Formation flying?

ERAU_Intern

New Member
Any of you folks done any formation flying? Would you like to relate any experience or info about it? Ive been doing my research on the topic, and would kind of like to try it. Just thought I would tap the tremendous well of JC knowledge first.
 

EricT

New Member
Here is an interesting article on formation flying. I hope to get my card at some point as well.

THE “RIGHT STUFF” TO FLY FORMATION

by
Bill Cherwin, President of FAST (Formation And Safety Team)



What does it take to be a good formation pilot? In my opinion, there are three things, or qualities. First, you must be a good pilot. You do not have to be a "Lindbergh," but you must be above average. Second, you must conquer the "psychology" of formation flying. And lastly, you must be disciplined.


A good pilot can handle his airplane in all situations with good stick and rudder coordination. He can fly his airplane well, through its full operating envelope if necessary. He has good judgment and a cool head. The formation pilot must know his airplane so well, that he can operate any switch or control by feel. Some acrobatic experience is also desirable.


Now for the psychological part: Most of us in general aviation get introduced to formation flying when we obtain or buy into a warbird. We have lots of flying time (I had close to 15,000 hours when I started.) and have learned to make decisions as the pilot in command. We are alive today, in part, due to our skill, cunning, and decisiveness. We may have had some good luck along the way, but we long ago learned to look out for our own ass. Military pilots learned to fly formation early in their flying careers, so their command posture had not become so deeply rooted.


Most of us are in vocations where we are "in charge.' We make all the critical decisions in our businesses, hobbies, and at home. We have above average egos and are generally "the boss." Now we want to become a formation pilot. When you become a wingman, you must be prepared to give up most of your command authority. You never give it all up, but you certainly give up 99~. If you try to retain too much, by second guessing the leader, or dwelling on things other than Holding station," your formation flying suffers. Like a computer trying to multi‑task, your brain can not do two things well at once.


Concentration (110%) is the secret to good formation flying. Learn to hold stations and ignore the attitude of the leader. Trying to remain oriented to the world will only tax your already overloaded brain. The leader is your only world for the moment. You must have absolute trust in your leader. If not, then go find a leader on whom you can bet your life.


Experienced formation pilots can remain oriented to the world, but only because their formation flying skills are so honed, that they have occasional fleeting milliseconds to ponder their attitude and speed. Believe me when I say that seasoned formation pilots still concentrate 110%! Formation flying is so much easier when you concentrate.

The third aspect of formation flying is as important as the other two. Just as each leg of a three legged stool is vital to the support of the stool, discipline is essential to formation flying.

Discipline starts with a thorough knowledge of the formation manual, standard operating procedures, and hand signals. Discipline is holding station with a high level of precision. Discipline is taking on a subordinate role as a wingman, and not trying to second guess the leader. Radio discipline is critical to any formation flight.

Items of emergency nature are always appropriate over the radio. Chatter at altitude, en route, if allowed by the leader is OK, but any other transmissions should not be made. Wingmen are always second-guessing the leader, and tend to want to make their ideas known. Disciplined wingmen maintain radio silence, so as not to break the leader's concentration on his job getting the flight safely to point B. As the instructor admonished the student, "I only want to hear two things from you over the radio. Your number when you check in, and Lead, your on fire!"

The leader is constantly thinking and planning ahead, and does not need any unsolicited advice from his wingmen. In fact, pressure from a flight member could distract the leader and cause an accident. A formation flight is not a democratic body. It is a dictatorship run by the flight leader, whose qualifications should have been determined before the flight ever left the ground. Do not volunteer information over the radio unless it is of an emergency nature.

I n summary, to fly formation, a pilot must be "a good stick," be prepared to give up 99% of his authority, exercise discipline in holding station and maintaining radio protocol.

Here is a page with a few links. http://www.mstewart.net/michael/rv/Links/links.htm
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
Word of caution, I DO NOT reccomend pilots that HAVEN'T been trained in formation flight to undertake this endeavor; it's VERY risky. There are specific items/procedures that those undertaking form flying, especially takeoffs and landings, MUST understand, both from a lead and wing perspective. These items MUST be briefed and clear prior to stepping to the aircraft.

Items such as when taking the runway for departure, where does the leader place the wingman and why? What procedures should be followed in the event of lead/wing needing to abort prior to, or during, takeoff roll? What formation references does the wingman use to remain in position? Why is the runway centerline considered a "brick wall" and what happens if either aircraft violates said wall? For form flying: What are lead/wing responsibilities for effecting rejoins? What are the clues for detecting an overshoot? What are the procedures for performing an overshoot?

