SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFNS) --
A resourceful group of Airmen figured out an innovative way to provide a simulated Air Force flyover to NASCAR’s simulated racing series.
NASCAR racing fans are known for being patriotic, which is why the Air Force Recruiting Service has been an active partner with NASCAR for nearly two decades.
On a normal race day, Airmen take to the raceway pitching opportunities to serve in the Air Force, singing the national anthem, performing flyovers and conducting mass enlistments.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR, like all other sports, has taken a break until the safety of fans and competitors can be assured, leaving a void for sports enthusiasts.
But the race must go on, so NASCAR filled the void for fans with iRacing, a computer-based simulation featuring NASCAR race drivers. That meant the Air Force was also challenged to find a way to provide the flyover at the end of the national anthem.
“The Air Force flyover is a NASCAR iconic moment prior to every race,” said Master Sgt. Sean Christian, Air Force Recruiting Service noncommissioned officer in charge of special events. “That’s when the 4th Fighter Wing really showed its creativity and brought a great idea to reality.”
The wing’s maintenance squadron and training squadron were determined to bring their jets to the virtual sky over the eNASCAR Pro Invitational recently at the virtual Richmond Raceway.
“When FOX began televising iRacing in place of the live races postponed due to COVID-19, the virtual race was complete with a pre-race concert, invocation and the national anthem,” said Lt. Col. Darrell Chase, 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “The first race featured Dylan Scott singing our national anthem from his garage. FOX posted a virtual-reality graphic of our American flag as he finished, but there was no flyby. It was way too anticlimactic.”
Chase did what people around our nation and within the military have been doing during the COVID-19 crisis. He came up with an innovative idea to work around an issue.
“We gave birth to the VR flyby idea,” Chase said. “We were in a unique position to execute it because we have the non-classified VR training setup for student pilots. I pitched the idea to wing leadership and the rest is history.”
Before history could be made, the idea of doing a VR flyover moved to the simulator folks. They began watching iRacing to determine if it could be done. They had never done a formation in the simulator.
When Maj. Meghan Booze, 4th Training Squadron assistant director of operations and innovation, heard about the idea for her team to attempt doing a VR flyover, she was excited for the new challenge. The first challenge was to figure out how they could do this while social distancing.
“The 4th Training Squadron was very excited about this unique opportunity to train (for) something we had never attempted before in virtual reality,” Booze said. “We have all done live flyovers, but never attempted a virtual one. The 4th Fighter Wing has been ground breaking in incorporating immersive technology into fighter training. Now we have broken new training barriers thanks to this opportunity.”
While working on the VR flyover, the team at the 4th TS was able to learn more about the simulator.
“We learned some of the limits of the VR simulator as far as refresh rates within close formation, how to connect multiple stations in different VR labs, etc.,” Booze said. “It helped us push the limits and learn more about the simulations than we previously knew.”
For AFRS, having a flyover only further enhanced the online experience and further promoted the Air Force. The 4th FW is performing the flyover for the virtual race, April 26, at Talladega Superspeedway, Alabama.
“I am truly amazed in our recruiting efforts,” Christian said. “Even in times like this, we can all come together and bring creative ideas to inspire the next generation of Airmen. Flyovers at NASCAR tracks bring massive awareness to our recruiting presence and to hear Fox Sports commentators talk about the Air Force’s VR flyover truly hit the mark.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people are stuck at home and looking for something to do. Although it was only a piece of the puzzle, Booze acknowledged it was nice to play a part in giving back.
“As military members, we signed up to serve,” she said. “We're always more than willing to do our best to make whatever difference we can”
The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event at Richmond Raceway was the top performing telecast of the week on Fox Sports 1. The broadcast reached more than 1.7 million viewers.