KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) – Fighter jets were seen over Knoxville on Thursday as pilots prepare to conduct ceremonial pregame flyover Saturday ahead of Tennessee’s game against Kentucky.
With members of the University’s ROTC program visiting on Friday, we spoke with Lt. Col. Jonathan Hassell about the chance to educate the next generation and the special meaning of Saturday’s flight.
“One of the things I love is we have a lot of the futures air force officers from the UT ROTC Det 800 are out here,” Hassell said. “We’re showing them the jet, answering their questions both about the most advanced airplane in the world and also what is it like to be an Air Force officer, what is it like to be a pilot, so that they can start their journey off as informed as they can be.”
This flyover will be a special experience for both pilots. Hassell is from East Tennessee and Lt. Col. Brad Matherne graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“I remember when I was eight years old and I saw a flyover and I looked up and watched them fly over and I said that’s what I want to do,” Hassell said. “Now over 30 years later that’s what I am doing, flying over Neyland Stadium.”
“I grew up close to the stadium in Knoxville. I actually use to sell soft drinks to make money to buy flying lessons,” he said. “I’d walk up and down the stairs of Neyland Stadium many many times per game. It’s going to be pretty emotional and inspiring for myself, flying over the field in an F-35 for sure.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Hassell said they’ll be flying around 300 to 400 miles per hour and 1,000-1,200 feet above the ground.
The F-35s are from the U.S. Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Their goal is to fly over right at the end of the national anthem but they say once they get off the ground it’s all kind of a game of chance.