Procul Este Profani – An Aeneid Reference From The US Air Force 416th Flight Test Squadron Unit Blazon

Not quite Techno-Heraldry , but a pretty cool unit-patch all the same. Not just for the rather cool iconography, but also due to the significance of the Latin maxim.

US Air Force 416th Flight Test Squadron, Edwards Air Force Base, ‘Special Projects’ flight. Now, the squadron in question was basically brought back into being in 1989 for the specific purpose of testing ongoing F-16 upgrades and modernizations designed to keep the by then decade and a half old airframe in active duty for the US and its NATO allies; as well as more specialized packages for same.

In addition to that, the squadron has also found a role running F-16s as part of testing and refinement for other, subsequent-generation American combat jets.

All of this helps to explain what’s going on with the patch. Dragons, in addition to being pretty formidable flying fighters in and of themselves, are also guardians of treasure – and often depicted as seriously knowledgeable and cunning, as well. The rearing down out of a cloud-bank conveys quite handily a “DO NOT APPROACH” sort of vibe, while the grey also recalls the usual colour of their aircraft. And all of this is, obviously, taking place in the sky.

Yet it’s the maxim that stood out for me – Procul Este Profani.

It’s a quote from Book VI of the Aeneid, wherein Aeneas is about to descend to the Underworld to be shown the vision of his people’s future. Having made his sacrificial offering, the presiding seer then shouts the phrase as the journey of revelation is about to begin. I’ll quote from the Fairclough [1916] translation, for context:

“Then for the Stygian king he inaugurates an altar by night, and lays upon the flames whole carcasses of bulls, pouring fat oil over the blazing entrails. But just before the rays and dawning of the early sun the ground rumbled underfoot, the wooded ridges began to quiver, and through the gloom dogs seemed to howl as the goddess [Hecate] drew nigh. “Away! away! you that are uninitiated!” shrieks the seer, “withdraw from all the grove! And you, rush on the road and unsheathe your sword! Now, Aeneas, is the hour for courage, now for a dauntless heart!” So much she said, and plunged madly into the opened cave; he, with fearless steps, keeps pace with his advancing guide.”

The relevant line is the “Away! You that are Uninitiated!”

Pro-Fani, in Latin, means pretty much that – those who are ‘outside’ the Temple and its belonging; those who should not be in or around a sacred space when it is in operation. Not party to its knowledge and the revelatory impartment that is to follow. [Procul, meanwhile, is effectively “go far away/go away really quickly”]

So you can see how it’s a pretty apt maxim for a ‘special projects’ high-tech military hardware testing unit.

All up, I rather like it not just because that is a pretty cool looking dragon – but also because I tend to be pretty keen on (well-chosen) ancient mythological references turning up perhaps unexpectedly in modern spheres. And it’s a pleasant surprise to be reminded that the American military does have some pretty literate sorts with a respect for culture and heritage in such a manner. Rather than, say, just going for the Hollywood approach in referential touchstones.

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