one final look and then launch it out for the mission.”
For nearly two hours on the training range, the Weapons School pilots’ sole focus is to dominate the airspace. For these pilots, the Weapons School selection process and curriculum is incredibly competitive, and only the Air Force's very best graduate this doctorate-level training. But, for five short seconds, after the last note of the national anthem is played, the pilots can demonstrate the raw power of air superiority.
“We have two dominant teams playing hockey, and there’s going to be a flyover with the most dominant air fighter overhead,” said Gersten.
After making their pass over the arena and wrapping up the training mission, the pilots will return the aircraft to Nellis, where aircraft maintainers will get the jets ready for the next mission.