Jul. 27, 2009
July 27, 2009 (Utica, NY) — The National Anthem was being sung at the Boilermaker Post-Race Party on Sunday, July 11. Just as Jennifer Bernstone hit the high note, the 174th Fighter Wing of the New York Air National Guard streamed overhead at the F.X. Matt Brewing Co., while 45,000 runners and spectators tilted their heads to watch in awe. The pair of jets flew off into the distance and swooped back around while Nik and the Nice Guys led the crowd in their rendition of "Proud to be an American." Even more astonishing is that Boilermaker fans witnessed one of the F-16s last flights as the Fighter Wings transition to the Reaper, an unmanned Predator drone, in March.
"This year was spectacular," said Debbie Bray, Boilermaker coordinator. "Flying over the fans twice was definitely a sight to see – low and loud – just like it should be." Bray helps to coordinate the flyover, filling out the necessary paperwork from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Pentagon.
Vivian White, who is awaiting her son's return from Iraq, was present on stage. She had run the Boilermaker as part of her quest to log the number of miles it is from her hometown of Charleston, Ill to Kirkuk, Iraq, where he son is stationed. The distance is an overwhelming 6,436 miles. Also on stage were service men and women who ran in the Boilermaker in the Middle East last year. There were races in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I think the flyover has always been a wonderful honor to our boys fighting overseas," Bray added. "Even if it only lasts a few minutes, it is still great to remember and give thanks to all of them."
The 174th Fighter Wing was formed on October 28, 1947. The Boilermaker has relied on the Syracuse unit to provide the thrilling flyover for nearly 20 years.
Lieutenant Colonel Sean McQuaid was the pilot for this year's Boilermaker mission. In order to pull off such a task, McQuaid had to examine the route beforehand, coordinate with Griffis Tower, and also keep in touch with Boilermaker committee members who were stationed down at ground level.
McQuaid, who volunteered for the assignment, is a local resident to central NY. He felt extreme pressure since this flight was in front of his hometown family, friends, and co-workers who were participating in the Boilermaker.
"I was aware of the crowd and could see the mass amount of people below," McQuaid said. "It was unbelievable. Events like this are what make upstate New York such a great place to live. I grew up in Virginia and can assure you; no one celebrates summer like upstate New York."
The 174th unit will be transitioning from the F-16 jets to the sensor operated MQ-9 Reaper. They will maintain the F-16 until March of 2010 and the Reaper will begin to be used this November. The Boilermaker was one of the Vipers last missions.
"We're all saddened by the departure of the Viper," McQuaid continued. "I'll terribly miss flying the best fighter jet in the world. On the upside, we're all very excited about our new mission and the ability to stay relevant into the future. I think we'll all be surprised to the extent unmanned aviation infiltrates every level of the aviation industry."
The Boilermaker committee is currently looking into alternative plans to "wow" the crowd at next year's Post-Race Party.