Talk about nose bleed seats.
F-16 fighter jets from the S.C. Air National Guard will likely be patrolling the skies over the Super Bowl in Atlanta this Sunday.
The 169th Fighter Wing “Swamp Fox” based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base near Eastover has the ongoing mission of covering the Southeast for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
McEntire officials, according to tight NORAD rules, wouldn’t comment on whether they were working the game. Other fighter jets are fully capable of reaching Atlanta.
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But the wing is conducting a practice operation on Wednesday, called “Falcon Virgo,” in which McEntire jets will intercept a small plane invading restricted air space around Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of the Super Bowl, wing commander Col. Ashai “Abu” Ghandi told the media on Wednesday.
“This is our dress rehearsal,” he said.
McEntire is the closest installation with the NORAD mission called Alert, which was created to protect the nation from aerial attacks like those on 9-11.
And McEntire also hosted NORAD’s Super Bowl LIII air defense media flight on Tuesday. The flight is intended to highlight NORAD’s “24/7, 365-day mission of protecting our nation’s skies,” Ghandi said.
The flight featured McEntire’s F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, a KC-135 Stratotanker refueling plane and a Civil Air Patrol Cessna aircraft. The Swamp Foxes also last May flew a training mission over Atlanta, where the New England Patriots will play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
David Way, an F-16 pilot from Lexington, wouldn’t comment on the mission, other than to say the unit would be proud to accept he mission.
Whenever NORAD declares a temporary flight restriction area over an event, a unit trained in flying Alert missions is assigned to the skies over the event. The unit usually has jets in the air or on standby to be scrambled when called, Ghandi said..
If the pilots and crews do patrol the skies over Atlanta, they might actually catch a glimpse of the game. The stadium has a retractable dome.
“You watch the game; we’ll watch the skies,” Ghandi said.