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Fact check: Military flyovers are expensive, but won't cost taxpayers extra

Posted at 1:20 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 17:48:56-04

CINCINNATI — When two F-16s fly over Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky on Thursday morning, the display honoring frontline workers will be inspiring, but it won't be draining taxpayer coffers.

The concern over costs and the use of tax money came quickly after the Ohio Air National Guard made the "Salute Ohio" flybys announcement Tuesday morning.

The Guard told WCPO the flybys won't cost taxpayers extra money hours before Gov. Mike DeWine announced $775 million in cuts because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conversation has been happening nationally, too.

The Navy and Air Force announced flyovers for frontline workers at the end of April, using the famous Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. The displays were scheduled for areas hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Some national media outlets like the NY Daily News and Washington Post reported at the time that flying the squadrons costs taxpayers $60,000 an hour, prompting skepticism about the displays versus the need for personal protective gear and economic stimulus. Often, these complaints are also criticisms of President Donald Trump and his administration.

In a joint statement announcing "America Strong," the US Navy and Air Force called the flybys "critical training requirements" for both squadrons:

Pilots must execute a minimum number of flight hours to maintain proficiency. These flyovers will incur no additional cost to taxpayers.

That's the message squadrons in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana gave WCPO this week, too. In Ohio, a spokesperson said the training budget had already been set and the flyover courses were designed to stay within existing travel.

"Rather than doing a single day of round-robin flybys, we are doing them over the course of several days so that we can tie them in with our regularly scheduled training missions, as not to incur any additional costs, but at the same time allowing us to pay tribute to our frontline and essential workers," said Ohio 180th Fighter Wing Senior Master Sergeant Beth Holliker.

"For Cincinnati, we’ll conduct our flybys as we are leaving our training airspace, on our way home, back to Toledo," she added.

ohio_air_national_guard_cincy_flyover.jpg
Operation American Resolve was scheduled to bring Ohio Air National Guard F-16s over Tri-State area hospitals on Thursday, May 7.

Kentucky's 123rd Airlift Wing flew two C-130s over parts of the Bluegrass State last weekend in "Operation American Resolve."

It, too, said the flyovers were "accomplished as part of regular and mandatory proficiency training required to keep aircrews current and qualified and incurred zero additional cost to taxpayers."

Kentucky Air Guard flies over the commonwealth during Operation American Resolve
A Kentucky Air National Guard C-130 Hercules flies over the commonwealth of Kentucky as part of Operation American Resolve on Friday, May 1, 2020. The 123rd Airlift Wing sent two C-130s for the aerial demonstration that is a nationwide salute to all those supporting COVID-19 response efforts. The flyover is intended to lift morale during a time of severe health and economic impacts that have resulted from COVID-19. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Phil Speck)

Indiana's 122nd Fighter Wing has also been participating in "Operation American Resolve" and Air Force Salutes, most recently on May 5.

Technical Sergeant William Hopper, squadron superintendent, told WCPO its A-10 Warthog flyovers were also being incorporated into existing training missions.

"Flyovers are conducted at no additional cost to the taxpayer and serve as critical training for our pilots," he said.

So, enjoy Thursday's display over Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky without feeling like you need to reach for our collective wallet.