B-1B Lancer flyover makes Fresno State history

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B-1B Lancer flyover makes Fresno State history

The sky above Fresno will have a special visitor Saturday, Nov. 3, when two B-1B Lancers will perform a rare collegiate flyover prior to the 2 p.m. kickoff of Fresno State’s football game against Utah State.

The flyover will be performed by personnel with the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. They will fly the two aircraft in close formation from south to north at approximately 300 mph and 1,000 feet above Bulldog Stadium.

At the 50-yard line will be Dr. Sam Iacobellis, a Fresno State engineering alumnus (1952) hailed as the “Father of the B-1B,” and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, also an alumnus, who helped arrange the flight. Students from the College of Engineering at Fresno State will be there, too.

As the aircraft pass over the stadium, the pilots will dip their wings in tribute to Iacobellis and to Col. Rick Husband, a Fresno State alum who was commander of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle. The flyover will help the university commemorate Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps severely injured service men and women.

Iacobellis’ 40-year career with Rockwell International included being program manager for development and manufacture of the B-1B, a powerful deterrent during the Cold War and the premier bomber in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the War on Terror in Afghanistan.

Iacobellis was awarded an honorary doctorate in science by the California State University in 2006. He was the 1980 alumnus of the year and was 1995 Top Dog Award winner for the School of Engineering. He also helped connect Fresno State with the Boeing Company, which earlier this year donated $2 million to establish the Husband-Boeing Honors Scholars Program for aspiring engineers.

That gift helped pay tribute to Col. Husband, who perished with the crew he commanded when the space shuttle Columbia was lost upon re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.

Saturday’s event is the first time the B-1B has performed a Fresno State flyover and it is the aircraft’s only flyover for a college game this season.

Col. Scott Vander Hamm will be in command, and flying the other B-1B will be Major Brian “Sea Bass” Witkowsky of the 34th Bomb Squadron, part of Vander Hamm’s command. Vander Hamm’s command is the largest B-1B combat wing in the Air Force with 29 planes and more than 4,300 military and civilian personnel based at Ellsworth.

“Our mission is to provide rapid, decisive and sustainable combat airpower and expeditionary combat support – anytime, anywhere,” said Vander Hamm, whose career has included service with the Future Operations Group, a post-9/11 team that synchronized plans for the global war on terror.

He has earned 10 major awards and decorations, including the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star.

Vander Hamm’s mother and some of his other family members will be in Bulldog Stadium to witness the flyover, which will come at the conclusion of the National Anthem played by the Bulldog Marching Band.

As the planes fly over the stadium, the engine afterburners will be ignited and aircraft will accelerate toward the north, Vander Hamm told Iacobellis in a phone conversation Thursday.

Iacobellis, who rose through the ranks to deputy chair of Rockwell International before he retired, was responsible for the delivery – ahead of schedule and under budget – of all 100 Lancers to the Air Force, starting in the mid-1980s. He holds patents on original concepts in engine design and turbo-molecular vacuum pumping.

Iacobellis came to Fresno State from Edison High School on a football scholarship, and for Saturday’s game he will be an honorary captain of the Bulldog football team.

“I’m honored to have been a part of the development of the B-1B, which is considered by some military historians to have been a pivotal part of ending the Cold War and still is playing an essential role and today is considered the Air Force’s weapon of choice,” said Iacobellis.

“This flyover is an important event for our community, demonstrating not only the achievements of two of our alumni and paying tribute to our veterans, but also signaling Fresno State’s importance in powering the New California and beyond,” said Dr. Peter N. Smits, the university vice president for advancement. “Gifts, such as those from Boeing, will help us develop more innovative minds to follow Sam Iacobellis in engineering and our many other fields of instruction.”

The College of Engineering will be represented on the field by Dr. Michael G. Jenkins, dean, and some of the college’s top scholars: Anna Amador (construction management), the first Husband Memorial Alumni Scholar, whose son is serving in Iraq; Daniel Dietmeyer (electrical engineering), a veteran; Jared Lindo (civil engineering), a Bulldog Pride Scholar; and honors students Keith Ream (geomatics engineering) and Matt Coppler (mechanical engineering).

The Fresno State Air Force and Army ROTC detachments will jointly present the colors for the game. The California Air National Guard 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno will assist the 28th Bomb Wing with ground radio operations for the flyover.

Because the flyover will occur about 15 minutes prior to the kickoff, fans are urged to be at their seats by 1:45 p.m. for the best view. They also should be ready for a loud roar when the aircraft fly over the stadium.

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