Local pilots honor vet with missing man formation


by Bruce Haffner


Posted on May 1, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 1 at 1:00 PM

PHOENIX -- The formation of four World War II airplanes flying over the Valley is a unique sight that had many people looking up on Tuesday afternoon.

I flew the Fort McDowell Casino News Chopper with the formation as they honored the life of WWII ace pilot Lt. Col. Joe Forster.

The Stearman Squadron flight of four performed the missing man formation over Forster's burial at the National Veterans Cemetery near the Loop 101 and Cave Creek Road. The familiar aerial salute features four planes, one of which pulls up and away from the rest of formation. The remaining planes maintain level flight until they're out of sight.

The pilots who were part of Tuesday's maneuvers say flights like that are their way of showing support for all servicemen and women.

Built in the 1940s, the Stearman airplanes were primary training aircraft for new recruits.

Forster trained in the bi-planes at Williams Field, which is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

Forster claimed nine victories during his 155 combat missions. His actions earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross as well as a Silver Star. After 30 years of service to his country, he retired from the military in 1971.

He joined the City of Phoenix Building Department the next year. He retired from his second career in 1990.

He was 93 when he passed away. His family, three children and three grandchildren, watched with pride as the Stearmans flew over his burial in a final tribute.