MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Jolene Starkey recalled a surge of pride as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds made a perfect-timing Super Bowl flyover Sunday.
She said her son, Tech Sgt. Tyler Starkey, manned the radio that helped direct that flyover. The Thunderbirds are a team of fighter pilots who do flyovers and air show demonstrations.
“I was beyond proud to know our son had a part in that,” Jolene Starkey said. “That little brief flyover was probably the biggest show, one of the most important shows they’ve done. There were so many people who saw it.”
She said the Thunderbirds did their flyover “right at the very tail end of the national anthem.”
“And it was just awesome,” Starkey said. “Just to get to that point, the timing of when they had to leave that air field to when they flew over that stadium was all fine-tuned down to the minute.”
Tyler Starkey said the whole experience was fun, but busy.
“The Super Bowl is the most watched television event in the world,” he said. “And it was a way for us to get out and inspire and get a number of aviators in.”
Starkey said Thunderbirds are the main marketing and recruiting tool for the USAF.
“My job was to have the radios up on the (stadium) roof,” he said. “I had to set them up and make sure the pilots can talk to the other guys flying, and that the timing was good to go.”
He said he and a few crew members had stadium credentials and were able to see the game between the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots. He also had field access and roof access.
“I was excited, nervous, stressed — all of the above,” he said. “More excited than anything. It’s not every day you have pretty much an all-access pass to the Super Bowl.”
Starkey said being on the Mercedes Benz Stadium roof gave him “one of the best views of Atlanta.”
“Actually, the winds were calm,” he said. “It was roughly 60 degrees, calm and sunny.”
Jolene Starkey said that before the show, her son texted her a TV news feature about the planning that goes into a Thunderbirds flyover.
“It’s not just those planes showing up and doing their thing and flying off,” Starkey said, “Just to do that brief flyover takes months of preparation and timing. One of the networks videoed them having a meeting and talking about the times such-and-such and so-and-so have to be ready.”
She said he and other radio operators are in constant contact with Thunderbird pilots and air traffic control from the base where the team left.
“They just stay in contact and pray for no mess-ups in timing or glitches, because it’s all timed to the minute it has to go down,” Starkey said.
Starkey recalled watching her son in action at a recent air show at Altus Air Force Base.
“No, we can’t approach him during that time, but it sure was cool to see him,” she said.
Sgt. Starkey, a 2007 Muskogee High graduate, has been with the U.S. Air Force since 2008 and with the Thunderbirds for three years. According to the Thunderbirds website, Starkey’s responsibilities include maintaining and repairing a variety of transmission devices. He also works on system and network connectivity.
His father, Ken Starkey, said Tyler enlisted in the Air Force after graduating high school because he wanted to better his life and his family’s life. The father said his son is married, and they have a child.
He said Tyler followed his older brother into the Air Force.