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Last Flight Traditions

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Well-known member
Feb 10, 2002
Hello all,

In the near future, one of our pilots will be taking his last flight with our company. Could be the last flight of his career. We are planning to call out the fire trucks and spray the traditional arcs of water over the aircraft after his last landing and pull the ATC tapes with controller congratulations contained therein, etc, etc, etc...

Where and how did the tradition of calling out the fire trucks for a pilots last flight come from? I'm thinking it's origins are military in nature and could have something to do with battle damage??? I'm probably totally wrong and can't find any data on this subject. Any information would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

As an aside; How about some insight to the tearing of the shirts of recently soloed pilots? I'm sure someone told me about this years ago but how about a refresher?
The "last flight" traditions have been around for quite some time as a gesture of thanks, respect, and recognition to a certain individual for their years of service.... This is pretty much solely an "airline" salute, meaning I have never heard of a Learjet or other corporate jet being involved in the "final salute" (sure it could/has been done however I don't know how "excited" the pax in the back would react since this is a "different" ball game of flying not to mention the reaction of your company)- IF you are planning do do this I would look at it from ALL angles.....

Good article in AOPA last year regarding Barry and his final LAX arrival that may be of interest to you- - - -

my $.02


3 5 0

Thanks for the prompt reply... and warning??

Most corp departments I know of have always participated in this tradition. I've been involved in several and it is a moving experience for the individual. Normally, the pax and crews have such a close relationship from decades of working together that the pax know whats going on and are more than happy to participate as well.

I'm just looking for some historical background on the tradition.

Thanks again,
Thanks for the prompt reply... and warning??

CL60- not a warning at all....It is just my personal experience from friends who have attempted to do this and their company felt it was not "business like" or "professional" to do this ( I disagree)- I wish you the best of luck and I think that what you are proposing is a great send off for your fellow pilot.


3 5 0

I have also heard "IF" you arrange a wheelchair to meet the aircraft and wheel him into the FBO or wherever it will get a "few" laughs-lol
Funny that this thread would come up today. Just saw an Alaska 737 getting a washdown as it was leaving ANC this afternoon. Dont get to see that everyday...
Found this out there somewhere...

"Shirt Tails.
There has been a long tradition in aviation related to cutting off the shirt tails of newly soloed student pilots. One story has it that the practice began because of the student need to clean his goggles.

Pilots had scarves to use in keeping their goggles clean but the student had to use a shirt tail. The cutting of the shirt tail was giving the student the symbolic scarf of a pilot.

At one time trainers were two place tandem seat airplanes. The instructor sat in the back seat. Some trainers had a speaking tube that worked so that you could hear

It was noisy in the airplane and the instructors learned that the way to get the students attention and direct him was to reach under the panel and yank on a shirttail!

At student solo, the removal of the shirt tail, eliminated the way the instructor used for directing the student. The student was now a pilot and didn't need the jerking on a shirttail to fly."

compliments of http://www.whittsflying.com/Page5History.htm
Big Water Pistol

The flight leaving ANC yesterday that got the water cannon salute was for the last of the "prop Captains" at Alaska Airlines. He finished his career with 38 and 1/2 years with Alaska...
The "fini" flight ritual has been in the Air Force since at least Vietnam. Pilots coming back from their final mission in country would get a hose down by the fire department, water fire extinguishers, buckets of water, water coolers, or anything they could find the soak the final flyer. Spraying champagne and taking a few swigs with your buds is also often part of the tradition which continues today whenever anybody has their last flight at a unit/base. They are memorable events meant to commemorate your tour of duty.

I never could quite get the smell of champagne out of one of my G-suits! Walking around in a soaking wet flightsuit with boots full of water and champagne feels great on a hot summer day (I'm sure it felt great in Vietnam), but it can be uncomfortable for those unfortunate few who end their assignments in the winter!!

Is there anybody out there who can take the tradition back further than Vietnam? Korea or WWII perhaps?

There are also lots of traditions associated with a first jet solo--including throwing guys in pools of water or mud puddles.
About 5-8 years ago there was a story in the Wall Street Journal about an American Airline pilot's last flight.

After departing Honolulu he flew down Waikiki beach at 500 feet in an L-1011 (maybe DC-10) full of passengers. Witnesses reported looking down on the jet from their condo balconies. When the press tried to contact AA, they responded that they had no comment because the pilot was no longer with the airline.

This article was posted in my flying club's office for quite some time. Sorry I don't have any more details.

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