OBBI 240930Z 31010KT 9999 SCT030 31/23 Q1013 NOSIG
A simple gesture of appreciation, a show to spectators, this is a tradition that goes back to maritime culture. Water Salutes have been a sight to remember, and for pilots, a Water Salute is an honor to be given.
The tradition can be traced to early maritime history when ports would sound whistles to indicate favorable waters or caution of large approaching ships at port entries or bays.
With the advent of water pumps, some of the first recorded use of water salutes was to celebrate the birth of a new ship or entry of a guest military ship into a harbor. American Commercial Steam Liners used this tactic to celebrate new ships or just as an attraction for promotional purposes.
Ocean liners and specifically the Transatlantic liners of the past century would coordinate with harbors to present this display for new ships and inaugural arrivals. With time each harbor had a separate set of traditions utilizing the Water Salute.
Random Major airports utilized this Salute in welcoming new aircraft, but nothing based on standard operations. It wasn't until the 90s that Delta Airlines in coordination its Salt Lake City Airport hub to standardized the salute as a gesture of appreciation to all retiring pilots. It was quick to become a popular spectacle and is now an aviation standard in most airlines.
The operation is similar to the maritime traditions, involving an even number of firefighting vehicles lined up for the Saluted ship. In Maritime tradition, the saluted Ship is escorted to or from the dock with water cannon display by its side.
In aviation, the aircraft is directed to a taxiway where the firefighting vehicles are lined up for a curtain shower. Some airport would even consider the sun’s position, presenting a rainbow to the honored pilot.