Duncansville native performing flyover at PSU game

Courtesy photo / Air Force Maj. Bryan Nickola, a 1996 graduate of Hollidays­burg Area Senior High School, will pilot one of two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II planes during a flyover at Beaver Stadium this afternoon.

A Duncansville native is excited about what he calls the opportunity of a lifetime.

Air Force Maj. Bryan Nickola, a 1996 graduate of Hollidays­burg Area Senior High School, will pilot one of two U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II planes (also known as Warthogs) during a flyover at Beaver Stadium this afternoon immediately following the national anthem before Penn State meets Pitt during the “Keystone Classic.”

“Having the privilege to fly over Beaver Stadium and Happy Valley on game day is a once in a lifetime opportunity. My wingman and I will be able to meet with cadets and midshipmen from the Penn State ROTC detachments and give them a tour of the jet and answer questions about what it is like to fly the finest close-air support aircraft ever built,” said Nickola, who is stationed at Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Ariz.

Flyovers are typically held on Military Appreciation Day, said Brad Keen, Penn State’s assistant athletic director for marketing.

“We try to do these for games that will be sold out. This will be a great addition to the pageantry and festivities,” Keen said.

Penn State placed a request with the Air Force to make today’s flyover a reality.

“After requesting approval from my leadership in the 47th Fighter Squadron and the Air Force Reserve chain of command, I was given permission to bring two jets out for the flyby,” Nickola said. “After we were approved for the flyby, Brad Keen with Penn State athletics took the lead to make sure we had a good plan for the game day events.”

After graduating from Hollidaysburg, Nickola, 39, majored in mechanical engineering with a minor in military studies at Penn State and graduated in 2000.

He was commissioned through the ROTC program at Penn State in December 2000 and decided on a career in the Air Force.

According to his father, David Nickola, his son has had a distinguished career and served in a combat mission in Afghanistan.

“The highlight of my career was being in a position to help troops on the ground while deployed,” said Bryan Nickola, who serves as an A-10 instructor pilot.

“I am in awe of him. If I said I am proud of him, that is not strong enough. I am in awe of his accomplishments,” David Nickola said.

The weekend has turned into a homecoming for Bryan Nickola — with his parents, brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, his wife’s parents and friends making the journey from the surrounding area to see the game and catch up with him. He arrived last night.

“It will be great to get a chance to spend time with them since I don’t get to see them very often. They have all played a vital role in getting me to where I am in life. I also haven’t been back to Happy Valley in five years, so it will be nice to see how things have changed,” Bryan Nickola said.

Bryan Nickola said he plans to finish his career in the Air Force.

“After that, we shall see. My wife (Kat) is a travel writer and teaches our two children (Zoe and Avi). So ideally, we will find something that allows her to follow her passion while ensuring that our children grow up to have a positive impact on the world,” Bryan Nickola said.

He will be promoted to lieutenant colonel Oct. 1.

“My duties will remain the same here, which is training the next crop of A-10 pilots for the USAF,” Bryan Nickola said.

Penn State has two other special celebrations planned for today.

Prior to the game, “2016” will be unveiled on the East suites in recognition of Penn State’s 2016 Big Ten Championship. At halftime, members of the Nittany Lions’ 1982 National Championship team will be recognized as they celebrate the 35th anniversary of their 11-1 national title season.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.