Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2018 issue
MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. – While the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots prepared to duke it out in Super Bowl LII at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 4, 2018, Twin Cities area airports and operators prepared for a major onslaught of transient aircraft. Some 1,600 corporate jets flew in to not only Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, but several of its reliever airports, plus St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato and New Richmond. In the end, the National Football Conference (NFC) champion, Philadelphia Eagles, defeated the American Football Conference (AFC) champion, New England Patriots, 41–33, to win their first Super Bowl and their first National Football League (NFL) title since 1960, and by all accounts, area airports won big time in fuel sales alone, as aircraft lined the taxiways and crosswind runways were closed for parking.
Another highlight of the game was a flyby featuring the Wings of the North Air Museum’s Sierra Sue II P-51 Mustang, which led the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight over the stadium. Sierra Sue II, which is based at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, Minn., was the first aircraft in a diamond formation featuring two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and an F-16 Fighting Falcon. The P-51 was flown by renowned warbird pilot, Steve Hinton, who flew the aircraft on behalf of the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation in the first Heritage Flight at a Super Bowl.
In 1979, Hinton became the youngest person to set a new 3-kilometer world speed record for piston-powered aircraft in a highly modified P-51 Mustang. A founding member of the Motion Picture Pilots Association, Hinton has served as a pilot and/or aerial coordinator for more than 60 motion pictures and made-for-television movies, series and commercials, including serving as chief pilot for the motion picture “Pearl Harbor” in 2001, and as himself in “Iron Man” (2008). Hinton owns Steve Hinton Filmography.
Sierra Sue II is one of only a handful of flying Mustangs that actually saw combat in World War II. Assigned in 1945 to the 402nd Fighter Squadron, 370th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, 1st Lt. Robert Bohna named the plane for a girl he knew in high school. Sierra Sue II was fully restored in 2014 by AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota to replicate 1944 factory delivery specifications. Authentic details include working World War II era radios and full armor plating.
Wings of the North was proud to support the USAF Heritage Flight Program, which presents the evolution of USAF air power by flying today’s state-of-the-art fighter aircraft in close formation with vintage fighter aircraft. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based at Flying Cloud Airport, Wings of the North serves people of all ages by restoring and showcasing flying aircraft to bring history to life, honoring Minnesota’s aviation pathfinders and veterans through exhibits and events, and inspiring youth to meet 21st century challenges by using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Wings of the North Museum Director Bob Jasperson, and Wings of the North board member, Jack Larsen, were involved in the flyover. A pilot for 30 years, and the Executive Vice President at Optum, headquartered in Eden Prairie, Minn., Larsen values the life lessons that flying brings to his work. Larsen was contacted by the commanding general of the Heritage Flight Foundation to involve Sierra Sue II and Steve Hinton in the flyover.
At Flying Cloud Airport where the Heritage Flight was staged, both runways 18-36 and 10L-28R were closed for aircraft parking, and the Metropolitan Airports Commission had designated overflow parking on the south side of the airport.
The control tower was open 24 hours a day on Sunday and Monday, and extended their hours for the days leading up to and after the Super Bowl.
The same scenario played out at St. Paul Downtown Airport, where the crosswind runway was also closed for parking.
The National Football League used the “Prior Permission Required” (PPR) aircraft reservation system to get all 1,600 corporate jets in and out of the Twin Cities, so it helped when some of the traffic was diverted to nearby St. Cloud, Mankato, Rochester and New Richmond airports.
Weeks prior to the Super Bowl, St. Cloud Aviation President Bill Mavencamp diagramed how they would park and service aircraft. At all area airports, it appeared to be a tight squeeze, but thanks to good planning on the part of operators and airport managers, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and conscientious line personnel, operations went smoothly.