[ by Charles Cameron — loss and grief, formalized ]
Over North Vietnam, Naval pilot John McCain was shot down out of his intended flight path in his youth, to suffer years of captivity and torture before his release, and after a long life of service in the House and Senate, as his body was interred in the Annapolis Naval Academy Cemetery, one jet from a formation of four peeled away up and rose vertically while the three remaining planes regrouped in formation, the purpose of the gesture, the aviation fuel made available for it, and the honor accorded to the four pilots being, in the words of a Naval Air Force Atlantic release
the missing man formation is a salute performed as part of flypast of aircraft at a funeral or memorial event in memory of a deceased aviator. One airplane in a four-plane formation will pull up vertical to signify the passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens.
You’ll note that the “passing of the aviator’s soul to the heavens” is a theological, rather than a Naval, doctrine, and indeed the gesture is a deeply emotional one, made all the more powerful by the strict discipline required of the pilots involved.
Jets perform ‘missing man’ formation in tribute to John McCain
I just wanted to note, as a religious matter, and as an indication of the power of simplicity, constraint, and tradition in liturgy, the power of this last note in McCain’s funeral passage from Sedona to Annapolis.