All that being said, with the proper training, formation flying can be fun and interesting; but I'll never fly formation with someone without the training (unless, of course, I'm instructing them in it). I do get somewhat leery reading AIM Section 7-5-9 covering Emergency Airborne Inspection of Other Aircraft. Again, a VERY risky maneuver. Some of you may remember the death of Senator John Heinz. He was riding in a Piper Aerostar that had an unsafe gear indication. A Bell 412 helo rejoined on the Aerostar, per the Aerostar pilot's request to check out the hear. The two aircraft ended up having a mid-air. Both crews were untrained in formation ops, and it bit them hard. There's very few situations where civilian aircraft HAVE to fly formation, and a word of caution, if any accident/incident arises from formation flight, especially with an untrained crew, the FAA will have a field day invoking 14 CFR 91.13, Careless and Reckless Operation.
 

A300Capt

Freight Dawg
Mike,

While I agree with everything you said about formation flying, I think Senator John Tower was killed on a ASA flight in Brunswick, Ga in 1991 when a propeller oversped on the Brasilia he was riding on.

I do recall the accident you are referring to and know someone famous was on it, but I can't recall who it was right now.
 

C650CPT

Well-Known Member
It was Sen. John Heinz of the Ketchup variety.

As far as formation flying all well said, if you want to kick it up a notch try flying formation in helicopters with 1/2 rotor disk spaceing. yikes. Bottom line you need to be trained in it for it to be safe,successful and fun. Our flight lead always briefed if he flew it in he wanted to hear 5 thumps,for a flight of 6, behind him.
 

A300Capt

Freight Dawg
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As far as formation flying all well said, if you want to kick it up a notch try flying formation in helicopters with 1/2 rotor disk spaceing. yikes.

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Speaking of which, what ever happened to the Army's "Silver Eagles" helicopter demonstration flight team. I remember seeing them in the 70's...Awesome performance!
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
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As far as formation flying all well said, if you want to kick it up a notch try flying formation in helicopters with 1/2 rotor disk spaceing. yikes.

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Speaking of which, what ever happened to the Army's "Silver Eagles" helicopter demonstration flight team. I remember seeing them in the 70's...Awesome performance!

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Thanks for the correction, my bad on confusing Tower's accident with Heinz'.

Didn't the Silver Eagles fly blue/silver Hughes OH-6s?
 

C650CPT

Well-Known Member
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Didn't the Silver Eagles fly blue/silver Hughes OH-6s?

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That's correct, and it is a much better helicopter than the Bell 206 ( OH-58 ), but Lady Bird Johnson didn't own stock in Hughes company ... go fiqure. Special Ops still fly the "little" birds, I wonder what they know that the Army doesn't know.

I am not sure to as why the Army did away with the demo team, probably some jealous ground commander who didn't like the fly boys getting any more attention or money than he was getting.
 

b_r

New Member
Back to the formation flying Q- during my training I would often hook up with instructors—as was discussed prior to takeoff—for some LOOSE formation flying out to the practice area/other airports.

It's pretty fun, and as long as you're talking to each other on the radio, it at least seems harmless. Students* seem to have a blast doing this and it makes for a fun few minutes of cruise somewhere.

I don't think any flight was ever closer than 2-3 full wingspans apart, and we'd never takeoff or land together-I can't imagine anyone without the mil. training that MikeD mentioned doing that.


*with instructors on board-I wouldn't recc. any student doing this on solo flights
 

ERAU_Intern

New Member
Yup, thats all I was talking about. Just a little loose formation out the practice area. Breakouts and Rejoins, that kind of thing. Nothing crazy, and certainly nothing on the runway. I just always thought it would be neat to call FSS and file as a "Flight of...".
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
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Yup, thats all I was talking about. Just a little loose formation out the practice area. Breakouts and Rejoins, that kind of thing. Nothing crazy, and certainly nothing on the runway. I just always thought it would be neat to call FSS and file as a "Flight of...".

