Early Monday morning, two B-2 Spirit aircraft, commonly known as stealth bombers, departed Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri, on a 13-hour training mission.
Flight paths and specifics of these types of exercises are kept under wraps by the Air Force, but each took highly visible detours in Southern California: First, in the morning for a flyover at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, and then just after 2 p.m. PT, for another flyover above the Rose Bowl as the national anthem concluded prior to Georgia's 54-48 win against Oklahoma in a memorable College Football Playoff semifinal game at the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual.
As the B-2 approached the Rose Bowl from the north, flying at approximately 200 mph at an altitude of about 1,000 feet, aerial photographer Mark Holtzman was piloting his single-engine Cessna 206 toward the stadium at about 100 mph and 3,500 feet from the south. Holtzman's goal was to pass above the bomber during the roughly two seconds it takes to cross over the Rose Bowl so he could photograph it from above.
Holtzman, who has been photographing flyovers at the Rose Bowl since 2009, is prepared for the exact time when the Bomber is scheduled to be above the field in advance, but every second matters, and on Monday, he said, the B-2 arrived about five seconds early. Holtzman's son was with him in the plane working as a spotter to help ensure they got the timing right.
"It happens very quickly," Holtzman said. "You're trying to set up the plane. I'm circling it around trying to get the position I want. The window is open and I stick my head out and shoot."
GIF of the B2 Stealth Bomber Flyover at the 2018 Rose Bowl Game #UGAvsOK #RoseBowl #sooners #Bulldogs #Oklahoma #UGA #UGAvsOU #ouband #ugaband @rosebowlgame @RoseBowlStadium @OU_Athletics @OU_Football @UGAAthletics @FootballUGA #Pasadena @Whiteman_AFB https://t.co/MqDCbtc8xP pic.twitter.com/Js5sG2Nzxz— Mark Holtzman (@westcoastaerial) January 3, 2018
He uses the burst setting on his hand-held Canon camera that captures images at a rate of roughly a thousandth of a second. This gives him several images of the bomber, which is important because Holtzman's preference is for the plane not to block the American flag or either of the team names in the end zones.
Private aircrafts are restricted from flying below 3,000 feet at a radius of five miles around the Rose Bowl, according to Holtzman, and he said everything he does is coordinated in advance and that he remains in touch with air traffic control and the Pasadena Police Department.
"I'm above the restricted area," he said, "but they want to know what's going on."
On New Year's Day in 2009, Holtzman first captured a B-2 flying over the Rose Bowl prior to USC's 38-24 win against Penn State and the picture earned second-place in the prestigious World Press Photo contest in the sports feature category after it appeared in Sports Illustrated. (You can find a collection of his past Rose Bowl flyover photos at his website.)
Earlier this year, he also photographed three fighter jets flying over the stadium prior to UCLA's game with Texas A&M, and he has an impressive, wide-ranging catalog of aerial images that includes several other sporting events.
For the Air Force, the B-2 flyover isn't an added expense, according Jennifer Greene, a public affairs specialist for Whiteman AFB.
"We would have flown those hours anyways," she said. "When we are asked to do the special events, all we do is change the track of that training mission, and then it can act as not only a training mission, but it's on a national stage, so therefore, it is now a recruiting tool for future airmen or military members, and it helps as a deterrent for our adversaries."
The bombers do not land until returning to Whiteman and were refueled while airborne by the 6th Air Refueling Squadron out of Travis Air Force Base in Northern California.