FAA, Air Force looking into low-altitude military flight over Charlotte

Military jet buzzes Bank of America Stadium

At least four military jets that flew over uptown Charlotte and nearby neighborhoods about 11:45 Monday, startling residents and prompting a flurry of activity on social media.
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At least four military jets that flew over uptown Charlotte and nearby neighborhoods about 11:45 Monday, startling residents and prompting a flurry of activity on social media.

Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration officials are looking into a low-altitude flight by four military jets over Bank of America Stadium Monday morning that startled residents and office workers.

The pilots of the A-10 “Warthogs” were participating in routine navigation training from Charlotte to Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Ga., the base said in a statement Monday. The jets were not participating in an official Air Force stadium flyover, as Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials originally said.

Under FAA regulations, planes flying over congested areas of a city are required to stay “1,000 feet above the highest obstacle.”

The statement from the base said the planes flew over the stadium at a “low altitude” and that Moody officials were “looking into the details of the flight.” The FAA also said it’s looking into the flight.

Charlotte-based air traffic controllers approved the pilots’ request to fly over the stadium after they departed from Charlotte Douglas at 11:35 a.m., the FAA said.

The planes did not carry equipment that records altitude, said Tech Sgt. Zachary Wolf, of Moody’s public affairs office. But the jets’ altitude could be checked with the air traffic control tower at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, he said.

Airport officials referred questions to the FAA, which did not say how low the planes were flying.

One uptown office worker on Twitter said the planes flew roughly even with the 42nd floor of the 48-story Duke Energy Center, which is 786 feet tall.

Earlier on Monday, a Charlotte Douglas spokeswoman said the airport was advised by the “air traffic control tower that there are military jets practicing their stadium run” over the Carolina Panthers’ home field. The errant report, the FAA said later, resulted from one of its employees incorrectly telling a Charlotte Douglas official that the flight was “a practice flyover for a football game.”

Wolf said the planes “weren’t practicing for anything.”

Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said no stadium flyovers are currently planned for this season, although the team is trying to set one up for the home season opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 18. In any case, the planes would not be A-10s, he said.

“We didn’t know about it,” he said of Monday’s flyover.

The flyover occurred during a Panthers practice session. Coach Ron Rivera told reporters that he was surprised by the planes.

“Oh yeah, we most certainly were caught off-guard. You kind of see everybody wondering what’s going on,” said Rivera. The son of a career Army man said the flyover was “pretty awesome.”

“I really appreciated that. I like the fact that they waved at us as they went over,” said Rivera.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera was surprised as A-10 “Warthog” fighter planes buzzed over Bank of America Stadium.

In its statement, Moody Air Force Base said the Air Force provides flyovers to the NFL “to showcase our airpower and aircraft capabilities.” It said the flyovers come “at no additional cost to the taxpayer” and provide training for the pilots.

The aircraft that buzzed Charlotte were part of the 74th fighter squadron of the 23rd Wing, based at Moody, Wolf said. The jets, which fly close air support missions in combat, are distinguished by two prominent jet engines and a split tail.

“Affectionately called the ‘Warthog’ for its aggressive look and often painted with teeth on the nose cone, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is the U.S. Air Force’s primary low-altitude close air support aircraft,” a description on military.com says.

“The A-10 is perhaps best known for its fearsome GAU-8 Avenger 30mm Gatling gun mounted on the nose. The GAU-8 is designed to fire armor-piercing depleted uranium and high explosive incendiary rounds.”

The Air Force had planned to retire the plane, but that move has been put on hold because the A-10 has been useful in attacks on Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, according to media reports in January.

People began tweeting soon after the impromptu air show in Charlotte, an unusual spectacle against the backdrop of uptown skyscrapers and construction cranes.

“Interesting to have fighter jets really low over our house in #CLT,” one resident tweeted at 11:46 a.m. “I walk outside and all the other work-from-home neighbors were out too.”

Wrote an office worker at 11:54 a.m.: “Two fighter jets just buzzed by my window of the high rise bldg I work in – uptown Charlotte NC. Scary!”

The Charlotte Fire Department communications center sought to calm residents around 12:08 p.m.: The planes that flew low near Uptown & BOA Stadium are US Military jets (A-10s) #NoEmergency.”

Have a photo of the jets in flight over Charlotte? Email jpgs to rwilkerson@charlotteobserver.com

Staff writers Jonathan Jones and Roland Wilkerson contributed.