Before the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers take the field on Sunday to face off in Super Bowl LIV, four fighter jets will fly over Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as spectators and a television audience of about 100 million people look on.
And Burgettstown native AMC Chief Petty Officer Aaron Duda is responsible for making sure the aircraft fly without a hitch.
Duda, a U.S. Navy mechanic, is the maintenance control chief for Electronic Attack Squadron 133 (VAQ-13), one of four Navy and U.S. Marine Corps squadrons from three military bases participating in the flyover.
As one of the leaders of the flyover demonstration team, Duda’s job is to make sure the aircraft are prepped and ready to fly, so pilots arrive at the stadium at the precise time.
“I’m extremely excited. I’ve done special events before, but nothing as big as the Super Bowl,” said Duda, who is stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the state of Washington. “It’s probably going to be one of the most memorable things I’ve done in my career,” said Duda.
As soon as Demi Lovato finishes singing the national anthem, the jets will streak across the stadium, in formation.
The flyover last seconds, but the planning and preparation involving the U.S. Armed Forces will have taken weeks.
“This sailor is an aviation structural mechanic who has had a career working on the frames of these sophisticated aircraft. When the flight demonstration team does its flyover, Chief Duda is responsible for getting the squadron aircraft to fly. It’s cool for him to be a part of it,” said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, spokesman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego.
Military flyovers – which began in 1968, when U.S. Air Force jets flew over Miami’s Orange Bowl in Super Bowl II – have become a central part of festivities at the Super Bowl.
Duda said his responsibilities on Super Bowl Sunday aren’t much different than they are any other day – except he’s usually performing those duties while aboard an aircraft carrier.
“I screen the log books, make sure the aircraft is safe for the pilots to fly, release the aircraft and then recover them,” said Duda.
This year’s flyover features an estimated $200 million worth of military aircraft – an EA-18G Growler, two F-35s and an F-35 Lightning II.
Duda maintains Growlers, the U.S. Navy’s newest electronic aircraft, which provide tactical jamming and electronic protection to U.S. military forces and allies around the world.
Duda arrived at Homestead Air Reserve Base, about 45 miles from Hard Rock Stadium, on Thursday to prepare for a practice flyover on Saturday and the performance on Sunday.
The birds arrived at the Homestead base on Friday.
“We’ll do the practice run to make sure the timing estimates on the charts are correct, and to see how long it takes to get to the stadium. They know where they need to be. Then, we’ll inspect them again, fuel them and get them ready for the Super Bowl,” said Duda.
Weather conditions are expected to be ideal at kickoff: The game time forecast calls for temperatures in the low 70s, with west to northwesterly winds at 12 mph.
Duda, 39, graduated from Burgettstown High School and attended Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for a semester before he joined the Navy.
He has served aboard three Navy aircraft carriers and has been deployed about 10 times to nearly two dozen countries throughout the world, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Germany and Turkey.
In May, he completed an around-the-world cruise aboard the nuclear powered supercarrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis.
Duda will not attend the NFL’s biggest game, but the lifelong, die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan will watch it. He’s rooting for the 49ers.
His wife, Brandie, a fourth-grade teacher, and two children, Kaylie, 18, and Coen, 15, are excited about Duda’s role in the pregame ceremony.
“They’re very proud Navy kids,” said Duda.
Regardless of the outcome, the Super Bowl will be an unforgettable one for Duda.
“I have the unique privilege of representing the U.S. Navy and working in conjunction with the Navy, Marines and Air Force as we conduct the flyover,” said Duda. “I was pretty excited when I was told I was going to launch the aircraft for the Super Bowl. It still really hasn’t sunk in yet.”