Vance AFB Pilot Disciplined For Improper Flyover At Ohio State-Iowa Football Game

Wednesday, March 23rd 2011, 4:01 pm
By: News On 6

ENID, Oklahoma -- A pilot stationed at Vance Air Force Base in Enid is leaving the U.S. Air Force because of a flyover at the Ohio State-Iowa football game last November.

According to a news release from Vance Air Force Base's Public Affairs office of the 71st Flying Training Wing, the flight lead, Major Christopher Kopacek, a pilot with the 25th Flying Training Squadron, received Non judicial Punishment under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"He has submitted a request to give up his aeronautical rating, which is still pending, and he will separate from the Air Force of his own accord," according to the release.  The Public Affairs Office says he had already fulfilled his commitment to the Air Force and decided to leave for another career when the flyover happened.

Many fans at the game posted videos of the flyover at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa on YouTube.

The videos suggest fans loved the flyover, but the Air Force brass was not amused.

Kopacek and three other pilots were flying Northrop T-38 Talons, which are two-seat, twin-engine supersonic jet trainers.

According to the news release, Major Kopacek was found to have violated the following:

 -Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for flying above the speed of 300 knots below 10,000 feet mean sea level for the practice flyover November 19, 2010, and the actual flyover November 20, 2010.

 -Article 92 of the UCMJ for flying over a congested area below 1,000 feet above ground level above the highest obstacle within 2,000 feet of the aircraft on November 20, 2010. 

-Article 92 of the UCMJ for failing to verbally report the flight deviations to a supervisor or commander within 24 hours of the flight deviation and failing to make a detailed written record within 24 hours.

-Article 107B of the UCMJ for making a false official statement to investigators during the course of the investigation.

The release says the leadership at Vance Air Force Base initiated what's called a Command Directed Investigation on November 24, and all four pilots and two ground controllers were removed from flying status until the investigation was complete.  

The investigation found that the pilots were supposed to stay at least 1,000 feet above the ground while flying over the highest obstacle during the flyover.

According to investigators, the highest elevation of the stadium is the northwest corner of the press box, which is 160 feet Above Ground Level.  The aircraft also flew directly over the stadium score board which is 118 feet Above Ground Level.

Investigators used radar records to verify that the aircraft cleared the score board by only 58 feet and the press box by just 16 feet, which put them at 176 feet Above Ground Level.

The Air Force says the three practice flyovers on the day before also violated Air Education and Training Command instructions by flying below the minimum required altitude and above the maximum speed.

Investigators say their speed on that Friday approached 400 knots, which was above the maximum speed of 300 knots.

Apparently Major Kopacek could have asked for formal permission to fly lower and/or faster than usual, but the Air Force says he never did.

"While I understand that fans attending the game enjoyed the flyover, rules are in place to ensure everyone's safety," said Colonel Russell Mack, 71st Flying Training Wing Commander.

"We appreciate the opportunity to perform flyovers and thank the University of Iowa for the chance to showcase our abilities.  However, this was a serious breach of flight discipline and it was necessary to take administrative action against all of the members involved."

Major Kopacek reportedly has family in the Des Moines area.

The other three pilots were also disciplined, as were the two ground controllers, who are also pilots in the same unit.  However, the investigation focused on Major Kopacek because he was the leader.

Major Kopacek signed a waiver granting the Air Force permission to release details of his discipline.