Planespotting with purpose: Arlington flyovers

If you live or work within a few miles west of Arlington National Cemetery, you can expect to hear a sound that suggests you’ll on the receiving end of an airstrike: a crescendo of jet-engine noise that rapidly escalates past the volume of a departure from National Airport until a formation of military jets booms overhead.

Flyovers in support of military funerals are a regular ritual at Arlington, but the schedule at the cemetery’s site doesn’t indicate which one will feature an aerial accompaniment. Instead, follow the @ArlingtonNatl Twitter account, which usually tweets out an advisory or two about flyovers in advance under the hashtag #flyover.

You can’t count on a flyover happening exactly on schedule–I’ve seen them happen more than half an hour after the forecast time–but at least you’ll know roughly when to expect the noise.

And, if you’re any sort of avgeek, that will also be your cue to step outside with a camera or binoculars. (Read after the jump for a quick aircraft-recognition tutorial.) The sight of four planes in a missing-man formation is always impressive–and a good opportunity to contemplate the service of the man or woman being laid to rest at Arlington.

Arlington flyovers can feature almost any aircraft in the Department of Defense’s unclassified budget, but these five (in declining order of frequency) have been the most common in my experience. Here’s how to recognize them:

F-16: The Air Force’s multi-role fighter is easy to tell from the next two planes on this list from its single tail and single engine. The two small ventral fins that angle outward from below the fuselage may also catch your eye.

F/A-18: If you see a fighter jet with two tails angled outwards, that’s this twin-engine Navy and Marine Corps fighter and attack aircraft.

F-15: People may confuse this “air supremacy” Air Force fighter with the F/A-18, but the F-15’s twin tails aren’t angled, its horizontal stabilizers extend aft of its twin engines, and it’s bigger and much louder than the first two.

A-10: Straight wings with engines mounted on the fuselage above and aft of them set this Air Force ground-attack plane apart.

V-22: The aircraft most likely to make you think you’re living in the future has two enormous rotors at the end of its wings that rotate upwards for vertical takeoff and landing.

Less frequent single-plane flyovers usually feature larger aircraft from the Air Force’s inventory. You can identify the B-52 from the piercing shriek of this 1960s-vintage bomber’s eight engines, which also leave a trail of smoke. A C-17 transport features a T-tail and a high-mounted wing with four engines, so there’s no mistaking that for a commercial jet either–unlike the KC-135 and E-3, each based on the four-engined Boeing 707. The former features a refueling boom with small fins below its tail, while the radar dish atop the latter can look like a UFO flying in information.


2 thoughts on “Planespotting with purpose: Arlington flyovers

  1. Pingback: Airports I’ve used | Rob Pegoraro

  2. Pingback: How Crowdsourced Chopper Spotting Helps ID the Helicopters of DC - MagazinAisle

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