Last Flights are one of the Navy jet community’s fun traditions. They occur when a pilot or NFO is flying with a squadron for the last time. They’re a big, fun deal, and it’s a great opportunity for the air crew’s significant other and close friends or family to see a jet (and squadron shenanigans!) up close. I’ve had the opportunity to attend two of Michael’s Last Flights since we’ve been together, and they’ve always been great fun.
Last Flights are coordinated through the squadron, and your loved one and their squadron will set everything up – you just show up to enjoy the show 😉
Generally What to Expect:
- An escort from the squadron will meet you at a pre-arranged location and bring you through the hanger security perimeter; arrive prepared with at least one form of ID, preferably government issued — ARRIVE ON TIME and do what it takes to get there on time. You may miss it entirely if you’re a few minutes late.
- You may be brought into the squadron offices or ready room first, or you may go straight to the flight line.
- It takes several minutes to land and taxi to the jet parking space, where you will meet your loved one. If there are multiple jets taking part in the last flight, it may take even longer for the jets to return, or the jets will return one at a time so each person with a final flight gets equal attention, and your loved one may be in the last jet.
- Everyone available from the squadron will meet your loved one water hoses, buckets of water, water guns, and sometimes, depending on the squadron, champagne is used. It’s a Navy jet squadron tradition to wet-down the pilot/NFO following their last flight with the squadron, and people take a *lot of pride* in getting every inch of them soaking wet.
- You will be able to take photos of your loved one during the wetting-down and afterwards for a few minutes. They will eventually have to go into the squadron offices to sign in the jet and maybe debrief, and they will definitely want to get changed. If you want nice photos with your loved one, you could do those after they get changed and walk back out on the flight line with them, or take pictures in the squadron spaces.
What to Wear:
- I’ve worn nice but casual attire every time (a nice top and coat with jeans and sneakers), but many of my friends prefer to get dressed up.
- Always prepare for the weather. You may be standing outside and uncovered for a long time, so dressed appropriately, wear sunscreen, bring sunglasses, etc.
- I recommend wearing flats, as you will do a lot of walking over uneven ground, and your high heels could get caught in tracks in the hanger, etc.
Little Things to Know:
- You’ll have to wear ear protection of some kind when on the flight line – rules vary, so be prepared to wear anything from foam inserts to headphone-like protection.
- You may not be able to approach the jet to take pictures or greet your loved one (rules vary!). You can ask someone in the squadron to approach the jet to take pictures of your loved one sitting in the cockpit, if you’d like. Once I walked right up to the jet, and once I wasn’t allowed to cross a painted line, which was located 250ft or so from the jet. I think you usually can walk right up to the jet, but I don’t want any readers to be disappointed if I say you can and then you can’t!
- Really anyone can come, but it’s best to keep the crowd small. If you bring children, know that you will have to keep a very, very close eye on them, as they cannot wander or get in the way of flight line operations. The flight line is NOT a safe place for small children. If you bring small children, bring child-sized over-ear protection.
- If you know you’ll go to the squadron Ready Room before the flight, you can bring something for the squadron. I brought snacks to Michael’s most recent last flight, and everyone in the squadron was really excited about the free food. The last flight took place a month before Halloween, so I grabbed a bunch of Halloween candy bags, as well as chips and dips. You could bring a sandwich platter, coffee and donuts, bagels, fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, or anything else. You don’t have to bring anything, and nobody will ever expect you to bring anything (in fact, I don’t know anyone else who has brought party food to her husband’s Last Flight, but I’m sure others have done it at some point); if you’re feeling generous and really love the squadron, squadron snacks are always welcome. Your loved one may give a gift to the squadron too, but that’s unrelated to you or the Last Flight.
- At the first Last Flight I attended, I only witnessed Michael’s landing and wetting down. At the second Last Flight I attended, he and another pilot made arrangements so their parents and wives could watch take off AND landing. This required a lot of coordination with the squadron because we had to have escorts the entire time we were there (which was over 3 hours from start to finish!) and we had to be kept away from anything we couldn’t see or hear, so seeing a take off and landing is rare.
- Arrive with your camera fully charged!
Dos & Don’ts of Photography:
- Ask your chaperone what you can take photos of BEFORE you get to the flight line.
- Never take obscene, political, or risqué photos – this isn’t the time or the place, and the squadron could get into major trouble if inappropriate photos become public.
- You can bring a professional photographer if you’d like. The photographer will have to abide by flight line and Navy rules about photography, so it would be best if you brought someone who has done photography on the flight line before. If you don’t want to hire a professional, bring a friend and use your phone. I’ve never hired a professional photographer for a Last Flight, but I know some families do, especially if it’s the service member’s last flight in the Navy.
- You can take video, but the same rules apply as photography. Make sure you ask your chaperone what you can video.
- Verify the appropriateness of photos with your loved one before posting them on social media. For example, in the past I’ve blocked-out service members’ uniform name tapes and/or their face before posting a group photo on social media. Given the rise of terrorists using social media to find service members and their families, it’s understandable if service members don’t want want their image in uniform linked with their profile on social media, or if that person doesn’t want to appear on social media at all. Please respect their privacy and wishes.
My one big piece of advice is go with the flow and focus on enjoying the experience. You’ll see a lot of really interesting stuff – from Plane Captains communicating with air crew through hand signals (an upcoming post topic!) to the Happy Hand (it’s a thing!) to the real-life Tetris of jet parking, you’ll catch a glimpse of the real-deal Navy jet community. Soak it all in, go with the flow, watch everything, and prepare yourself for the nauseating smell of champagne mixed with jet exhaust stink on a flight suit (ick ick ick).