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.

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

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  • StormOrphan

    OH! What didd the military do during 9-11?

  • StormOrphan

    Is saying hi to your brother one of those ‘conditions”?

  • lifeboatb

    Arguable. They may be protecting our borders, but the war in Iraq seems to have made the world a much more dangerous place.

  • lspanker

    He was out of control putting the public in danger with his stunts.

    I always find it funny that in a town overrun with bums, druggies and mentally ill, who leave urine, feces and used needles in the public parks and on people’s front lawns, who harass and panhandle working citizens on a daily basis, you’re all worked up over a military jet flying under VFR rules in cleared airspace being “out of control putting the public in danger”. Face the truth, you just value your “homeless” mascots far more than young men and women in the armed forces.

  • lspanker

    Well, the food WOULD be better, and you would get more work out of locals for sure…

  • lspanker

    Nothing like peddling the usual silly left-wing rhetoric when you have no point to make, huh?

  • lspanker

    It’s the bomber death planes that are f-d up.

    Do you feel equally indignant at the “death bombers” who plant IEDs in the middle of the road, and who blow up non-believers and innocents on school buses, and in market places? What about the people who behead journalists and aid workers, and burn down schools full of young girls because they don’t believe they should be able to learn how to read and write? The “bomber death planes” are part of an unfortunate reality, that being that your pretentious moral posturing isn’t for a second going to stop bad people from doing horrible things to other human beings. Despite all your drum circles, “anti-war” marches, and singing “Give Peace a Chance”, what really stops the barbaric murderers in the long run are the F/A-18s, the A-10s, the stealth bombers and the cruise missiles launched from DDG type destroyers, all intended to pre-emptively KILL evil, barbaric and hateful totalitarian theocrats who openly display the ability and desire to kill others based on their personal and religious views. You’re just upset that reality once again intrudes in your little Utopian Berkeley liberal la-la land.

  • lspanker

    So it bothers you that the Israelis dare defend themselves from crazed suicidal militants with think the only acceptable “peace” solution is destruction of their country? How politically incorrect of them…

  • lspanker

    He made a choice the victims of this flyover had no choice.

    Note how lefty liberals always seize any opportunity to assume the role of “victim”. You’re all hurt and personally victimized because an airplane flew over you the other day and made a bunch of noise? You’re worse than a small child…

  • lspanker

    You have your own theory on what happened?

  • Judith Osterman

    Its the sound of imperialism. Yes, our freedom to run the world according to the decisions of our moneyed elite (many of them own munitions [military-industrial-political-complex] corps., & guess what they lobby congress for) is entirely due to our top-of-the-heap military superiority. Huge sums of money are given to the Best & the Brightest, to corrupt them, so that they will expend their gifts in the service of Big Death, & Big Destruction. Read
    Gen. Smedley Butler’s, “War is a Racket”.

  • PeterTx52

    way to keep the discussion out of the gutter. i’m assuming that when you refer to teabaggers you’re not referring to this activity or are you?
    as for “hating” Berserkeley? not really we just shake our heads at the inanities that take place there and are glad you haven’t spread your nonsense too far.

  • PeterTx52

    do they teach that the military protects your *ss?

  • lovefelines

    To whom? For what?

  • lovefelines

    I wonder if he got the approval of our town’s representatives. Doubt it. It would be interesting to know who gave him approval to do what, and why. A citizen and taxpayer just wants to know things like that. As long as we aren’t quite living in a military-industrial complex hereabouts, we have the right to know — in advance — that we’re to be assaulted solely for fulfilling someone’s personal stunt. I’m thinking we’d also like to know if he’s being expected to pay for it.

  • lovefelines

    Maybe. But one who apparently only thinks of himself and what he wants to do — everyone else who’s affected be damned.

  • lovefelines

    Such a black-and-white world you live in! The people I know in Berkeley have much more nuanced views, and are willing to consider alternatives to bombs bursting in air as the solution to the current geo-political problems.

  • lovefelines

    I, for one, am grateful to you, your husband, and your children for his willingness to serve as a Marine. That doesn’t mean we need to bring the same kind of racket here, when there’s absolutely no reason for it. And how, exactly, would we know if it was “the real deal” unless we were being bombed or subjected to a suicide bomber? I’m not psychic!

  • lovefelines

    Umm, Storm Orphan’s question was a legitimate one. It seems it was NYC’s fire, police, and other civilians who rushed in to try and handle the situation on 9-11. I haven’t heard of our military doing anything much to either prevent or help with rescues that day.

  • MsPythia

    Well said.

