Honoring his legacy; Red Tails support fallen Tuskegee Airman’s memorial with flyover

Missing Man Flyover

100th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcons perform a missing man formation July 7, 2019, during the memorial service for Lt. Col. Robert Friend at the Palm Springs Air Museum, CA. The missing man formation was dedicated to Friend who participated in 142 combat missions during WWII as a Tuskegee Airman pilot with the original 100th FS. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Hayden Johnson)

Lt. Col. Friend Memorial Service

View of Lt. Col. Robert Friend’s memorial service July 7, 2019, at the Palm Springs Air Museum, CA. One of the current 100th Fighter Squadron F-16 Red Tails, left, was on display for the ceremony. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Hayden Johnson)

PALM SPRINGS, Ca. --

Red Tails from the 187th Fighter Wing performed the Missing Man formation, an aerial salute for a fallen member, for Lt. Col. Robert “Bob” Friend, Tuskegee Airman pilot, during a memorial ceremony July 7, 2019, at the Palm Springs Air Museum, Ca.

During Friend’s 28-year Air Force career, he was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group in the Theatre of Operations. He first flew the P-47 Thunderbolt, but later transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. He piloted the P-51 for two years during WWII where he flew 142 combat missions.

“Col. Friend leaves an unbelievable legacy here,” said Col. Brian Vaughn, the 187th Fighter Wing Vice Commander. “We are honored to be here to support. It means a lot to the community that we serve, the nation that we serve, but most importantly to the family. The family is the backbone of the Air Force. Without our families, we cannot serve. So we’re here to return the honor to them and serve them as they have served us.”

The missing man formation consisted of four 100th Fighter Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. In the flyover, the “number 3” aircraft leaves the formation and flies straight up to the “heavens”, symbolizing an “angel going home”, Vaughn described.

“The missing man formation is a rare formation that we give only to those that have the highest of honors, such as one of the original Red Tails.” Vaughn said. “We’re hoping to give the family emotional support, to show that we love them, that we care for them, and that we’d fly across the country to fly a special formation for them, and to make sure they know they’re a part of the Red Tail family.”

Friend’s lasting impact was evident at the memorial ceremony. Words like legacy, honor, and humility were heard in every conversation about him.

“He gave tremendous amounts of time to the service.” said Fred Bell, Vice Chairmen and Board Member of Palm Springs Air Museum and close family friend. “He was a patriot. He was humble. He never viewed himself as a hero, just that he was doing his job. I’m a better person from having known him.” 

The ceremony was a chance for Friend’s family and friends to recognize his legacy and provide a glimpse into the man he was. 

“People loved Bob.” Bell said. “He will be truly immortal because he had so many people that loved him. That, I think is the impact on the family and the impact on us and for your squadron, flying their colors. Remember the legacy [of your unit] and that you’re standing on the shoulders of giants.”