It is a breathtaking sight to see. In memorial for fallen pilots or a deceased dignitary of a nation's air force, the missing man formation is flown to honor those brave men and women who take to the skies. The powerful jet engines shake the ground as the pass is made. One plane pulls up and out of sight as the others fly on, straight and level. It's hard to not get emotional with the roar of the jet engines, the abrupt departure of one plane can give anyone goosebumps.
The tradition started out during World War I. Planes returning from combat would often fly in formation and the crews on the ground would then count how many of the pilots had fallen. That was the beginning. The official beginning is said to have taken place in America. The death of Northern Airways operation manager Charles W. "Speed" "Holman (who's pilots license was signed by Orville Wright), had the honor of the 109th Air Squadron to fly above his funeral with a gap reserved for one of the fallen pioneers of flying.Following this heartfelt act, the flight of four planes became a gap tradition and a sign of honor.In England, King George V was the first dignitary to receive the hallowed missing man flyover. The tradition evolved in the United States, where the abrupt pull-up and away was added. During airshows and performances, aircrews will have the pull-up plane use smoke to accent the steep departure of the aircraft. During actual funerals smoke is never used. Every time though, it is still a physically, emotionally, and spiritually moving experience.
As we explore the unique ways we pay tribute to our armed forces with this memorial for fallen pilots as they give the ultimate sacrifice, remember that they gave up their American dream. We don't say that to guilt you, rather we say that to inspire you to make the most of the day. The next time you see a missing man formation, take stock of where you are in life and determine for yourself that you will not allow their sacrifice be in vain.