Missing man formation

From Academic Kids

Missing image
the missing man formation flying over the Arizona memorial

The missing man formation is an aerial salute performed as part of a fly-over of aircraft at a funeral. The missing man formation is often called the missing man fly-by.


Several variants of the formation are seen. The formation most commonly used in the United States is based on the "finger-four" four-aircraft combat formation. The aircraft fly in a V-shape, with the flight leader at the point and his wingman following his left (the right as seen from below). The second-element leader follows on the flight leader's right, and his wingman follows on his right. Thus, as seen from below, the V's left leg is longer than its right. This formation flies over the ceremony low enough to be clearly seen, and when directly over the site, the second-element leader executes an abrupt pull-up into the steepest climb his aircraft can sustain, while the rest of the formation continues in level flight until all aircraft are out of sight.

In other variations, 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. When a large number of aircraft are used, they simply fly in an unchanging formation, but with a position in that formation conspicuously empty.


The first fly-over of aircraft at a funeral occurred in World War I, when British fighter pilots honored the funeral of German ace Manfred von Richthofen ("the Red Baron"). Fly-overs of airfields became standard practice in the Royal Air Force, to show the ground crews how many survivors had returned. In 1936, King George V of the United Kingdom received the first recorded funeral fly-over.

The United States adopted the tradition in 1938 during the funeral for Major General Oscar Westover with over 50 aircraft and one blank file. 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.

Also in 1954, Captain Joseph McConnell was killed while testing a modified F-86 Sabre at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Warner Brothers immediately produced The McConnell Story, a movie starring Alan Ladd and June Allyson. Early in the movie, the couple watch three flights of four planes pass overhead, with one plane pulling up out of the last formation.

Allyson, playing Mrs. McConnell, asks, "Why is that plane leaving the formation?"

Ladd, as Captain McConnell, replies, "It's a fly-by for Lieutenant Gordon. See that open slot? That's the position he used to fly. It's called the missing man formation."

Needless to say, another missing man formation is flown at the end of the movie, but Mrs. McConnell is alone when she sees it.


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools