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Fighter pilot who flew jet over Berkeley was giving nod to brother at Cal; Navy is investigating

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet. Photo: U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet of the type that flew low over Berkeley on Tuesday. Photo: U.S. Navy

The fighter jet that buzzed Berkeley on Tuesday, sending both shock waves and excitement through the community, was reportedly flown by the brother of a Cal grad student.

A man posting as “TheCulprit” on Berkeleyside said the pilot was his brother, writing, “It was an awesome personal air show.”

Berkeleyside has confirmed that the commenter attends UC Berkeley, and that his brother is a pilot with the U.S. Navy.

“TheCulprit” said by email that his brother “is moving to Texas at the end of the week so he thought it would be cool to fly over campus while I was there before he left. Not that much to the story unfortunately.”


The pilot “rocked” the plane, making its wings tilt up and down when it passed over Berkeley, according to some witnesses.

The U.S. Navy is investigating the incident, said Lt. Reagan B. Lauritzen, a U.S. Navy spokeswoman, by email.

She said the plane was a U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California, that flew at 2,500 to 3,000 feet over Berkeley on Tuesday afternoon.

“The F/A-18E was under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) control throughout the training flight, which terminated in NAS Lemoore. While training missions in the local area are common and the pilot was under positive FAA control, the U.S. Navy is investigating the flight to ensure the aviator complied with all FAA and U.S. Navy regulations,” she wrote.

Lauritzen said she could not provide any information about possible consequences when pilots are found to be out of compliance with regulations.


“Every situation is unique,” she said. “It would be pure speculation to make some conclusion.”

She also said she would be unlikely to release the name of the pilot due to the open investigation.

One commenter, Simon Whittle, had hypothesized Tuesday about a connection between the pilot and someone at UC Berkeley: “I’m going to guess that the pilot has a kid @cal and decided to say hi and give a little wave knowing he/she would be close to cal on their flight plan.”

According to a video of the plane’s flight path, it flew over the Golden Gate Bridge at 3,500 feet and turned sharply right at Berkeley, dropping to 2,500 feet above the UC Berkeley campus, before heading southeast over the hills and climbing up to about 17,000 feet.

Some witnesses who saw the fighter jet said it was “rocking” as it flew over Berkeley: “I saw the rocking motion too – like the pilot was goofing around, tilting the wings from side to side,” wrote . “I went outside and saw it flying away over the hills, near the 24 tunnel. It was shaped like a Blue Angel type.”


Some local residents said they were thrilled by jet’s appearance.

Wrote “Apilot”: “That’s awesome! Tell your brother that plenty of Berkeley residents appreciated the pass, despite the fact that it harshed the vibe of some local crunchies who were in the middle of bikram yoga. My best friend flies the EA-18 and I love visiting his base to hear them do their thing. I wish we had that kind of jet noise every day in East Bay. Nothing better.”

Wrote Dalya Wynn on the Berkeleyside Facebook page, “All the kids at Malcolm X elementary got really excited when they heard it fly by.”

Wrote another: “It’s called the SOUND OF FREEDOM! Enjoy it and buy the pilot a beer if you see him!”

Others, however, were not so enthusiastic. Many said they were frightened by the sound of the fighter jet, and feared a crash might follow.

A local resident identified only as JG wrote: “What happened this afternoon terrified me and my children. They were in their classrooms at BHS and Longfellow the the plane screamed over their heads. In my younger child’s class, children began screaming out of fear. Simultaneously, I was at home thinking, ‘So this is what children in Iraq and Afghanistan hear when US fighter planes zoom in to drop bombs on them.’ Today’s event was real, very scary, and very odd. I want an explanation from the perps of today’s freak out.”

Said another: “i am so grateful to see this and know i was not alone in my alarm this afternoon. i’m a fleet week lover, but not in january and not without warning.”

Some said they simply would have preferred a bit of warning so they could have known what to expect.

“I work on the North side of campus and we could see it quite clearly, right over head. It was kind of neat. Not knowing its purpose though was unsettling,” wrote someone identified only as “Weeeeeeee !!!!.”

A Berkeley High School student said the flyover happened during a guest appearance in a BHS classroom by comedian Keegan-Michael Key: “This happened right as Keegan Michael, Key from Key and Peele was about to start telling us a story. He thought this was a regular occurrence until he saw how freaked out everyone got, especially when the car alarms went off.”

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, Ian Gregor, also identified the plane as an F-18 out of NAS Lemoore. Naval Air Station Lemoore is in Lemoore, California, about 40 miles south of Fresno.

Some readers were concerned about the plane’s altitude. Gregor said by email that airplanes cannot descend below 1,000 feet from the nearest structure or obstacle when flying over densely populated areas.

“My understanding is the F-18 from yesterday’s flight never got below 2,500 feet,” he wrote Wednesday. He said additional inquiries should be directed to the Navy.

The F-18, or F/A-18 Hornet, had the callsign FALCN41, according to a reader familiar with the San Jose Airport’s Webtrak website. He said the callsign is attached to the VFA-137 “Kestrels,” which are based at Lemoore.

He said it sounded like the jet may have been on “full afterburner” — used to increase thrust, according to Wikipedia — when it flew over Berkeley, which could have accounted for the reported 10-15 seconds of deep rumble that local residents heard when the plane was overhead.

According to the Kestrels’ website, “The F/A-18E Super Hornet is the world’s most advanced strike fighter. Designed to operate from a carrier, the Super Hornet is fully capable in both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The F/A-18E has a crew of one.”

The fighter has a wingspan of 42 feet (“without missiles“) and is 60 feet long by 16 feet tall. It weighs 32,000 pounds, and can reach speeds up to Mach 1.8, or 1,190 mph.

Related:
Update: Loud plane over Berkeley was Navy F-18 (01.27.15)

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