Healthcare workers outside of UPMC Mercy Hospital in the Pittsburgh neighborhood, Uptown, take photos of a military flyover on May 19. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

Military Planes Salute Health Workers With Flyovers

Pilots from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard flew over several Pittsburgh-area hospitals last week to show support for front-line doctors, nurses and first responders battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flyover consisted of a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker from Pittsburgh’s 171st Air Refueling Wing and a Lockheed Martin EC-130 Command Solo II from the 193rd Special Operations Wing, based at Harrisburg International Airport. From Pittsburgh, they continued to locations in Johnstown and Harrisburg later in the day.

The flyover was part of Operation American Resolve – an initiative launched by the Department of Defense to recognize health care workers and their efforts in combating the spread of COVID-19.

American Resolve began in April with a multi-city tour by the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and Navy’s Blue Angels demonstration teams. Each year, the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels headline airshows across the country with a display of precision maneuvers of frontline fighter aircraft.

Both teams are well known for hosting flyovers at major events, including Memorial Day ceremonies, the Super Bowl and graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Air Force and Naval academies.

With the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels visiting a few cities, bases throughout the U.S. began conducting their own flyovers of local areas to show appreciation for local health care professionals and first responders. Nationally, flyovers have involved a variety of military aircraft, including fighter jets, bombers and cargo planes.

The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker serves as the primary aerial refueling jet for the Air Force. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

Flyovers are allocated to excess flight time normally used for training and come at no additional cost to taxpayers, officials said. Bases try to cover the most populated areas to offer the best views and to maximize the number of people who can see a flyover.

The KC-135 Stratotanker is the primary aerial refueling jet for the Air Force, a role it has served for more than 60 years. The KC-135 is capable of carrying more than 200,000 pounds of fuel and 83,000 pounds of cargo. An operator on board controls a flying boom located at the rear of the plane that pumps fuel into a receiver aircraft at an average rate of 1,000 pounds per minute. The 171st Air Refueling Wing operates 16 KC-135Ts from its base at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The 193rd Special Operations Wing based at Harrisburg International Airport is the only unit in the Air Force to operate the EC-130J variant. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

The EC-130 Command Solo II is a highly modified version of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. It has the ability to transmit public affairs broadcasts at high altitudes through a variety of communication channels: AM/FM radio, high frequency radio and television. The 193rd Special Operations Wing flies seven of the EC-130J variant and is the only unit in the Air Force that operates them.

Pittsburgh’s Air Force Reserve Station, the 911th Airlift Wing, held an additional flyover for area hospitals on Memorial Day.

A C-17 prepares for takeoff from the 911th Airlift Wing to conduct a flyover on Memorial Day. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)

The flyover is part of a similar nationwide effort called “Air Force Salutes,” to show appreciation for those supporting COVID-19 relief efforts. The 911th flyover included the base’s C-17 aircraft, which you can learn more about here.

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