Formation Flying

Sorry for the late post, it's been a busy week and a half (as a reward, long awaited videos at the end of this post!) Last week was an interesting week this week as I was told that I would be starting the formation phase of training. This came as a bit of a surprise as students typically end course with the formation phase and I was anticipating the navigation phase before form. However, there are other students who had reached the formation phase but didn't have a partner to start the training with (Naturally formation takes multiple aircraft, so typically two students will be "form partners" for the phase). Because of this, they elected to put me into form with one of these students so that they could finish course. So, last week I got up to do three formation flights, and this week I'm hoping to finish the remaining 4 formation flights to finish the phase! Today was a particularly long day as we had to sit on the ground for 20 minutes with the engine running because the second airplane broke down and the crew had to get another airplane and start before we could takeoff.  Nothing like a lengthy delay in the heat to start the day of flying! : P We were rewarded however with beautiful puffy cumulus clouds to cruise around and admire. Unfortunately none of the photos in this blog are from today as I foolishly forgot to bring my GoPro along : (

Formation flying is an interesting experience as you are trying to maneuver your airplane to be close to the other aircraft, but not too close! This is made more difficult by the fact that you never really get "locked in" to place. What I mean by this is that you'll never get your throttle set perfectly, and get the aircraft set up in such a way that the airplane just stays in position. You have to make constant adjustments of position and power to stay in one place in reference to the lead aircraft. These constant adjustments require a lot of finesse and anticipation and can take some time to refine. Furthermore, because you are never in a position where the aircraft simply stays in place, 100% of your focus is on the other aircraft. As the wingman you never look inside the cockpit for altitude, airspeed, or navigation. The entire time is spent staring at the other aircraft to maintain the required visual references to maintain position. When in close echelon formation (side by side), aircraft will be about 10 feet apart from each other.

In a formation, the lead and the wingman have very different responsibilities. The lead is responsible for navigation, lookout, radio, and basically everything else surrounding getting the formation to the right place at the right time. The wingman's responsibility is simply to maintain position and "formation integrity" with lead. 

So, what are these "visual references" to keep in alignment with the lead aircraft? Below is an image from the point of view of the wingman in the "echelon right" position. In this position there are three primary references to maintain position. The first aligns the tip of the nose of the aircraft with the tip of the wingtip. This ensures that the aircraft are on the same plane with each other. This same reference can be used to make sure the wingman is on the right "line" reference from the lead. Again you want to ensure the wingtip and the nose tip are aligned. It is possible for only one of these two references to be true at a given time, for example, the nose and wingtip could be level with each other (thus on plane), but not aligned (one on top of the other), meaning the wingman is out of line with the lead. Finally,  the wingman will try to align himself with the hing line of the rudder on the tail of the aircraft to get the correct horizontal distance from the lead aircraft. In this position, both the wingman and lead pilot can clearly see each other, and many commands are given using hand signals rather than radio calls. This way pilots can communicate operationally when there is a need to maintain radio silence, or when one aircraft has a radio failure and cannot communicate.

There is also a line astern position where the wingman will align himself behind and below the lead aircraft.

Now for the videos! Below is a video I put together from my CF-18 ride I got a couple weeks back. An absolutely amazing experience that really gave me insight into the world of aviation that I hope to get into!

Next video is a short video of me coming back from my first solo in the Harvard II and my solo dunking put together by a good friend of mine on course. He's a super talented cinematographer, and I was very happy he took some time to put this together for me. Check out the rest of his work on Vimeo under the name Tango.Kilo.Film !

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