  • Proud American

    Ever since 9/11 we’ve been told to watch for suspicious activity. Speak up if something is off and that sound the entire city heard was in every way suspicious because most couldn’t see it and didn’t know what it was. Why are we the idiots for wanting to know what happened? Do you think for one second – legal or not – that a f18 unnanounced fly over would be okay in NYC? We don’t have to be experts . We just want to make sure everything is okay.

  • lspanker

    Ever consider that with the start of what was essentially a declaration of war against the United States, all those military people might have been busy with other priorities? There’s a reason we have “public safety” and “military” forces.

  • tenjen

    Try living in downtown Berkeley, where we got the full force of the sonic boom, it sounded like a plane was close enough to crash and car alarms went off all over the neighborhood from the vibration.

  • Hipperdip

    They’re teaching it in Syria, too! Only over there, they are literally instructing children on how to behead human beings and then forcing them to do so. Oh, I just came up with the best idea! How about you go over there and look for a guy who goes by “Jihadi John”, and then tell him that you would like ISIS to stop perpetuating death and destruction. Have a cup of tea with him, and see what you can work out. If you can come up with a solution that we could apply all around the world to achieve peace, then we can probably disband the military shortly thereafter. Awesome! I believe in you two!

  • Myron

    You mean you can’t imagine how I was affected. That would be consistent with a completely self-centered orientation. Do you have a grand-daughter. Mine was woken up from a much needed nap because she was sick. She cried and it took a lot to calm her down. I’m sure many parents, grandparents, and caregivers around Berkeley would testify to similar incidents. Do you or the other rah-rah crowd who have descended on this space care? I don’t think so. But it’s not just about my grand-daughter being awakened from a much needed nap. It’s that I know from 40 years of living in Berkeley that this was an UNPRECEDENTED event, for which I have still not heard a convincing explanation that is not full of contradictions. If this flight was under FAA control at all times, blah, blah, blah and no big deal (even exciting and exhilarating to some of our carefree set), then are they tellings us that
    the navy can do this to Berkeley any day of the week? I’m not swallowing it.

  • reneeroseholland

    Seriously? Spending resources on an investigation when the time and money could be better spent somewhere else?
    I’d like to smack the pilot that flew over my house waking me out of a dead sleep this morning and went in circles around my area before leaving. Never, ever in my life have I been more scared and freaked out.
    It lasted for nearly 60 seconds and scared the crap outta my animals.
    Sounded like the Apocalypse it was so loud. It brought every single person out of their house.

    I’ve heard jets before, but never anything like this monster.

    If he had turned around to come back because he forgot his jacket or something, I would have done something. Not sure what, but I’m no fun when tired and woken up like that.
    I have new respect for individuals having to live in a war zone.

  • ilyas252

    Truthwhip! :)

  • emraguso

    FYI for those who are interested, here’s what the Navy did to investigate the low-flying jet. (The statement appears below in full.) —

    Based on the findings of a preliminary investigation, which considered all applicable Federal Aviation Administration and Navy regulations, Carrier Air Wing 2 recommended that the aviator involved be referred to a Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB).

    While the preliminary investigation revealed that the aviator complied with all FAA rules and Navy safety requirements and had FAA clearance for his elevation and flight path, Navy leadership initiated the FNAEB to further examine the aeronautical judgment of the aviator during the flight.

    FNAEBs are administrative boards convened to evaluate the performance, potential, and motivation of a Naval Aviator. The board is a fact-finding, evaluative body that recommends through the chain of command to the type commander (TYCOM) if an aviator should retain flight status. The board is neither a judicial nor disciplinary body; and, because the board’s results become a part of a pilot’s service record, the deliberations, results and recommendations of the board cannot be released.

    The Navy holds its aviators to the highest standards of professionalism and took immediate action to address this matter to ensure there were no safety or procedural violations.

  • FDW

    In the old days the US drafted citizen-soldiers into its armed forces. Today we have an all-volunteer army. In the old days a flyover like that would be recognized for what it was – the pilot (one of us) saying hello to his home town. Today Berkeley folk of every description go nuts for any reason at the unfamiliar and unexpected sound of a loud afterburner kicking in. It is a startling and alien sound with considerable shock value, and it is unfortunate that people were not prepared for it. Many were understandably frightened. The weird part comes next. In Berkeley the range of reactions covers the waterfront from the bizarre to the ridiculous and back again with ideologies, beliefs, personal experiences of every stripe. Go figure. Bottom line: Our society is less resilient, less relaxed, less connected than it used to be. We scare and anger each other. That’s sad.

    A Berkeley resident who has lived here 45 years