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Missing man formation


Missing man formation

Pilots assigned to Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) perform a Missing Man Flyover formation, above USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), during a wreath-laying ceremony held on the flight deck in memory of Capt. Franklin Hooks II, who was killed while taking part in a training exercise on June 27, 2004.
Missing man formation with smoke

The missing man formation is an aerial salute performed as part of a flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event, typically in memory of a fallen pilot.[1][2] The formation is often called the "missing man flyby" or "flypast".[3]


  • Description 1
  • History 2
  • Motorsport variant 3
  • Rolling Honor Guard variant 4
  • Culture 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


Several variants of the formation are seen. The formation most commonly used in the United States is based on the “finger-four” aircraft combat formation composed of a pair of two-aircraft elements.[4] The aircraft fly in a V-shape with the flight leader at the point and his wingman on his left. The second element leader and his wingman fly to his right. The formation flies over the ceremony low enough to be clearly seen and the second element leader abruptly pulls up out of the formation while the rest of the formation continues in level flight until all aircraft are out of sight.

In an older variant the formation is flown with the second element leader position conspicuously empty. In another variation, the flight approaches from the south, preferably near sundown, and one of the aircraft will suddenly split off to the west, flying into the sunset.

In all cases, the aircraft performing the pull-up, split off, or missing from the formation, is honoring the person (or persons) who has died, and it represents their departure to the heavens.


In the movie Hell Divers from 1932, the closing flyby shows a missing man formation.

U.S. Navy F/A-18 jets fly a missing man formation at a memorial service for astronaut Neil Armstrong on 31 August 2012.

In 1936, United States adopted the tradition in 1938 during the funeral for Major General Oscar Westover with over 50 aircraft and one blank file.[3] By the end of World War II, the missing man formation had evolved to include the pull-up. In April 1954, United States Air Force General Hoyt Vandenberg was buried at Arlington National Cemetery without the traditional horse-drawn artillery caisson. Instead, Vandenberg was honored by a flyover of jet aircraft with one plane missing from the formation.

On November 26, 1999, four Air Force F-16's flew the missing man formation over Kyle Field to honor the 12 Aggies who died during the Aggie Bonfire collapse. [5]

The Delaware Air National Guard flew the missing man formation over the Dover International Speedway on June 3, 2001 to honor NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., who had perished in a wreck on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 race on February 18.

In December 2004, as a final tribute to Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands's former military role in the Royal Netherlands Air Force, three modern F-16 jet fighters and a World War II Spitfire performed a missing man formation during his funeral.

The missing man formation was flown at a family memorial service in Indian Hill, Ohio on 31 August 2012 in honour of former American astronaut, US Navy pilot, and test pilot Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon.

In November 2014 the state memorial service for former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, who had served as a navigator in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, concluded with a missing man formation flight conducted by four RAAF F/A-18 Hornet fighters.[6]

On 29 March 2015, the Republic of Singapore Air Force's Black Knights attempted to fly the missing man formation as an aerial salute to long-serving Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew during his funeral procession from Parliament House to the University Cultural Centre of the National University of Singapore, but was unable to do so, due to poor weather conditions. [7] [8]

Motorsport variant

The missing man formation is also used in various types of motorsport to commemorate the death of a driver, rider, or official.[9] In case of a rolling start, during the pace laps before the race begins, the driver in the pole position drops back a row into the second row and the field paces with no vehicle in the lead position.[10] Similarly, the pole position on a starting grid can be left empty for a standing start.

In drag racing, the variant of the missing man formation only is put into place if a driver has lost his/her life sometime before the race but after having qualified. Should that happen, the deceased driver's lane remains vacant for what would have been his/her quarterfinal race and the opposing driver, who must cross the finish line without being disqualified in order to proceed, will slowly drive their car (referred to as "idling") down the track as a sign of respect for the fallen opponent (a recent example occurring when Robert Hight did this in honor of Scott Kalitta, who was killed in a qualifying crash in 2008).

Rolling Honor Guard variant

The missing man formation is also used for the motorcycle Rolling Honor Guards. A common formation of motorcycles is five in front of the hearse: two motorcycles in tandem (#1 and #2, left and right, from the perspective of the hearse), two motorcycles directly in front of the hearse, in tandem (#5 and #6, left and right, as noted), and a solo rider in the resultant #4 position, and the missing motorcycle (in the #3 position) representing the fallen. This is performed for both the loss of a person who was a member of the motorcycle club/organization, or, may be provided as a sign of respect by groups such as the Patriot Guard Riders.


Several movies and TV series show the missing man formation.

  • Hell Divers, closing scenes show Curtis Hell Divers in a missing man formation
  • Courage Under Fire, with four fighters for a helicopter pilot
  • Six Million Dollar Man - The Coward (S1 E12), for Colonel Steve Austin's Father, a WWII Pilot
  • The McConnell Story: Squadron with blank
  • Several episodes of JAG (in the US Navy)
  • Iron Eagle, requested over radio by the friend of a missing pilot
  • Heroes: Season 4, Episode 14, "Upon This Rock", ends with a missing man formation over a funeral
  • Babylon 5: The episode "Legacies" directly refers to the human traditions of the riderless horse and the missing man formation. The Season 3 episode "Ceremonies of Light and Dark" shows several Star Fury space fighters flying such a formation during a memorial service after the battle that secured the station's secession from the Earth Alliance.
  • The Right Stuff
  • Armageddon: Flyby at the end of the film. 6 fighters with 1 peeling away
  • Transformers: Beast Wars: Flying Maximals after Dinobot's death (Code of Hero)
  • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War: 4 fighters with 1 peeling away following Captain Alvin "Chopper" Davenport's demise.
  • The Red Baron (movie): The "Red Baron" does a fly-over for an enemy funeral, along with several of his friends.
  • Clear and Present Danger
  • Star Trek Into Darkness During Kirk's speech at the end of the film.
  • Big Hero 6: In the scene post portal collapse, the titular team stood on the roof of a nearby building, with a gap in between where Baymax, the member lost during the rescue of Abigail at the other side of the portal, would be standing should he be there.
  • Furious 7: At the closing scene, while the two protagonist's cars drive side by side, the car driven by Brian O'Connor (portrayed by Paul Walker) splits off westward towards the setting sun.

Echoes of Honor, by David Weber, opens with a funeral in which this formation is performed by five Javelin Training Aircraft. The missing man formation has been a standard flyover procedure at the conclusion of the National Anthem at every outdoor Super Bowl since Super Bowl VI. This formation was also used during the pregame ceremonies of Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, in tribute to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium which hosted its final sporting event.

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ "Histories: The Missing Man Formation". All POW-MIA. Archived from the original on 21 November 2000. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "The History of The Missing Man Formation". Old Glory Traditions. Retrieved 2011-09-12. 
  4. ^ Engber, Daniel (December 14, 2005). "What's the "Missing Man" Formation?".  
  5. ^ "High Honor: The origins of the missing man formation". 
  6. ^ "Live: Gough Whitlam farewelled at state memorial service". The Sydney Morning Herald. 5 November 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "Mr Lee Kuan Yew's State Funeral: What to expect on Sunday". Mr Lee Kuan Yew's State Funeral: What to expect on Sunday. 28 March 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2015. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Auto racing: Holland wins in debut at Bethel".  
  10. ^ "Jason Sides Wins Back to Back in an Emotional Week". Jason Sides,  
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