A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet. Photo: U.S. Navy
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet. Photo: U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy reported this week that it sent the pilot who flew low over Berkeley earlier this year to a review board to “examine the aeronautical judgment of the aviator during the flight.”

Berkeleyside broke the news Monday after receiving a response to a request for an update from Navy spokeswoman Lt. Reagan Lauritzen.

In January, the pilot sent shock waves and excitement through the community when he flew an F/A-18E Super Hornet 2,500 to 3,000 feet above Berkeley on a training flight from Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, about 40 miles south of Fresno.

According to a video of the plane’s flight path Jan. 27, it flew over the Golden Gate Bridge at 3,500 feet and turned sharply right in 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.

A UC Berkeley student told Berkeleyside at the time that the pilot was his brother, who was “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.”

Lauritzen said by email that the Navy recommended that the aviator involved be referred to a Field Naval Aviator Evaluation Board (FNAEB). The Navy has not released the pilot’s name.

“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,” Lauritzen said.

According to some witnesses, the pilot “rocked” the plane, making its wings tilt up and down when it passed over Berkeley. Many in the community said seeing the jet fly so low was exciting. Others said they were frightened by the sound of the fighter jet, and feared a crash might follow.

The administrative FNAE boards are 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 … 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.”

Lauritzen continued: “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.”

YouTube video

An FAA spokesman told Berkeleyside in January that airplanes cannot descend below 1,000 feet from the nearest structure or obstacle when flying over densely populated areas.

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.

Fighter pilot who flew over Berkeley was giving nod to brother at Cal (01.28.15)
Update: Loud plane over Berkeley was Navy F-18 (01.27.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...