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Skies above Super Bowl to be protected by March Air Reserve Base pilots, others

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col Mark Janksy, who pilots the F-16 fighter jet. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG/TNS)

Pilots at March Air Reserve Base near Riverside are ready to make an interception if called upon during the Super Bowl.

Col. Troy Havener, commander of the Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing of the Air Force and Air National Guard, which has fighter jets parked at March, will help enforce a no-flying zone that will be in effect around SoFi Stadium in Inglewood while the NFL championship game is played Sunday, Feb. 13.

Raquel Girvin, regional administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Western-Pacific Region, said that an hour before kickoff, and throughout the game, airplanes without special authorization and drones will be barred from flying within 30 miles of the stadium, up to an altitude of 18,000 feet.

With the soaring popularity and number of drones, officials from several agencies addressed drone owners at a news media event on the Riverside County base Wednesday, Feb. 9.

“We’re excited to see the hometown Rams in the big game against the Bengals and we hope fans will celebrate safely,” said Girvin, who oversees Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and U.S. territories in the Pacific. “But we encourage everyone to please leave your drones at home.”

Unauthorized pilots and drone operators could face fines and criminal prosecution, Girvin warned.

Passenger flights going in and out of the Los Angeles airport won’t be affected by game-day restrictions, she said.

No problems are anticipated during Super Bowl LVI, said Amir Ehsaei, special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBI in Los Angeles.

“At this time, we have no indication of any credible threat to the Super Bowl or any related events,” he said.

Ehsaei, though, urged people to report suspicious activity, including activity on the internet.

If something does threaten security at the Super Bowl, there is a plan to deal with that, said Air Force Maj. Andrew Scott with the Continental U.S. NORAD Region, headquartered at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida.

Scott encouraged fans to have fun and “watch the game, and we will watch the skies. There will be a robust air-defense system in place on Super Bowl Sunday.”

Other partners in the defense team include the Civil Air Patrol and the Customs and Border Protection’s air and marine operations.

Havener said speedy fighter jets could be dispatched on a moment’s notice from several California military bases. One of those is March, home of the 144th Fighter Wing’s Detachment 1, commanded by Lt. Col. Mark Jansky.

“There are pilots on alert 24-7, 365,” Jansky said, he being one of them.

He isn’t scheduled to “be on alert” Sunday, but other March pilots are — and will be ready to spring into action.

Flying at 600 mph, Jansky said, an F15 or F16 taking off from March would arrive at SoFi Stadium in four or five minutes.

F16 fighters can fly up to 1,500 mph, according to an Air Force website. But, Jansky said, “we have to go subsonic. No one wants to hear us go supersonic and boom Southern California.”

If asked to intercept a wayward plane, Jansky said an attempt would be made to communicate with the person flying the aircraft.

“If it’s a mistake, that’s the very quickest way to get them to change,” Jansky said. “If not, we’re going to come up and intercept them.”

Pulling near the stray plane, the fighter pilot would rock the fighter jet’s wings.

“If they respond with a wing rock, that means they probably know what’s going on and who we are, and they’re going to follow us,” Jansky said.

If the pilot were not to respond, other action would be taken, he said, without elaborating.

Havener, the 144th Fighter Wing commander, said extensive preparations have been made.

A flying exercise took place over Inglewood on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 8, involving F-15 fighter jets, a KC-135 Stratotanker, a UH-60 helicopter and other aircraft, a NORAD news release states.

“Just like the Rams and the Bengals have been practicing their plays, we also maintain readiness and practice our plays,” Havener said.


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