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The fini-flight: an aviator's tradition

Lt. Col. Jason Karren, 5th Bomb Wing chief of wing inspections, is sprayed with water by his children after his final B-52 flight at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 12, 2016. With his retirement approaching, Karren’s family and friends celebrated his last flight as an Air Force pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

Lt. Col. Jason Karren, 5th Bomb Wing chief of wing inspections, is sprayed with water by his children after his final B-52 flight at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 12, 2016. With his retirement approaching, Karren’s family and friends celebrated his last flight as an Air Force pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

Maj. Michael Middents, 5th Bomb Wing director of staff, celebrates his fini-flight with his family on the flightline  at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 11, 2016. The fini-flight tradition began during World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Sullivan)

Maj. Michael Middents, 5th Bomb Wing director of staff, celebrates his fini-flight with his family on the flightline at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 11, 2016. The fini-flight tradition began during World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christian Sullivan)

Capt. Mark Brodie, 5th Operations Support Squadron electronic warfare officer, is sprayed with champagne after his fini-flight on the flightline at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 12, 2016. Brodie is on his way to Air Force Test Pilot School. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

Capt. Mark Brodie, 5th Operations Support Squadron electronic warfare officer, is sprayed with champagne after his fini-flight on the flightline at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., May 12, 2016. Brodie is on his way to Air Force Test Pilot School. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The aircraft comes to a screeching halt on the runway and begins to taxi to the ramp. The aircrew precisely parks the jet and finishes up their checks with the maintenance crew. Meanwhile, some 30 yards away, sits a bus full of anxious family members and colleagues, waiting to burst out of the bus and make the short run to the aircraft. A maintainer signals to the bus and they erupt out of their seats and sprint to meet the lucky individual emerging from the jet. He turns and comes face-to-face with water hoses and champagne spraying, cheers and hugs. He just took his last flight in a B-52 at Minot Air Force Base.

Dating back to World War II, aircrew members have celebrated their last flights in similar fashion. Over the years, it has become an Air Force tradition for flyers.

"The fini-flight is a celebration for an aviator, as well as their family and friends," said Maj. Michael Middents, 5th Bomb Wing director of staff. "It formally marks the point at which that aviator departs from their assigned unit or will never fly their aircraft again."

After thousands of hours in the air, solving countless tactical problems on the fly and the numerous lifelong friendships made, the aviator will choose the crew and take off for one last spin in the jet they've come to know so well.

"Families and friends gather prior to the landing and stage themselves out on the ramp where the aircraft will ultimately park," Middents said. "Once the aircraft has shut down , the flyer is met by them and oftentimes a barrage of water from fire bottles and champagne."

For Middents, who just recently had his fini-flight in a Minot BUFF, the experience was bittersweet.

"I chose an 18-hour sortie from Guam to North Dakota, with a delay over Hawaii to run close air support training with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers," Middents said. "I had plenty of time to appreciate everything unique about the B-52 before walking away from the jet for a while."

All the solemn feelings washed away as he caught a glimpse of familiar faces on the ramp.

"Seeing  my family after landing was the highlight of the mission," Middents said. "My wife and kids were fully loaded with water guns and sinister grins, and they let me have it in the chilly Minot spring weather."

Aviators begin their careers by pinning on wings in a formal ceremony and throughout time, meet special career milestones while flight hours build up and qualifications are earned. While every step in a flyer's career is an important one, the fini-flight is the capstone event.

"The flying career is concluded with a fini-flight, an informal event just as meaningful as the formal ceremony during which they were presented their wings," Middents said. "The fini-flight recognizes the honored aviator as one who can now hang their hat with the many Airmen who have gone before them in such a unique endeavor."
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