Posted by: Chris Davis | March 8, 2011

The Missing Man

In 1938 the first known flyover of a funeral in the United States was performed to honor the fallen.  By the end of World War II, the missing man formation had become an honored tradition for those who gave their life in combat.  Today, the missing man formation continues to honor those who have gone before.

As with the military, the missing man formation in the civilian world is a sign of respect for a fellow fallen aviator, the sight of which often brings a tear to the eye of even the most hardened individual.  As the flight passes overhead, it brings with it memories of fellow aviators who have gone before.  It represents a solemn salute and final goodbye to a hero, mentor, or good friend.  This is not a fun formation, nor is it done for show, but it is the formation that everyone in the flight wants to get perfect…it is an honor flight.

I have had the privilege to participate in missing man formations during my time as an aviator and although I consider it a great honor to do so, it is the formation that I dread the most.  Having grown up in the aviation world and now making my living in the same, I have known many aviators who have made their final flights…some are still with us and some are not.  You see, there is one of two possible days that every aviator must eventually face; 1) the day he knows that he is making his last flight  2) the day he does not know he is making his last flight.  As aviators, we all hope for the previous, but continue to fly knowing full well that we could face the latter.

We as aviators work and play in an inherently dangerous environment.  We chose to do so because we love it, it’s addicting, and it’s in our blood.  In order to minimize the risks we must know and respect our limitations, be confident in our abilities, and consistently train to improve our skills.  During a recent formation practice, a fellow pilot and friend backed out of the planned flight leaving us with an odd wingman.  His reason for “sitting this one out” was that he had been wrestling with some stomach issues the evening before and although feeling better he stated “this is not the kind of flying we should be doing if we are anything less than 100%”.  This is the kind of decision that earns an aviator greater respect with his peers.  Through recognition and admission of a shortcoming he put the safety of his passenger and his wingmen above his desire to fly.  We owe it to ourselves, our family, and our friends to follow his example.  We must do all we can to remain at the top of our game and be willing to “sit this one out” if we are not at 100%.

Someday I too will be a missing man, it is inevitable.  Between now and then I will do all I can to continually recognise and admit my limitations, make the right decisions, and operate in such a way as to earn the respect of my fellow aviators.  I owe it to my myself, my family, and my friends to do all I can to ensure that one day I will walk away from the hangar knowing that I have made my last flight.

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