In what has become a New Year’s Day tradition, a small group from Whiteman Air Force Base spent the holiday in Pasadena, California, to help celebrate the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Two B-2 Spirit Bombers kicked off both the Rose Bowl football game and the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1 with a flyover, something Whiteman pilots have done for years. Tech. Sgt. Tyler Alexander, 509th Bomb Wing chief of community engagements, said it is one of the base’s favorite flyovers.
“It’s nice to get out there and interact with people, showcase what our aircraft can do,” Alexander said. “The 509th squadron is the premier bomber force and it was nice to get out there and highlight that. Everyone I talked to, from kids age 5 to 85 — a lady who stopped to say hi — they were all very supportive of the military and it was a fantastic opportunity for us.”
Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets IV, the 509th Bomb Wing commander at WAFB, and his family, along with Capt. Karl Wiest, 509th Bomb Wing chief of public affairs, three B-2 pilots and Alexander made the trip to Pasadena.
Alexander returned from deployment in late October and has been working to plan and coordinate the event with the Tournament of Roses Committee ever since. It was the first time he had been part of the Rose Bowl group from Whiteman.
It was also the first time for Capt. Falcone. He was one of three pilots selected to go from a pool of volunteers.
“I’m relatively new to the squadron — I’ve been here about a year — and I do enjoy interacting with the community, any community, and getting to know people,” Falcone said. “Traditionally the Rose Bowl game and parade were something I’d watch growing up and seeing the B-2 flying over was something I looked forward to.
“In 2008 I was stationed at Whiteman before pilot training, and everyone talked about it. It’s something so neat, something you one day hope to be a part of. (Deciding to volunteer) was a culmination of growing up and watching the game and flyover and then having the ability to be part of it, so it was a no-brainer to volunteer to be a part of that.”
During their time in Pasadena, the group had the chance to meet some of the float builders and view floats before the parade. Falcone said they also partnered with the Pasadena Police Department to take a helicopter ride over the parade route so they could see what the pilots would see while flying.
Falcone, who was part of the flyover for the Chiefs vs. Broncos Thursday Night Football game, was the ground point of contact for the two pilots who flew the B-2s during both flyovers. He was tasked with coordinating with the parade and game committees and Pasadena police to make sure the timing was perfect.
“I was making sure (the pilots) had imagery so they knew what to look for when flying in,” he explained. “It’s a very visual event so they need to have eyes on the points they’re going to fly over. Pasadena has a little mountainous terrain so it’s difficult to see until you’re actually there. I was able to collect imagery from years past and Pasadena police flew helicopters to get us new imagery.”
Two B-2s are sent to flyovers in case one has mechanical issues or has to turn around for any reason. Falcone said the pilots used their flying time from Whiteman to California to train. He explained that to justify using time and resources for public flyovers, the Air Force utilizes those flying hours for training.
“In that time they were able to do some training en route to California. Overall timing to reach somewhere at a certain point in time is very realistic training for us,” Falcone said. “After the first flyover they went to Northern California and then they came back down to make the other timing for the Rose Bowl and then home. It was a 13-hour mission loaded with events for them to enable a good training platform, which is what we always strive to do when doing flyovers.”
Both Alexander and Falcone said it was a successful flyover with “no hiccups,” and they were both more than pleased with the crowd’s response.
“It’s just really well received,” Alexander said. “People who go out to the Rose Bowl almost expect it. There’s lots of excitement with it. You get used to the aircraft you’re around — we see the B-2 every day — so it’s a nice reminder of what it represents to the public and to be that premier bomber force. You could feel that excitement; it was palpable during the parade and game when the B-2 flew over.
“… We had two types of communities — folks from Stanford and Iowa,” he added. “Between those two teams there’s different walks of life, city and rural. Regardless of where they were from, they loved talking to us and the pilots, talking about the B-2, the military, they asked for tons of pictures with us. It was fantastic. The biggest thing for me was watching people and their reaction to us and to see the B-2 flyover.”
“The response can be very overwhelming,” Falcone said. “Everyone is pretty silent for the national anthem — (flyovers) typically happen after that — then all of a sudden you hear the roar of the engine, the announcer says a B-2 is coming. Coordinating it you’ve got tunnel vision, but that moment where it flies over and you hear the engine and the crowd erupts, it makes the hairs on your neck stand up and you appreciate what you’re doing. Everywhere we went it was ‘thank you for your service and the flyover.’ We know it’s our job, but it warms your heart to hear that and get that acceptance.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke. Photos courtesy of U.S. Air Force