Stadium Overpasses: How They Work at Alabama Football Games

Alabama fans can’t get enough of game-day traditions, from tailgating before the game to singing “Rammer Jammer” after another Crimson Tide win.

But the stadium flyover just before kickoff climbs the charts for rituals at Bryant Denny Stadium that you need to check off your college football bucket list.

As you can imagine, before you see, hear, and feel, there is a lot of preparation involved with every transfer conducted by various branches of the military rush Overhead that gives you a good dose of patriotism and creates an unforgettable stadium atmosphere.

Morgan James, Athletics Associate Director of Marketing and Fan Development at UA, coordinates each gameday flyover.

He took us behind the scenes and revealed the thorough logistical planning and precision required every time.

The planning process for transfers actually begins around June and July before each season.

UA must submit documentation (Request for Military Support) for each event/game, which they submit online for approval. Once documentation for each game is approved, military units can contact the UA Point of Contact to book a specific game.

Once the flyover crew is booked for a specific game, UA works with them on game specifics that include flyover time and departure and arrival airports, game tickets, in-game detection, and any additional permits or paperwork that may be required.

James said only two of the 2022 season’s flight crew had applied for a “probation”.

Some want to “get a good overview” the day before the game, while others want to discuss all the details they need to know before running the event.

“In my experience this year, the majority of the crews that volunteer to do these overflights have done overflights before and don’t necessarily need a rehearsal, just the timing logistics of when to fly over the stadium,” James said.

The 2022 season will have had four overflights with flight crews from across the United States

Crews are working with local air bases or airports based on their jets to determine where to take off and land, James said.

“We have flight crews taking off and landing in Columbus, Miss., and landing in Birmingham,” he said. “To my knowledge it really depends on the flight crew and their communication with local air force bases and the FAA.”

How do they determine what type of aircraft will make the transfer?

Early in the process, when UA submits the request for military assistance, they request a fixed wing jet, and then it depends on the flight crew that volunteers for each game and what their squadron flies.

Timing the transfer is probably the most difficult part of the entire process, James said. “We always try to have the flyover at the end of the national anthem, but sometimes we have to adapt to the rules and regulations around flight times. Flight crews cannot fly after sunset or dusk. “We have a timing sheet before the game where everything is timed and we try to get every element to the second before the game.”

While they’re all up and running, external factors during foreplay can affect the timing. Before the jets take off from their location, UA communicates in real time when the flyover is scheduled to take place.

There are two flight crew members on the ground, one in the production cabin and one up in the stadium, who communicate with the pilots in real time to let them know if the transfer timing has changed.

“There’s a certain point where the ground crew and pilots can’t talk and the jets fly over the stadium no matter where we are in time,” James said.

The 49th Fighter Training Squadron performed the transfer for Austin Peay last week. See Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 at the Iron Bowl, which begins at 2:30 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Before each game, before the national anthem and flyover, UA honors a service member as a flag receiver and thanks them for their service to our country.

“It’s an important tradition to honor our brave men and women who serve in our military,” James said. “After receiving the flag and the national anthem, the flyover is a great way to top off that pageantry and get our fans excited about our country, our service members, and Alabama football.”

(The story continues below the photo)

Overpass of the stadium

The 391st Fighter Squadron flight crew with Alabama Athletics Director Greg Byrne (center) after the flyover of Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to Alabama’s game against Texas A&M on Saturday, October 8, 2022 William “CRIPT” O’Donnell , Huntsville native Capt. Tyler “HYPE” Lannom, Capt. Sean “ATLAS” O’Shea, Byrne, UA graduate Capt. Austin “ASSAULT” Starks, Capt. Josh “SPEAR” Bezold, Lt Colonel Eric “SLAYER” Joachim, Capt. Tim ” BAC’N” Rohan and Captain Justin “FADED” Hall. (Courtesy of the 391st Fighter Squadron)

After a few overflights, you may have noticed that some flight crew members unzipped their suits to reveal a crimson and white t-shirt. It turns out that some pilots have ties to UA and are involved in making these special moments happen.

Capt. Austin Starks, a US Air Force Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) and UA graduate, attended the Texas A&M flyover Oct. 8.

He contacted UA to request the transfer before they determined the date that worked best for both parties since he complied with all Air Force requirements and waivers.

The flight crew of the 391st Fighter Squadron, flying from Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, had to find a nearby base as well as hotels, rental cars and tanker support to make their journey easier.

After selecting the crew members, Starks also arranged maintenance support in the South and developed a game plan where the planes would stay airborne outside the stadium.

“The flyover itself is pretty scripted,” Starks said, noting that they have to maintain a certain altitude throughout the flight. They coordinate time with UA Marketing, organize staff with radios in the stadium to make sure everything is still okay and to know when to leave the stop.

The Texas A&M flyover was slightly different in that it wasn’t a flyover of the national anthem due to the sunset that day. The crew isn’t legally allowed to do PR events after “civilian twilight,” so they had to move the 7 p.m. kickoff (due to CBS’s prime-time slot) to 6:25 p.m

Starks, a Baton Rouge native who attended UA in 2013-2017 (with a degree in aerospace engineering), is a weapons systems bureau on the two-seat fighter aircraft, in this case the F-15E Strike Eagles (similar to how you see in Top Gun movies).

Aside from his own connection to UA, his frontline pilot was Huntsville native Captain Tyler Lannom.

“I knew it was going to be really cool,” Starks said of the flight via his alma mater.

He said the flyover was a complicated experience, with them constantly checking their timing, coordination, speed and altitude.

As the WSO on flights like these, he’s a safety observer, making sure the planes are all safe and legal while putting on a show for the fans. He said while the flight itself was fun, it got so much better at Bryant Denny Stadium.

“When we got on the field it was surreal. That’s all I can say about it,” he said. “It was definitely the coolest night of my life.”

And while UA recognizes every flight crew in the north end zone during some downtime after this game’s flyover, Starks said he and the crew are treating it more as a tribute to retired military members and their own families.

It’s also a tribute to the “full-blooded Americans” who enjoy the show.

“Just the sound of afterburners people firing up, all that power, all that noise, knowing we’ve got 1,000x ready. It’s also a cool ad. Being on the ground and watching a handful of jets like this fly overhead. It excites people and makes them feel safe.”

Starks said he had the chance to be on campus with his family before the game.

But about three hours before kick-off, he and the crew made the 80-minute drive to Meridian, where they had parked their jets, before flying back to Tuscaloosa in just 10 minutes.

He said the jets stayed aloft for about 20 minutes before getting their cue and repositioning and executing the flyover in about five minutes. After another 10-minute flight back to Meridian, they had spent a total of about 45 minutes in the air.

Overpass of the stadium

The F-15E Strike Eagles of the 391st Fighter Squadron during the flyover of Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to Alabama’s game against Texas A&M on Saturday, October 8, 2022. (Courtesy 391st Fighter Squadron)

Overpass of the stadium

The view of the 391st Fighter Squadron during the flyover of Bryant-Denny Stadium before Alabama’s game against Texas A&M on Saturday, October 8, 2022. (Courtesy 391st Fighter Squadron)

Alabama Football: LSU 2021

The pregame flyover prior to Alabama’s game against LSU at Bryant Denny Stadium on Saturday, November 6, 2021. The Crimson Tide won 20-14. (Ben Flanagan / AL.com)

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