The US Army has opened a rare investigation of a military flyover of an NFL game. Several helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Campbell, Tennessee, conducted what's being described as a dangerously low flyover of Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Nov.14 for the Tennessee Titans game that night. Over 69,000 people were in attendance.
The low pass included a pair of AH-64 Apache helicopters, a UH-60 Blackhawk, and a CH-47F Chinook which were conducting a "Salute to Service" tribute for active duty service members and veterans. While this sort of thing has become routine for NFL games in recent years, it immediately sparked an inquiry from the FAA given the federal agency's requirement that military flyovers must happen at least 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle.
Epic flyover at Tennessee Titans game above Nissan Stadium. AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-47F Chinook. 😎 pic.twitter.com/14LNVCNaYG— Thenewarea51 (@thenewarea51) November 23, 2021
In the Nov.14 example the military helicopters seemed literally eye-level with fans in the upper decks. Further, one local CBS affiliate cited a fan to say the aircraft actually "came close to knocking down an American Flag and a camera."
Based on the initial FAA probe, the 101st Airborne Division "has directed [a] preliminary inquiry into this event," according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence Kelley.
The incident has sparked controversy, with a number of current military pilots coming forward to defend the low-pass of the packed stadium as perfectly safe and nothing to worry about. However one former FAA official slammed the maneuver as irresponsible - which could have led to "disaster"...
But Larry Williams, a retired aviation safety inspector with the FAA, told NewsChannel 5 that the incident could "have been a disaster."
"General reaction, yeah, it was unsafe," Williams told the news outlet. "It was very dangerous."
And some fans had also expressed concern, with one posting to social media - and cited in local reports as saying, "Altitude was concerning as I stood and watched from the top row of the stadium. I was above these guys. I had a mini heart attack."
Some observers said the helicopters dipped in to the stadium, and not just flew over it...
A 101st Airborne Division flyover of Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, last month is being probed by the FAA. But military helicopter drivers have shrugged, saying they train extensively to operate at low altitudes, Task & Purpose reports. https://t.co/hbEEwSzDW5— The War Horse (@thewarhorsenews) December 1, 2021
Channel 5 News suggested the choppers may have flown under a hard to spot cable, though this is in dispute.
When NewsChannel 5 Investigates slowed down the video, the helicopters pass right beneath what appears to be a cable of some sort stretched across the stadium.
"They went under that cable," Williams said. "It appeared just a few feet from there. So if they had just gotten off from altitude a few feet, it would have been a disaster."
From another angle, the cable is clearly visible.
But from the cockpit camera, it's not as easy to see.
"I wonder whether they saw the cable before they got there," Williams said.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "What is the potential with that cable across the stadium?"
"Well," Williams answered, "if you hit the cable, especially with a helicopter, more than likely it would crash."
Video from near ground level showing what appears to be the cable in question:
According to Nashville's News Channel 5, videos of the event are "raising concerns (that) some...appeared to show the choppers passing just beneath some sort of cable. The Titans said it was actually cables used to hold the field goal nets."
However, the Nashville station also says that their own videos show "those cables are connected to the bottom of the top deck, which means the Army helicopters would have flown above them."
An update to that report, however, quoted a Titan spokesperson who said the position of the cable in question was an "optical illusion", and that it represented no danger to the inbound helicopters or people seated below.