ARLINGTON — The ritual at a sporting event is both heart-rending and familiar: The performance of the national anthem, followed by a thunderous flyover by military aircraft.
At this year's Super Bowl, five Navy F-18s are traveling all the way from Virginia Beach, Virginia for the ceremony at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
The domed arena will be closed. The spectators inside will not see it. The five-second shot will be shown on TV.
The U.S. Navy says the cost to bring the formation of four planes, plus a backup, to North Texas is $109,000 in fuel. According to Department of Defense tables, the entire cost will be more than $450,000, based on the operational cost of the F-18 aircraft and the number of hours the pilots will fly.
The same kind of F-18 fighter operates out of the Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, less than 20 miles from the stadium.
Commander Ben Hewlett from Virginia Beach, who's leading the Super Bowl overflight, says he doesn't know why his group was selected, but he's happy to do it.
"We did one for the Major League Baseball playoffs as well," he said. "The folks in D.C. that do these know we had an opening for this slot."
The "folks in D.C." get thousands of requests for flyovers every year. There's even an official form — DD 2253, called a "Request for Military Aerial Support" — to apply for an overflight.
The Air Force received 3,041 requests last year and actually flew above 275 sporting events. The Navy approved more than 600 requests. The number of actual flyovers was unavailable.
The flyovers are far from cost-free, however. B-2 bombers ($42,000 an hour according to DOD tables) have flown over NFL games, as have F-15s ($17,000 an hour).
Nobody knows what the total cost for the hundreds of flights each year actually is.
The Air Force and Navy say the cost comes out of their individual units' training budgets.
Military aviation expert Jay Miller of Arlington questions any training value.
"What's the military exercise that's involved unless you're trying to pinpoint a target? And a big coliseum's your target destination?" he asked.
"We have a training budget that we are approved for and we are gonna fly time, whether it's here in Virginia Beach or Dallas, Texas," Cmdr. Hewlett said.
The Air Force and the Navy also say the overflights help their recruiting. But they have the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels precision formation squadrons specifically designed to do that.
"I would hesitate to say there is a need for it," Cmdr. Hewlett said. "There is a desire for it. There's a want there. There's a public interest. There's a lot of Americans that want to look up and say, 'We are super proud of our Marines, our sailors out there doing the job every day.'"