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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 performing a flyby over a fellow pilot's funeral, either with one position conspicuously empty, or with one pilot sharply pulling away (straight up or 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 and Riderless Horse.

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



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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Sybillae in Simoun 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    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.

    Newspaper Comics 

    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.

    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 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.


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