ATLANTA — Four Georgia-based jet pilots who buzzed Charlotte’s professional football stadium are restricted from flight duty while the incident is reviewed, U.S. Air Force officials said.
The Carolina Panthers were practicing on Monday when the A-10 “Warthog” attack jets swooped low, alarming some inside and outside the stadium.
It’s unclear whether the pilots of the A-10C Thunderbolt IIs, based at Moody Air Force Base in south Georgia, find themselves in a danger zone because of their actions.
“As professional airmen we take aviation safety very seriously,” Air Force Col. Thomas Kunkel said in a statement to The Associated Press.
The team was “most certainly caught off-guard,” as players wondered what was happening, Carolina Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said. But it was “pretty awesome” to see, he added.
Workers in nearby office buildings criticized the flyby on social media, assuming the pilots were mavericks.
However, it turns out the pilots had requested permission for a flyover from the tower.
Specifically, the Federal Aviation Administration is looking into reports that the pilots made a “low-altitude pass” over Bank of America Stadium after air traffic controllers approved the pilots’ request to fly over the National Football League venue, the FAA said in a statement Thursday.
The statements released by the Air Force and FAA include no indications that the pattern was full or that a “negative” to the pilots’ request was in order. But that doesn’t mean no rules were broken in this particular engagement.
“As we look into the circumstances of this incident we are working with the FAA to ensure both civil and military aviation instructions were complied with,” Kunkel said.
Some Air Force pilots do flyovers at NFL games, but the Charlotte team had no knowledge of any practice flyovers, Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said.
While much of the social media reaction saw the flyover as a circus-stunt, the team didn’t appear to label the pilots as jesters.
“I like the fact that they waved at us as they went over,” Rivera said.
The pilots from the Georgia base were “conducting routine navigation training from Charlotte to Moody” and were not participating in the Air Force’s partnership with the NFL to provide flyovers, Kunkel’s statement said.
The planes had taken off from Charlotte Douglas International Airport moments before flying over the stadium, Air Force officials said. They are part of the 74th Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, which is near Valdosta, Georgia.
The aircraft are used to support troops on the ground, and are sometimes known by their nickname “Warthogs,” according to descriptions from Moody.
Their maneuverability and capability for short takeoffs and landings help them operate near front lines in battle. The planes can carry a variety of bombs, missiles, rockets and guns to defeat a wide variety of targets on the ground, including tanks, officials said.
Reed reported from Charlotte, North Carolina.