The missing man formation is one of the most profound demonstrations of honor and respect a flying unit can bestow. The very makeup and maneuvering of this formation demonstrates the concept of a cohesive team and how each member of that team counts. When a member of that team is lost, the others not only mourn that loss, but it affects every other person in that team.
Such is the case here at Luke Air Force Base, where each and every Airman counts and is critical to the team’s ultimate success or failure; when one Airman is lost, for one reason or another, the entire team is affected.
In the missing man formation, four fighters approach the memorial ceremony geographic center from a given direction as a tightly knit four-ship formation. For fighter aircraft such as the F-16, they fly within 10 feet of each other while travelling at speeds exceeding 300 mph. Each pilot’s eyes are fixed upon the flight lead, as they strive to maintain appropriate spacing, speed and overall formation to ensure a sharp and precise presentation.
Each pilot is critical in making this formation an impressive, cohesive and safe demonstration. As the formation approaches the ceremony’s center, the No. 3 aircraft initiates an aggressive nose-high climb apart from the formation as the pilot flies straight to the heavens, while the other three aircraft fly onward continuing with the mission. What is left is an asymmetric flight of three fighter jets with a conspicuous gap where the No. 3 aircraft used to be. The remaining formation is a conspicuous symbol of the missing man.
In and of itself, this formation is an appropriate metaphor of the inherent dangers of life within the armed forces. Team Luke is no stranger to this truth as we lost Airmen in the past few years to a variety of causes. For all who have experienced a death within the unit, you know exactly what it’s like to see the empty desk in your office, or to see a crew chief waiting for a jet that will not taxi back after its scheduled land time, or to know there is a family that was paid a visit from a commander who delivered tragic news.
A four-ship of F-16s from the 308th Fighter Squadron flew the MMF Sept. 21 during the POW/MIA ceremony and retreat to honor those who have served and sacrificed in past wars. The ceremony shows loved ones and the men and women of today’s armed forces that we will never forget their service and sacrifice; assures future military members that we will do the same to recover them, bring them home to a proper military funeral. These ceremonies highlight our dedication to the Air Force’s most valued resource — the Airman.
As military members and Defense Department civilians, you are the Air Force’s most valuable asset. At all levels in the military, the men and women who make the mission happen are the critical components for success.
As an Air Force, we face a variety of threats today, ranging from terrorists to the tragic suicide rate. As we continue to honor those who have served before us, we absolutely need to take care of each other today, and ensure no one is left behind, on or off duty. Every Airman is absolutely critical to the mission.