MIAMI — On February 7, most Americans were glued to their televisions to watch the 50th Super Bowl, between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Although the game itself didn’t involve aviation, the aviation industry was responsible for getting thousands of people to the San Francisco Bay Area to watch the big game.

United in Orange

On January 31, both teams arrived at San Jose (SJC), the largest commercial airport closest to Levi’s Stadium. The Broncos arrived on a United Airlines 767-400ER (N76064 / MSN 29459 / LN 873) as UAL2230 from Denver (DEN). The plane was specially marked with the Broncos’ logo. Additionally, the “United” titles were painted in Broncos’ orange.

United Airlines Boeing 767-400, boasting the #UnitedinOrange titles. (Credits: Author)
United Airlines Boeing 767-400, boasting the #UnitedinOrange titles. (Credits: Author)

The Chicago-based carrier used the hashtag “#UnitedinOrange” to promote the special decals on Twitter. They pulled into the hardstand with the First Officer waving a flag with the Broncos’ logo on it.

No SpeciAAl Carolina Panthers Jetliner

The Carolina Panthers arrived just a few hours after the Broncos, on board an American Airlines (AA) A330-200 (N287AY / MSN 1417) as AAL9434 from Charlotte (CLT). However, AA did not do anything special to the aircraft for this important flight.

No special titles for this Carolina Panthers charter flight. (Credits: Author)
No special titles for this Carolina Panthers charter flight. (Credits: Author)

Additionally, both the Panthers and the Broncos chartered extra aircraft to take the teams’ family, friends and employees. The Panthers chartered 3 aircraft for this mission from Delta Air Lines. On the Friday before the game, they flew a B757-200, a B767-300, and an A330-300 into SJC from CLT. After the game, Delta flew the return trip with a B747-400 and an A330-300. However, these flights departed from SFO. The Broncos chartered a B767-400ER and a B747-400 from United Airlines.

A Myriad of Charter Flights and Private Jets

Many fans traveled to the game from Denver and Charlotte. Although there are many non-stop flights between CLT, DEN, and the Bay Area, many extra flights were added. Southwest Airlines flew extra flights to DEN and added non-stop flights to CLT. JetBlue Airways added non-stop flights from DEN and CLT to SFO and SJC, respectively. Delta upgauged its San Jose – Atlanta (ATL) flights to 757-300s, and added an extra flight on the Monday after the game. Although American Airlines has five daily flights between San Francisco and its hub in Charlotte, it added two flights to SJC for the big game. In addition, Allegiant Air and Eastern Airlines transported Panthers fans to Oakland (OAK) from CLT.

Many people who could afford to go the game could also afford to fly there privately. Over 1,200 private jets descended on the Bay Area. Both SJC and OAK had to close taxiways to park the numerous jets. OAK even had to close one of its four runways to accommodate the private jets. Although many of the jets parked at the three major Bay Area airports, many had to park elsewhere. Nearby airports also accepted as many aircraft as possible in order to reduce the number at the major airports. Other towered airports in the Bay Area like Livermore (LVK), Hayward (HWD), Concord (CCR), and Moffett Field (NUQ) each saw a large influx of private jets—far more than they are accustomed to. In addition, due to limited space at the major airports, Las Vegas Sands landed one of their B747SPs at NUQ.

Las Vegas Sands Boeing 747SP (VP-BLK / MSN 21961 / LN 415) is a 1979-built SP originally delivered to TWA as N58201. (Credits: Author)

Many smaller towered airports and non-towered airports, like Reid-Hillview (RHV), Watsonville (WVI), Palo Alto (PAO), and San Carlos (SQL) saw many small corporate aircraft, like King Airs, PC-12s, and small Cessna Citations.

Surveillance and Reconnaissance: The Eyes on the Sky

Although most of the traffic was civilian, much of the security surrounding the game was from the US Military and other Federal Agencies including The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Customs and Border Protection, The Department of Energy (DOE), and California Highway Patrol (CHP). Prior to the game, many helicopters were surveilling the Bay Area, including a DOE helicopter looking for high amounts of radiation. The US Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team took center stage by performing the traditional fly-over at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

At the same time, there were many other aircraft patrolling the sky which the general public was unaware of. It began with a California Highway Patrol Cessna T206 circling Levis Stadium during the game, providing aerial security for DHS and ground enforcement. This was just one of many aircraft and helicopters that were enforcing a 32 nautical miles (59.3 kilometers) Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) ring around Levi’s Stadium, of which only planned flights were allowed to enter.

Two F-15Cs from the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard out of Fresno (FAT) circled to stop intruding aircraft who did not follow (TFR). A KC-10A from the 60th Air Mobility Wing out of Travis AFB flew in a racetrack pattern to refuel the thirsty F-15Cs, so that airspace could be covered at all times. After their “shift” was over, two other F-15Cs from the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon National Guard out of Portland (PDX) arrived to take over the Combat Air Patrol mission. In addition, three DHS Cessna Citation IIs and a USAF C-26B Metro also circled the South Bay Area, providing visual identification of potential targets of interest.

An USAF C-26B Metro on duty. (Credits: Author)
An USAF C-26B Metro on duty. (Credits: Author)

In total, four aircraft were intercepted for breaching the TFR, and were diverted to LVK and Paso Robles (PRB). Armed with shoot to kill orders, the F-15Cs were the final line of protection against wayward aircraft with intent to harm.

In the event that there would have been a large scale emergency, California Army National Guard CH-47 Chinooks and UH-72A Lakotas would have been dispatched from NUQ to provide medevac support to airlift critical patients to local hospitals. In the weeks before, they flew around the South Bay to familiarize themselves with the area and practice off-airport landings.

The Super Bowl might have been the largest national event of the year, but the aviation support system for it far exceeded any other event in the United States.