“I still get goose bumps when I think about it.”
That’s how Brig. Gen. (ret.) Dick Stich, a member of the Falcon Warbirds formation flying team, described how he felt about a missing man formation his group performed at a recent veteran’s funeral. One of his aircraft pulled up into the missing man formation at the very time the folded American flag from the deceased veteran’s coffin was presented to the vet’s next of kin. The funeral director said there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd. The incident was relayed by a person on the ground via radio to Stich who was flying the missing man aircraft.
Stich was guest speaker at the Sun Lakes Aero Club (SLAC) gathering April 20 at the Sun Lakes Country Club.
“We often have one of our group members on the ground at the funeral to radio to us the exact time to perform the flyover and missing man formation,” he told the SLAC audience. “We also coordinate closely with funeral directors in arranging the fly-overs.”
“The military doesn’t perform fly-overs at veterans’ funerals anymore, so now our unit does it” Stich said.
“We usually charge a small fee for doing the fly-overs to pay for fuel and maintenance, but even if the family can’t afford to pay, we go ahead and do the fly-over anyway,” Stich said. The group hosts a pancake breakfast the third Saturday of every month to help provide funds for the organization, he added.
Formed in 2013, the Falcon Warbirds occupy a 20,000 sq. ft. hanger at Falcon Field in Mesa. The hangar was built in three months in 1941 and served as a training facility for British pilots during World War II.
The unit now has 10 vintage military aircraft – four Chinese, four American and two Russian.
SLAC takes a break during the summer months, but will begin with its monthly schedule of gatherings the third Monday of each month November through April at the Sun Lakes Country Club Mirror Room. More information on the club is available from Bob Walch at 895-8869 or Gary Vacin at 298-7017 or at the club’s website, www.sunlakesaeroclub.org.