The illustration above is that of the “missing man formation” or sometimes known as the “missing man flyby”. The aircraft depicted are representatives from conflicts dating from World War II to Current. (An F4U Corsair from WWII, an F-86 Sabre from Korean War, an F4 Phantom from the Viet Nam war, and an F-15 which is still currently being used.)
The “missing man formation” is an aerial salute performed as part of a flyover of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event. Usually four aircraft fly over in a v-shaped, “finger four” combat formation and at the appropriate moment the element leader abruptly pulls up and out of the formation while the rest of the aircraft fly past in level flight until well out of sight.
The origin of the “missing man formation” is said to have occured during World War I as British pilots flew over the funeral of Baron Von Richthofen as a sign of respect but in any event the first official recording of the formation was for King George V in 1936. The formation definitely has its origin with British pilots.
The United States adopted the tradition in 1938 and it is said that the Air Force Thunderbirds were the first military aerobatic team to perform the formation in honor of missing POW’s during the Viet Nam war.
Typically a fallen pilot is being saluted but I want to pay tribute to all of our men and women serving our country and say “thank you”!