Tuesday, April 03, 2001

F-16's steal show from pigeons

        Four big birds swooped low over Cinergy Field. But breaking with tradition, they weren't pigeons. They were F-16 fighter jets.

        The F-16s' Opening Day formation was perfect. Tight. Bright. Right. And really fast.

        “They come in at 350 miles an hour,” said Col. J. Stewart Goodwin. “Over the stadium, they slow to 300 miles an hour.”

        By my calculations, that snail's pace translated to 5 miles a minute.

        As I struggled with the math, Col. Goodwin stood along the third-base line and made radio contact with the fighters in the sky.

        The 30-year Air Force veteran acted as a spotter for the pilots from the 181st Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard.

        “When they're right over the stadium, they're just 1,000 feet off the ground,” he said. “If that doesn't get your heart pumping and your blood going, you don't have any adrenaline in your system.”

        The planes replaced the usual Opening Day flyover by the Flege family's pigeons. The Sharonville-based flock flew over the stadium for the last 12 years.

But not this year. Reds marketing director Cal Levy said the ball club went with just the faster fliers because no one wanted to see the pigeons battered by the jets' exhaust.

        The Reds' didn't want a real-life mishap like WKRP in Cincinnati's famous fictional turkey-drop episode where live but flightless birds were dumped from a plane as newsman Les Nessman cried: “Oh, the humanity!”

        Monday's warm weather and partly cloudy skies cooperated with the F-16s' flyover.

        “You can see them coming in 10 miles away,” said Col. Goodwin.

        As country star Martina McBride started singing the national anthem, the four planes were easy to spot. In the distance, they looked like wasps just above the roofline of the Firstar Center.

        Col. Goodwin assured me the flyover was no wasteful joyride. The jets had just finished a practice bombing run in Indiana. “So, they're just circling east before heading for their home base in Terre Haute. This is a chance for people in the stadium to see what their taxes paid for.”

        The F-16s cost $30 million each. Their pilots recently returned from a month's tour of duty patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq.

        Seconds after the anthem's last note, the four jets roared over Cinergy Field.

        For the first time in the stadium's history, a flyover could be seen from afar. With the outfield stands gone and the bowl turned into a ballpark, the planes were clearly visible as they made their approach.

        After the planes passed, Col. Goodwin contacted lead pilot Maj. Kevin “Buzz” Doyle and congratulated him with two words:

        “Absolutely perfect.”

        The fly-over made the Federal government two for three on Opening Day. The color guard performed flawlessly.

        The same could not be said for Ohio Senator Mike DeWine. He delivered the ceremonial first pitch.

        The senator had a good form.

        But his pitch was low and in the dirt.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at (513) 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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