ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force was to honor Ronald Reagan with a 21-aircraft flyover during the former president’s funeral procession Wednesday afternoon in Washington.

Five squadrons from the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., were to participate in the flyover, including two — the 335th Fighter Squadron “Chiefs,” and the 336th Fighter Squadron “Rockets” — who participated in combat during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Late Wednesday afternoon, 26 F-15Es (five spares, in case of engine trouble) were set to take off from Seymour Johnson and fly together to Washington, where they were to linger at a spot about 15 miles from the procession route.

The group was to be vectored by three Air Force air combat controllers, including one walking with the horse-drawn caisson bringing Reagan’s coffin to the Capitol, said Maj. Kirk “Panzer” Rieckhoff, an F-15E pilot who left the 335th FS last month for an assignment in the Pentagon.

A single fighter aircraft, flown by Col. Darryl “OBD” Roberson, was to lead. Behind him was to be five four-plane formations, spaced at 10-second intervals, all flying more than 400 miles per hour at an altitude of 1,000 feet.

At the precise moment the formation passed over the caisson, the lead plane in the last formation was to break away to create the traditional “missing man” hole in the formation.

For the pilots, especially the squadron commanders, the Reagan flyover “means a big deal, because they were commissioned during [the] Reagan [years],” Rieckhoff said.

“But it’s going to be a bittersweet ceremony to do, because whenever you’re doing it, it’s because one of your friends, or someone you respect, just died.”

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