Video screenshot of F/A 18 Super Hornet flyover at the Nov. 7 Georgia Tech vs. Wake Forest football game in Atlanta. (youtube)
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NORFOLK, Va. Two F/A-18E Super Hornet pilots from Strike Fighter Squadron 136 have been permanently grounded for flying too low before a Georgia Tech football game Nov. 7, according to a source.
The pilots, both mid-'90s graduates of Georgia Tech, flew over Bobby Dodd Stadium in downtown Atlanta at just a few hundred feet above the stadium, under the 1,000 feet minimum required by Navy rules.
Multiple videos of the flyover, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBM8kGao_ao&feature=PlayList&p=8F731240931CEF72&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=38">posted on YouTube, show the planes screaming low over the stadium.
"I can confirm the incident did happen," said Lt. Cmdr. Phil Rosi, spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic. "But it would be inappropriate to comment further as these are not public figures and have an expectation of privacy."
But documents obtained by Navy Times and authenticated by a senior Navy official familiar with the investigation name the pilots as Lt. Cmdr. Marc Fryman and Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Condon. Both were assigned to non-flying jobs through an administrative process called a Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board, the results of which are not released by the Navy.
In the documents, Rear Adm. R.J. O'Hanlon, commander of AirLant, was unforgiving in his assessment of the incident and in Fryman and Condon's future in naval aviation.
"Fryman failed to provide effective [crew resource management] for his flight lead and allowed an unsafe flyby to occur with nearly tragic consequences," O'Hanlon wrote of the mission commander. "Despite his spotless record, his complacent, passive response to a major altitude transgression is unforgivable in my view.
"Continued aviation service involving flying is not in the best interest of Lt. Cmdr. Fryman or the United States Navy."
O'Hanlon's judgment of Condon was equally tough. The admiral wrote that Condon ignored low-altitude warnings and didn't "keep altitude in his scan" and that the incident could have ended "tragically."
O'Hanlon dismissed the conclusion by some of the reviewers of the board's results that the altitude error was unintentional.
"The arguments written by prior endorsers that Lt. Cmdr. Condon's actions were an honest mistake are not persuasive," he wrote. "He is a senior, very experienced department head who placed his aircraft and wingman in a very dangerous position."
Both will stay in the Navy, but O'Hanlon recommended both have a "warfare transition" to another officer community.
The pilots reported the low pass themselves upon landing and the Navy convened the evaluation board immediately to determine if the officers violated Navy rules.
Navy records show that Condon was reassigned to AirLant on Feb. 12, but Fryman's record still shows him at VFA 136. However, sources say that he, too, is at AirLant.
"The results are tough for sure, but they broke the rules and got a proper punishment for what they did," said the senior Navy official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. "It may seem tough, but it's a safety issue and the admiral made the right call."