When Buffalo native and Air Force pilot Benjamin Canetti flies his KC 135 aircraft over the top of Highmark Stadium before the start of the Bills-Patriots game, he's going to have a lot on his mind.
Canetti, a longtime Bills fan, is retiring from the Air Force after 31 years of service; his flyover on Sunday before kickoff is his final flight as an active duty military member. The moment when he sees the 70,000-plus fans waving up at him in unison as he flies by will be one he holds onto forever.
"It's gonna be overly emotional," Canetti said this week. "When we touch down, that'll be the last time I ever land a military jet. It's pretty emotional for me to give it up. I've loved every minute of it."
Earlier this year, Canetti felt that it was time to transition to a new chapter of his life. For the first 27 years of his Air Force service, he was a full-time Air Force pilot, going on tours in South America, Africa and the Middle East, among others.
For the last four years, Canetti has continued to be an Air Force pilot in addition to being a pilot for Delta Air Lines. The amount of time and travel required for both jobs has made Canetti realize he's ready for a change to be able to spend more time with his two daughters, Taylor, 18, and Camryn, 16.
"I've given up enough time with my family over the years. It was just time to slow it down and focus more on my personal life," said Canetti, who will still continue to fly for Delta.
When the flyover is complete, Canetti will head back to the Air Force Base then go straight to Highmark Stadium where he will be honored on field at the end of the third quarter.
He decided on Dec. 31 as his retirement date well before the Bills knew their schedule for the season. As luck would have it, everything aligned just right. Canetti holds a special connection to both the city of Buffalo and the Bills. Growing up in Buffalo, he's always been a die hard fan of the team through good times and bad.
"I've been a huge fan and my first game ever was in middle school. My mom took me to it," he recalled. "We clinched the AFC East and they tore down the field goal post."
Canetti attended many more games as a kid and went on to join the Air Force at 22 years old. Throughout his experience as a pilot, Canetti said he has been fortunate enough to do several flyovers for the Bills over the years. His first flyover of Highmark Stadium came in 2005.
"I watched the flyovers as a kid. They're always super exciting. And I never imagined that someday I'd be doing it myself," he shared. "It was just incredible to do those flyovers for the Bills. And then every time you go through the back of your head is that I used to be that kid down the stands watching."
With Sunday being his final flight, he's pulling out all the stops to make it as special as possible.
"Some of the guys I asked to have fly on this flight with me are some of my best friends, so they want to be there and share it with me," he said.
Canetti has had quite a positive impact on the city of Buffalo during his service, including running air shows at Niagara Falls and Downtown Buffalo.
"The support that the people in Buffalo give the Air Force Base and all the military here isn't like it is throughout many parts of the country, which is why most of us stay here. The intertwining with the community, our favorite sports teams, and the military is not like it is in most cities," he said.
Canetti got a surprise call from his daughter Taylor this week, just a few days before his final flyover. The two spent time catching up, then Taylor asked her dad how he was feeling about his big day.
"It's gonna be super emotional, it's a lot of memories," Canetti said.
"I'm just very grateful that I got to spend most of my career here where I grew up," he said.