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Missing Man Formation

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The missing man formation is a form of Due to the Dead performed by fighter jet pilots. It consists of a flight of aircraft performing a formation pass over a fellow pilot's funeral, either with one position conspicuously empty or with one pilot sharply pulling away (straight up or up and sideways) just over the site while the others maintain course.

Although primarily used in the military air force context, its variants can be used in other situations, as well. Compare Empty Chair Memorial, 21-Gun Salute, and Riderless Horse.

Since this is often a Death Trope, beware of spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z: Inverted in a filler episode. Four of the five members of the Ginyu Force are dead, and the dead four try to recreate their iconic poses but lament that there's a missing space where their still-living leader should be. It's also not so much a memorial as it is an attempt to keep doing what they've always done.
  • Simoun: The Sybillae have the special ceremonial Ri Maajon of the Fields to honor their dead, which requires five Simouns—exactly one short of a full choir. Chor Tempest performs it after Mamiina's death, effectively mutinying during a state of emergency to do so.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the first Iron Eagle movie, Doug Masters asks the fighters that rescued him if they could fly the formation for "Chappy" Sinclair, who was shot down during the mission or so everyone thought. The USAF major in command of the flight responds that they were waiting for Doug to take the lead position.
  • The end of Thirteen Days has one over Major Anderson's casket.
  • The Right Stuff, as befitting a movie about test pilots.
  • At the end of Star Trek Into Darkness during the re-christening ceremony for the Enterprise, which doubles as a memorial for all who died, including Christopher Pike.
  • Done ridiculously insensitively in The McConnell Story, in which McConnell's widow is advised of her fighter and test pilot husband's death by the missing man formation.
  • Done in Big Hero 6 after Baymax's Heroic Sacrifice.
  • A two-man version at the end of Furious 7 paid tribute to the departed actor Paul Walker, where Dom and Brian drive side-by-side until Walker's car pulls away and drives into the sunset.
  • The ending of Armageddon (1998) shows a squadron of jets performing this maneuver for Harry, who sacrificed himself to save the world.
  • A formation occurs in Top Gun: Maverick during Iceman's funeral.

  • The Honor Harrington book Echoes of Honor opens with Honor's funeral. The Missing man formation is used, as it is for all pilots in the Royal Manticoran Navy. The whole scene is a Tearjerker, even if you just read the previous book and know that Honor's not really dead.
  • Performed in Barrett Tillman's Warriors as part of a memorial service for an instructor pilot killed in a crash.
  • Happens at the end of Joe Ledger novel The Dragon Factory during Grace's funeral.

    Live-Action TV 

  • In early 2017, Linkin Park introduced a logo consisting of a stylized "LP" (which they had used since 2007's Minutes to Midnight) encased inside a hexagon to represent the 6 members of the band. After the death of frontman Chester Bennington in July 2017, the upper left side of the hexagon was removed to represent the loss.
  • Following the plane crash that killed Lynyrd Skynyrd front man Ronnie Van Zant (along with two other band members and a tour manager), the surviving members of the band put on a tribute in which they played an instrumental version of their hit song "Free Bird", with the spotlight focused on the unused microphone.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, an allied flight performs a missing man flyby over the November City after Chopper is shot down and he fails to bail out due to a damaged/faulty ejection system.

    Western Animation 
  • In Beast Wars, Optimus, Cheetor, and Silverbolt fly overhead in the missing man formation during Dinobot's funeral. Earlier in the episode, three ravens do the same, foreshadowing Dinobot's death.

    Real Life 
  • While it is unknown who first came up with the missing man formation and when, its origin can be traced to the RAF, most likely during the World War I. Some say that they first flew it for Manfred von Richthofen, the original Red Baron.
  • Several athletic teams have used a variant on this formation after a team member's death.
    • In August 1979, after New York Yankees catcher/team captain Thurman Munson died in a plane crash. In the game following Munson's funeral, the team took the field at Yankee Stadium but left his spot behind home plate vacant for a minute.
    • When USC football placekicker Mario Danelo died shortly after the Trojans completed their 2006 season, the formation for Trojans first point after touchdown in the 2007 season consisted of the other regular ten players used for a kicking attempt, but no kicker. USC maintained that formation until a delay of game penalty was assessed.
    • In 2007, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was killed by burglars. In the first Redskins game after Taylor's death, the Redskins defense took the field for its first play with ten men instead of the usual 11, with Taylor's position left empty. Additionally, after Taylor was posthumously named to the Pro Bowl, the NFC teamnote  also took the field with only 10 players on their first defensive play.
    • Similarly, when University of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz died in a car crash over the summer of 2016, Nebraska sent its punt team out for the first time in the 2016 season without a punter.
    • In the first game after the 2021 death of former All-Pro wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, the Denver Broncos lined up for their first snap from scrimmage with ten men and no wide receiver. As in previous cases, they didn't actually run a play in this formation, but rather simply stood in the formation until the play clock ran out; their opponents, the Detroit Lions, had been informed of the plan ahead of time and, as they had agreed to do, declined the penalty.
  • A short video of fighters from Homeworld 2 flying in this formation was posted online as a memorial to a popular founding member of Relic Entertainment's official forum.
  • During World War II, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was a Wing Commander in the RAF. At his funeral in 2004, the missing man formation was flown with three modern fighter jets and one WWII Spitfire.
  • At the funeral of Hans-Ulrich Rudel on 22 December 1982, 2 F-4 Phantoms of the Bundeswehr crossed their paths in the air, another F-4 made a dive (immitating Rudel's own divebombing during WWII) and another 2 F-4s with a F-104 Starfighter flew a formation above.note  Just as expectable, Bundeswehr officials denied knowing anything except usual scheduled training flights.
  • Following the death of George H.W. Bush, the 41st President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, out of respect for President Bush's service in World War II as a Navy pilot, the United States Navy performed a Missing Man Formation for President Bush as he was laid to rest at his Presidential Library in Texas, with 21 F/A-18 Hornets flying over the library, with the final four performing the Missing Man after the other 17 flew past. All following the end of the Air Force band performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the honor guard of all five branches of the armed forces stood at attention and said their final salute and goodbye to their President and Commander-in-Chief as 43rd President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and their family also said goodbye to their patriarch.
  • During Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner was followed by the usual flyover going into a "missing man" formation. Making this even more significant was that the date of the game (January 28, 1996) marked the 10-year anniversary of the Challenger tragedy; and the lead pilot, Richard W. Scobee, was the son of Challenger's commander Dick Scobee.