This story was updated Dec. 1, 2021, at 4:50 p.m. EST with the name of the officer leading the inquiry. This story was also updated Dec. 2, 2021, at 6 p.m. EST to clarify that Fort Campbell straddles state lines.
The 101st Airborne Division has launched an inquiry into the planning and execution of a helicopter flyover of Nashville’s Nissan Stadium before an NFL game on Nov. 14, Army Times has learned.
Helicopters from the 101st Airborne Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Campbell, astride the Kentucky–Tennessee border, cruised over the stadium for a pregame flyover.
An investigation from Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 released Monday sparked scrutiny of the operation, and the Federal Aviation Administration will reportedly review the incident to see whether the flyover violated any aviation rules.
Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Terence Kelley confirmed that the 101st Airborne Division’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Joseph McGee, “has directed [a] preliminary inquiry into this event.”
Another Army official familiar with the inquiry told Army Times that “it’s unclear to anybody in the Army if the FAA is looking into this [flight],” adding that the government’s top aviation agency hasn’t reached out to the service yet. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the event.
The new Army inquiry, which launched Tuesday, signaled a change from the division’s initial stance on the incident. A spokesperson for the 101st Airborne Division told NewsChannel 5 Monday that there was “no scheduled review” of the mission.
The division’s deputy commanding officer for operations, Col. Bernard Harrington, is leading the inquiry, according to the Army official. Harrington is senior to the pilot who directed the flyover, 101st CAB commander Col. Travis Habhab.
Habhab was recently cleared in a command climate investigation after a subordinate unit had discipline issues in Poland. During the Nov. 14 incident, Habhab was piloting the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that led the flyover, the Army official said.
A number of military helicopter pilots told Task & Purpose that they considered the flight to be safe, despite the dramatic nature of a low-altitude flyover.
But Larry Williams, a retired aviation safety inspector with the FAA, told NewsChannel 5 that the incident could “have been a disaster.”
“General reaction, yeah, it was unsafe,” Williams told the news outlet. “It was very dangerous.”
FAA regulations permit helicopters to operate at lower altitudes than other aircraft, though, so long as pilots comply with pre-determined altitude and route restrictions developed with FAA officials, and don’t pose a hazard to people or buildings.
It’s unclear how long the inquiry will take.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.