After reading Steve Mosier’s great story about the non-flyby at Osan, Korea, it triggered some of my old memory cells and I recalled the following event.
During the 1970s, I was a pilot in the Puerto Rico Air National Guard (PRANG). We flew the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter from San Juan International around Puerto Rico and the islands and practiced our various air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
Many of us were airline pilots for our real jobs. We lived all over the East Coast and commuted to San Juan to fly the “Zipper,” as it was affectionately known. The F-104 was a great Air Guard airplane because it had a very short endurance and we rarely flew more than one hour and thirty for a day’s pay.
A good friend of mine and fellow Zipper jock, Bill, had come down with a very serious health problem and subsequently passed away after a short illness. We were all shocked at his passing and wanted to have a proper send-off for he and his family.
We both lived in Miami, and his family said his wishes were to have his ashes scattered at sea. This was no problem as I had a boat and we could accommodate that. But we pilots, many of us who lived in Miami, wanted to give him a proper Air Force send-off.
We asked the squadron in San Juan if they could send a flight of Starfighters to nearby Homestead AFB in South Florida to do a missing man fly-by, but the logistics and expense of such an endeavor was prohibitive and they reluctantly declined. We asked the Air Force at Homestead if they would support a similar fly-by with their Phantoms, but they also declined for similar reasons.
So, we planned a small ceremony at a county park along Biscayne Bay near Homestead, where we could gather to send off Bill’s ashes in my small boat and bid him farewell.
Now, Bill had been an airline pilot for Pan American for many years and quite a few of his airline friends and family were in attendance, along with his family and our PRANG friends. We were all disappointed that the Air Force could not participate, but then we spotted a very large Pan American Boeing 707 out across Biscayne Bay that was turning and descending towards our gathering.
I don’t know who the crew was or how they knew about the timing and location of the gathering but here came this huge airplane with four engines burning black clouds of kerosene at maximum power and descending very, very low over the water aiming straight at us! There was a deafening noise right over the top of our small gathering and then a beautiful pull-up and 180-degree turn, climbing out on course to the east.
There was not a dry eye in the crowd and to this day it was the most impressive fly over I have ever witnessed.
I do know that there were no passengers on board because it was a cargo flight, but I never asked any questions after that and I don’t think that Pan American’s management ever had a clue about it. We never heard of any complaints and we were so grateful to the crew, whoever they were, for making a sad day a little brighter for all of us.
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Cal, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dry eye at a fly-by for someone who has ‘flown west’. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 707, 4 Zippers or when our Daedalian flight put together a four-ship of RV8s for one of our members, they are always very meaningful — I can only imagine the sight and sound of that big, glorious aerospace vehicle going overhead.
Had the unfortunate task of doing a memorial service for the German exchange officer in my squadron who was lost on a night intercept sortie over the Gulf of Mexico (extreme disorientation). As we left the chapel at MacDill, I was escorting his widow when the 4-ship of F-16’s came overhead. When #3 pulled up and out (in full A/B), she collapsed and, fortunately, I was able to catch her and carry her to the staff car we had waiting to take us back to the squadron. The Flight Surgeon stopped by to check on her and she was OK, just overcome by it all.
Excellent short story. Luckily before ADS-B.
Never thought about ADS-B!! Good catch!
Nowadays airliners are also monitored from start to shutdown and everything is recorded. I have a friend who said he had to visit the Chief Pilot one day because he accidentally retracted the flaps a couple of knots below schedule and that tripped the alarm and got him in trouble.
I have wet eyes reading this story. I think of my older brother, CFI, that taught me to fly, and a pair flyovers that were part of his memorial service, one before and one after. The service was held in the very corporate hangar where he had spent many hours caring for aircraft he flew. I can just imagine the sight shared here of that DC-8 making that pass and turn. Chokes me up! God bless that crew for making that memorial pass!
What a heart warming story! I am in awe of the crew who pulled that off without any of you knowing about it! And, it sounds like they did it right – very LOW and NOISY! Awesome!
You have had a great career as well! My hat is off to you.
Enjoyed reading your story. Wondering if you’re currently living in the Miami area? If so would enjoy meeting you. We recently moved here from SC and looking forward to learning to know more of the aviation community. We lived in PR for a short time and also have a good friend who lost the engine in his Stearman and crashed. (He and pax both were ok) So a couple different common points of interest. Thanks,
Glad you enjoyed reading about the “Big Surprise”. No longer living in Florida but it is still a great place to fly.
Excellent story Cal…even better because y’all didn’t know it was coming….small fly in & air show this coming Saturday the 16th at 5A9, Roosevelt Memorial at Warm Springs… come on down Maddog
Hey Maddog, glad you enjoyed the article. Can’t make this weekend but have fun!
HI Cal, Nice story.The missing man fly over gets me every time,even when they fly east. Looking forward to seeing you and your team in the spring.Best regards, Gus 008
Thanks for the compliment, Gus. Looking forward to flying with you guys next Spring at CHILHOWEE!
I enjoyed this brief story regarding the F-104 flown by PRANG. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and remember these awesome machines flying overhead on their way to “Muñis”. Incidentally, my father (David Sr.) worked for Pan American seven years (before he saw the handwriting on the wall) and took us to work whenever he could – in a manner of speaking he was a “legend” and had folks stateside scratching their heads as to how he ran stuff in operations. His aircraft of choice was the 707, particularly the “720”; but, he did share a wild story regarding an F-104 doing a fly by at dusk and overheard the conversation between the tower and inbound flight from his issued walkie-talky. “Noisy son of a bitch”, as he used to call it; but, as he related, that jet illuminating the area with its afterburner was something to see! Still, an awesome machine to see in flight… at least before being replaced by A-8’s in 1975. The last time i saw one was at the Smithsonian with the old NASA markings and blue & white paint, my first time up close was at the Wings Over Houston airshow in 1988. Starfighter Aerospace still flies them out of KSC for NASA-related tests, one day I’ll make time visit and to see them. Thank you for sharing this story with us.