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Detroit based Blackhawk crew to help guard Houston for the Super Bowl

Posted at 11:38 PM, Jan 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-31 08:05:39-05

A Detroit team is heading to the Super Bowl, but these heroes aren't playing in the big game.

They're an elite unit - flying high above, guarding the event against terror threats.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base is home to some pretty impressive pilots, and their famed Blackhawk helicopters.

For this story, they gave us unprecedented access to see how they'll be guarding the Super Bowl.

We began by asking, "What makes the Super Bowl such a target for potential terrorists."

"It's a part of America,” says US Customs and Border Protection Air Interdiction Agent Phil Petro. “Nothing says more than the love of America for our sports and for the Super Bowl."

When Super Bowl 51 arrives, promising a historic matchup between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, football fans will be focusing on each play.

But up above all the action, brave metro Detroit pilots in military grade Blackhawk helicopters will be performing an impressive task of their own, providing air space security over a "no fly" zone and protecting against potential terror threats.

"Everybody will be watching and the eyes of the world will be on the Super Bowl and ultimately on America," say Petro. "Every venue is different. Different air space requirements. Different environmental requirements. This year obviously is in Houston."

Petro has flown in three prior Super Bowls.

Based out of Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, he and other top pilots work with high tech radar systems helping create a first line of defense.

FBI, Houston police and other agencies are also involved.

"We have radar intercept aircraft outside the 30 mile no fly zone," he says. "Hopefully, it's someone who has made a mistake and will respond to standard international interception procedures and signals."

In the event of a terror threat, Phil will be in one of two Blackhawk choppers, ready to engage immediately with use of force - in conjunction with the United States Air Force flying at a higher altitude in fighter jets.

That's not all. Phil and other agents can also quickly fly in tactical units - highly trained in eliminating threats on the ground.

The honor of serving his country and being selected based on his unique skills is personal for Phil.

He's also proud to be from metro Detroit.

"It's a great honor and we're very proud to get to be part of this," he says. "We look forward to being down there and representing Detroit, our office and agency in the professional way we always do."

for a closer look, we flew in one of two actual Blackhawks from metro Detroit taking part in the mission.

At about 500 feet in the air, my first time in a chopper provided a breathtaking view of downtown Detroit.

In the days leading up to the big game, these teams will continue to train non-stop to guard 150,000 people in and around the super bowl.

As for the actual game.

"I'm rooting for Atlanta," says Petro.

These guys truly are the best of the best. Each pilot had to have a minimum of 1,500 hours flight experience, before even starting the job.