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40 years later, Sheppard Devil Cats fly their brother home

DevilCats fly missing man mission

Capt. Bruce Ott, a 97th Flying Training Squadron DevilCat Reserve instructor pilot from 1975 to 1978, is pictured in front of the plane he flew then. Ott, who retired as a major, was honored posthumously in February with a missing man flyover, arranged by his former squadron and by his son, Lt. Col. Dennis Ott, who is also a 97th FTS alumna. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DevilCats fly missing man mission

Reserve T-6 instructor pilots assigned to the 97th Flying Training Squadron, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, flew a missing man formation over the Dallas National Cemetery in early February to posthumously honor a former 97th FTS DevilCat, retired Reservist Maj. Bruce Ott. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DevilCats fly missing man mission

T-6 instructor pilots from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, who flew a missing man formation over the Dallas National Cemetery in early February to posthumously honor former 97th Flying Training Squadron DevilCat retired Reservist Maj. Bruce Ott, take time for a photo following the flight. Pictured, left to right, are Maj. John Piekarski, Lt. Col. Stephen Fekete, Lt. Col. Paris Hollis (flight lead), Lt. Col. Mark Carl, Maj. Miles Newsome, Lt. Col. Jeremy Downs, Lt. Col. Daniel Scheuermann, and Lt. Col. Matt Sallee, 97th FTS commander. (U.S. Air Force photo)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas – It's been more than 40 years since then Capt. Bruce Ott flew the T-38 Talon for the 97th Flying Training Squadron, but even a hundred years can't weaken the bonds of family, and Bruce was a member of the Devil Cat family.

In early February, Bruce's son, Lt. Col. Dennis Ott (also a Devil Cat family member), contacted 97th FTS Commander Lt. Col. Matt Sallee to let him know that Bruce had succumbed to COVID-19. The Devil Cats grieved with the Otts, and then they got to work on a plan to honor the squadron alumnus.

The obvious honor would be a missing man flyby, but there were challenges.

"As you might know, getting a request for a missing man flyby through all the wickets in two-and-a-half weeks is unheard of," Sallee explained, but that's how much time they had before the scheduled ceremony and interment in the Dallas National Cemetery.

Bruce, who retired a major, flew with the 97th from 1975 to 1978. In those days, the squadron was at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz.

Dennis, who flew for the 97th from 2014 to 2018 at its current location at Sheppard AFB, Texas, is now assigned to the Air Force Reserve's 10th Air Force in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, so his knowledge of the process and proximity to approval authorities was helpful.

"The longest pole in the tent is always the paperwork," Sallee explained. "Typically getting a flyby approved is a 7-to-10-week process, but Dennis pushed it through in less than two weeks."

While Dennis coordinated the paperwork, Sallee worked to get the aircraft and commander approval from the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard, and Lt. Cols. Paris Hollis and Jeremy Downs did the flight-planning and coordination with Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which is about 12 miles from the cemetery. DFW is one of the busiest airports in the country, so it took a lot of phone calls and radio calls to make it happen safely.

"We managed to get a beautiful four-ship of T-6s - including the (97th) squadron jet as number three doing the pull-up," Sallee said.

While all seemed to be on track, nature worked hard to blow the plan off course. As Devil Cats worked to get approval, schedule planes, and coordinate with various affected entities, "Snowpocalypse" was bearing down on the Lone Star State, bringing snow and freezing temperatures in its wake.

The Devil Cats were not to be deterred, though. The second day after their return to base, they and the four-ship were airborne, winging toward Dallas to honor a fallen Devil Cat above the Dallas National Cemetery.

Sallee's joy was palpable. "We made it happen!"

More than 40 years may have passed since Bruce last flew T-38s with the DevilCats, but time does not erase the bonds of family. Whether four years or 40, the DevilCats were going to fly their brother home.