The US Navy has decided to honor former President George H.W. Bush with a 21-aircraft memorial flyover on Thursday. The missing man formation will be the largest ever, as these formations typically involve no more than four aircraft. These formations typically involve only four fighters.
The former president, a distinguished World War II naval aviator who passed away Friday at the age of 94, will be laid to rest on Thursday at George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station in Texas.
Today, President George H.W. Bush’s journey officially came to an end, and it did so in a beautiful and moving way.
Texans lined the railroad tracks as the specially painted Union Pacific locomotive 4141 pulled a train that included a windowed car with the 41st President’s casket inside of it
Sadly, the flyover of 21 Navy F/A-18 Hornets wasn’t covered well by the networks. As the President’s casket was carried by the honor guard to the burial site on the grounds of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the jets roared overhead under a thick ceiling of moist clouds.
What most of us did see was still a moving tribute, with groups of four Hornets flying in diamond formation over the site with their arresting hooks down. The image was a quintessential salute from a group of Naval Aviators to one of the most notable Navy flyers in history and a Commander In Chief. But the most emotional part of any memorial flyover, the missing man formation, was not shown on television, although it sure was heard.
Thankfully, other cameras were rolling, a few of which did catch the missing man formation. The quartet of Super Hornets was barreling in quite low and fast when one lights the burners and peels off from the fingertip formation and roared into the heavens. Here are the best videos we have seen of the formation so far:
Watch this whole thing. A 21-aircraft missing man formation. The end when the aircraft with the name of #GHWB on the side peels off & disappears into the sky gave me goosebumps. pic.twitter.com/dZnnMX7X5G
The team from NAS Oceana, which included jets from eight squadrons with the Commodore of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic flying in the lead jet with the President and the First Lady’s name on it, did a great job considering the foul conditions.
The U.S. Navy has dispatched thirty F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet jets from various units to participate in a massive memorial flyover and missing man formation to honor the life and passing of former President George H.W. Bush. A total of 21 aircraft will be used in the formation flyover with 9 aircraft being used in a support role for the mission.
A Navy news release discusses what went into the operation, including the fact that 30 jets in total and 50 ground crew made the trip to Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth to support the Hornets and their crews on their historic mission:
We coordinated with Joint Reserve Base (JRB) Fort Worth and reached out to the commanding officer, executive officer and operations officer to make sure we had ramp space and hangar maintenance facilities,” said Hagge. “Cutting orders for the aircrew and all 50 maintainers and the other administrative details was the easy part. The tactical level detail was a lot more complex.”
All told, 30 jets made the trip to JRB Fort Worth in addition to the ground team on station at the presidential library in College Station. The extra nine jets served as backups to ensure mission success.
“It was reactionary to make sure we had the requisite number of aircraft with spares to make sure we could fill [the request] with 21 aircraft,” Hagge said.
The extra nine jets comprised of five airborne spares with four more spares on ground ready to support.
Cmdr. Justin Rubino, assigned to CNAL, served as the forward air controller on the ground. He remained in radio contact with the aircraft to match the flyover’s timing with the funeral events on the ground.
“I like the responsibility and feel like I had the most direct role in ensuring success – other than the aircraft of course,” Rubino said. “I like being the ‘point person,’ communicating what’s happening on the ground, relaying that information and directing when the flyover occurs.”
Coordinating a nationally televised 21 jet flyover for a state funeral is no small task, but Hagge remains humble, giving much of the credit to the Joint Task Force National Capitol Region, which was responsible for the overall planning.
“As far as the complexity goes, for us, we are a really small portion of an incredibly complex machine.”
The “small portion” included executing the Navy’s first 21-jet formation that originated from an Air Force formation already in existence.
“We pretty much took the Air Force plan and put a little Navy spin on it,” Rubino said.
That “spin” included changing the distance between the aircraft and altering the formation to a diamond shape for the first four jets. The last formation utilized the standard “fingertip formation” in order to do the missing-man pull.
Hagge and his team were honored to support.
“A funeral is a family’s darkest hour and a flyover, an opportunity where we can support them in a time of mourning, means the world to them,” said Hagge. “But this one, I think, means the world to our nation.”