Slava eroilor aerului!
The 20th of July is designated as Romanian Aviation and Air Forces Day. The day was chosen because it is actually the Day of Saint Elijah the Prophet, the patron saint and protector of aviators. Why Elijah as the patron saint of aviators? For lack of a better description, he “flew” into heaven when God raised him there directly from Earth. Therefore, a more apropos saint you probably could not find.
Each year, there are several events around the country to celebrate the day. The largest of these is presumably in Bucharest, but the celebration itself is rather modest. The streets around Monumentului Eroilor Aerului (The Monument to the Heroes of the Air) are closed off to traffic, and the top brass from the military, a military band, former and current members of the Air Force gather with a small public crowd for an official ceremony.
The ceremony is marked not only by the traditional political and historical remarks which you might expect to hear at a government event, but also–owing to the religious association of the event–by a blessing from several Romanian Orthodox saints. Incense is swung with the thurible, and a group of priests chant and sing blessings.
A flyover follows with a few different airframes which the Romanian Air Force has in its inventory. The Soviet-era MiG-21 (right) is their current fighter jet, though they are in the process of replacing that with the F-16 beginning this year. (Oh yeah, here’s a picture of me sitting in one in early June.) The arrival of their first F-16s later this year will mark a very significant moment for the Romanian Air Force and Romanian military as a whole.
Lastly, a seemingly never-ending procession of wreaths are laid at the base of the statue. Everyone from the president and the military service chiefs to representatives of the commercial aviation industry pay their respects by laying a wreath at the base of the monument. All in all, I think more than twenty wreaths laid.
The overcast skies stuck around just long enough to prevent sunburn, but broke in the end to allow a beautiful day. The ceremony was a success, and an appropriate celebration honoring Sfântul Ilie.