39th FTS pilots show respect for fallen Airman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Eric Schloeffel
  • 347th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Six Moody pilots recently honored the passing of a fellow Airmen's father with a missing-man formation over the Air Force Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. 

Lt. Col. Christopher Sabo, Lt. Col. R.J. Stuermer, Maj. Daniel Fischer, Maj. Timothy Mangan, Maj. Michael Rowland and Maj. Roger Suro, 39th Flying Training Squadron pilots, flew the formation in honor of Col. Dennis Fanning, father of Lt. Col. Jon Fanning, 39th FTS. 

Col. (Dennis) Fanning served in the Air Force for more than 30 years flying the T-33, T-38, F-84, F-100, F-105 and F-4. He logged more than 4,000 flying hours and completed more than 155 combat missions in 1969 alone. He also was the first pilot to fire the internal cannon of the F-4E in combat. 

"It was an extreme honor to lead this missing-man formation for Colonel Fanning," said Major Fisher, who planned the flyover. "As members of his son's unit, it was important for us to provide this support rather than pilots from a squadron with no tie to Colonel Fanning. As pilots, we take showing respect for other pilots who served their country very seriously." 

While the original plans called for the standard four-ship, missing-man formation, one plane encountered engine troubles when the group stopped to refuel at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. 

This forced the pilots to readjust their plans to fly the formation with only three planes. 

"The normal missing-man formation features four planes, and the third plane pulls up and away," said Colonel Stuermer. "This leaves a vacant spot in the middle which represents the missing man. Since we only had three planes, we flew with that vacant spot as a phantom for the flyby." 

Flying in formation above Arlington National Ceremony also posed a variety of challenges, said Major Fischer. 

"We were flying over three high density traffic areas - Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan National Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Airport," he said. "Attention to detail is a major factor for us during these formations, because we have to time our arrival at the location to the second." 

During the flyover, the pilots flew with one U.S. flag to show respect for Colonel (Dennis) Fanning. They plan to present the flag to Colonel (Jon) Fanning at a commander's call today. 

"It is very important to us to show this kind of respect for Colonel (Jon) Fanning's father," said Lt. Col. Edward Van Gheem, 49th Flying Training Squadron pilot and aircraft coordinator for the flyover. "Both men are part of the aviation family, and this is how we show our respect." 

Watching from the ground, Colonel (Jon) Fanning was appreciative of the formation the 39th FTS flew for his father, he said. 

"My heart pounded with pride that (pilots from my squadron) flew the missing-man formation at my father's funeral," he said. "Moments after the flyby I looked at my mom who had tears in her eyes, and she told me, 'I got my miracle.' The flyby really left a good feeling in our hearts. 

"Every day pilots fly sorties to train the next generation of fighter pilots to protect and defend this nation," the colonel added. "But only rarely do we get a chance to give thanks to someone who served their country honorably."