Planes from eight different squadrons based out of Oceana, Virginia, deployed to Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base to take part in the historic 21-jet Bush Memorial Flyover.
The U.S. Navy paid tribute to late George H.W. Bush with a massive memorial flyover involving 21 aircraft that flew over former President’s interment ceremony at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, on Dec. 6, 2018.
According to the Navy, this particular flyover was one-of-a-kind, at least for the service, as it is the largest to be conducted in recent history and was used in lieu of the traditional 21-gun salute used for heads of state. Since Bush was a naval aviator himself, who flew the Grumman TBM-1C Avenger torpedo bomber with Torpedo Squadron Fifty-One (VT-51) from the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) during WWII, and survived being shot down over the Pacific in 1944, the U.S. Navy arranged a “strong naval aviation presence” at this memorial service.
“The plan all along was for a naval aviation show,” said Capt. Kevin McLaughlin, commodore, Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, in an official release. “As a carrier aviator like he was flying avengers in World War II, it was just a very fitting and apt tribute to bring together a 21-plane flyover for him with the missing-man formation at the end.”
In the beginning, the plan was to perform the flyover at the ceremony in Washington D.C., but it was then decided to move it to his internment in Texas, quite distant from the east coast fighter wing that was chosen to conduct this historic flyover. The squadrons that would take part in the historic event included Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31, the “Tomcatters”; VFA 32, the “Swordsmen”; VFA 83, the “Rampagers”; VFA 87, the “Golden Warriors”; VFA 103, the “Jolly Rogers”; VFA 105, the “Gunslingers”; VFA 131, the “Wildcats”; and VFA 143, the “Pukin’ Dogs.”
The lead aircraft, piloted by Capt. McLaughlin, was chosen to be a VFA-103 “Jolly Rogers” F/A-18F Super Hornet carrying special markings for the memorial flight that read “President George H.W. Bush, 41” as the pilot’s name on the canopy rail and “Barbara, First Lady” on the systems operator’s position.
After some quick planning, McLaughlin flew to NAS Fort Worth JRB in Fort Worth, Texas, Dec. 4 with a group that included a total of four aircraft from Oceana. Twenty-six more aircraft along with the pilots and other squadron and wing personnel arrived Dec. 5 and 6 leading up to the flyover the afternoon of Dec. 6.
According to Cmdr. Pat Coffey, the air operations officer at NAS Fort Worth JRB, who coordinated efforts on the installation’s side, there were quite a few issues the base had to overcome during the whole evolution. Among them, fueling so many aircraft with only three fuel tracks and weather-related issues for the controllers. Dealing with the fuel, the Navy fuel teams relied on other assets including the Texas Air National Guard and the Air Force. For what concerns weather, midday Thursday saw low-cloud ceiling, rain and cold temperatures.
“Coming in, we had weather down to a minimum which posed a problem for the air traffic controllers,” said Coffey. “They [the pilots] were hand-controlled from radar. So our folks were directing them the whole time, telling them when to descend or turn right or left, all the way down to the minimum. They did not break out of the clouds until that minimum of 200 feet.”
The photographs in this post show the aircraft launching for the flyover. For the flyover itself, you can find some videos online. This one is particularly cool (so much so the U.S. Naval Air Forces account @flynavy retweeted it) even though it does not show all the formations:
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.
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