A staple of Auburn’s home games, the trademark “Waaaaaar Eagle” battle cry, breaks out among the orange-and-blue faithful.
It’s yelled when either Nova or Spirit, Auburn’s pair of live eagle mascots, circles the field just prior to kickoff and divebombs the logo in the middle of
But today, it’s being yelled twice. Once for the eagle, and once for a drone.
“It’s part of the crescendo, it’s to get the crowd going,” said Bill Hutto, director of the Auburn University Aviation Center. “The cheerleaders are actually working with us on it. When we take off, they start a ‘War Eagle'”
The drone, a DJI-s900 model that is specifically designed to resemble an Auburn football helmet—complete with actual decals from the athletic department—cradles the game ball underneath its lightweight carbon-fiber frame.
It lifts off from the south end zone, flies to the opposite end of the field, and hovers some 80 feet above midfield before releasing the ball into the waiting arms of Aubie—Auburn’s costumed tiger mascot—below, while the crowd punctuates the “War Eagle!” chant with a louder “Hey!” that coincides with the ball reaching
The ritual, which has been a part of each home game this season, was in the works for just under a year. It emerged because of Auburn’s storied history in aviation education—aerospace classes began in as early as 1910—and because Auburn was the first flight school, public or private, to be certified by the FAA to operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
To even fly a drone in Jordan-Hare Stadium required a waiver from the FAA, because on gamedays, the stadium has what’s called a Temporary Flight Restriction around it because it holds more than 35,000 people.
Hutto and Earle Thompson, a retired fighter pilot of 36 years who now teaches in Auburn’s aviation program, submitted a 12-page “How it’s Gonna Go” document to the FAA, which now stands at 43 pages because the safety parameters are so extensive and far-reaching.
Alway amazing what the FAA will allow when you take the time to work through the problem with them. Time is the first clue – a year. Detail is the second clue – 43 pages and you have to figure these guys knew the drill before they started.
This is fun and basically harmless till you read about the problems of actually flying in that environment. There are a couple of short video clips embedded in the article to give you a sense of the scale.