Whidbey aviators wow race fans

Growlers from Naval Air Station do a flyover at Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway just before the start of the race Sunday.

Fly over an arena filled with 350,000 screaming fans?

Four local Navy officers can check that one off the bucket list.

They flew two Naval Air Station Whidbey Island EA-18G Growlers over the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway just before the start of the race Sunday.

There’s no other way to describe it but awesome, said Cmdr. Lewis Callaway, commanding officer for Electronic Attack Squadron 139.

“I honestly don’t know if a flyover could get any better for me personally or the Navy,” he said.

He and two other officers from his squadron, Lt. Alexandra Adams and Lt j.g. Grant Parks, along with Lt. James McKinney from VAQ-132, got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by chance.

VAQ-139’s sister squadron, VFA-81, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, needed some assistance from a VAQ squadron to get one of its pilots qualified. The Whidbey flight officers were in the right place to join their sister squadron for the flyover in Indiana.

From the rear seat in the jet Sunday, Callaway could see the track below. In the cockpit, it was all business.

The jets were 10 feet apart, “padlocked” into formation behind the lead jet. Whidbey’s Growlers were on the right and left, while the jets from VFA-81 took the front and rear.

The pilots wanted to fly over at the perfect moment. So they watched videos of Darius Rucker, formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish, singing the National Anthem and calculated the exact moment to scream past the crowd below just as Rucker finished belting “and the home of the brave.”

They nailed it.

The full magnitude of the moment didn’t hit the officers until they landed and returned to the stadium to watch the end of the race.

“People were shaking our hands and telling us, ‘Thanks for your service,” he said. “It gave me goosebumps. That’s when it becomes emotional. When you can be a part of something bigger for people.”