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Rejoins are actually one of the most dangerous portions of formation flying, even though seemingly benign. Granted you guys are saying you were keeping it very loose, I'm referring to rejoining to route (wingtip clearance out to 500') or to close (3' wingtip clearance). The wingman REALLY has to know WTF he's doing. You need to know and understand the rejoin "line": how to identify it from the lead aircraft, and how to make corrections to it regards aspect and angle-off. Wingman also needs to know what the proper overshoot procedures are for different types of rejoins; and the leader needs to have the training and SA to monitor the wingman's approach and know when to call him off. ALL these items are CONTRACTS THAT NEED TO BE PREBRIEFED OR UNDERSTOOD, since the majority of formation midairs happen during rejoins. Other items like knowing standard vs non-standard formation for ATC purposes, what the procedures for flight break-up are, or what the procedures for inadverent flight separation (lost wingman) are.

Anything less, and you're rolling the dice with very low odds. Not too smart as an aviator. Formation flying isn't inherently dangerous, it's very just risky. The only way that risk can be mitigated is through proper training, experience, briefing/understanding formation contracts by all flight members, and the respective flight members knowing and understanding the role of the position they're flying (lead, wing, element lead, etc). Just watch the workload go up when one has to penetrate WX in a two-ship to landing. I had an electrical malfunction in the winter in Korea and none of my navaids worked. I had to penetrate a rainstorm on the wing of my wingman, with him doing the navigating of a full HI-TACAN penetration (full procedure track, no radar vectors). Since my navaids were out leaving me with no positional awareness on the aproach (TRUST ME, a VERY disconcerting feeling if, in fact, you're not sitting fat, dumb, and happy on the approach), I had to trust that he was doing everything right, and I had to insure I didn't go lost wingman since at best, the ONLY reference I had to fly off of was the outer 3 feet of his wing with the occasional glimpse of fuselage through the WX and his wingtip position light and inverted T "slime-light" (at times couldn't even see the green formation slime lights on his fuselage). At worst, the only reference were the tip lights themselves. Talk about Spatial-D hell.

I still wil not fly any sort of formation with someone not trained and briefed in same. Just not smart. Being a CFI certainly doesn't count for jack-squat regarding formation flying in my book. Just because you have a CFI onboard who's also NOT trained in formation flying, doesn't make anything safer, it merely becomes the blind leading the blind; and really opens one up to the FAA for the Careless and Reckless Operation of Part 91 if ANYTHING reportable were to happen.

Your FAA ticket isn't worth the risk, IMO.
 

ERAU_Intern

New Member
Thanks MikeD. I appreciate your comments, and I agree that flying in formation without proper training is risky. Unfortunately however, not everyone has the luxury of arguably the best flight training in the world, and further, in some of the most high performance equipment around. In no way was I saying that just because I hold a CFI certificate, I am qualified to fly formation. I just would love the opportunity to try it at some point. Civillian pilots should be able to enjoy this kind of thing as well, dont you agree? And have you checked the prices of some of the "Air Combat" type schools out there? There are just not too many place where you can get this kind of training without paying out the rear end. Anyway. All arguments aside, you are correct about protecting your ticket Mike. And yes, I too have read part 91 once or twice. I guess im just one of those "rare" civillian pilots who is non-content with flying straight and level, ball centered for the rest of my life.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
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Civillian pilots should be able to enjoy this kind of thing as well, dont you agree? And have you checked the prices of some of the "Air Combat" type schools out there? There are just not too many place where you can get this kind of training without paying out the rear end. Anyway. All arguments aside, you are correct about protecting your ticket Mike. And yes, I too have read part 91 once or twice. I guess im just one of those "rare" civillian pilots who is non-content with flying straight and level, ball centered for the rest of my life.

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There's no restrictions on who should be "allowed" to undertake this type of flying. It just requires the proper training. It'd be no different than buying a Cessna Citation simply because you have the money, then go fly it without the training and end up wrecking it ala late Yankees catcher Thurmon Munson did in 1979.

If you're non-content with flying straight and level, that's no excuse to just begin flying formation with no training. I'm certain there's pilots out there with the experience that you could take a few rides with and who could at least teach the basics that you or a partner could build upon in your own flying. You just need the foundation first prior to building the house, so to speak.

Regards the FAA, the biggest killer to one's ticket with Part 91 is the fact that if any incident were to occur, the FAA would first ask "what was the operational necessity for you to have been flying formation at the time of the occurance, especially without any documented proper training?"

Be able to answer that question satisfactorily, and you should have no problems with 91.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
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Fair enough.

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So when do you want to go flying? Get your form spin-up?


I'd actually love to try form in a light civil plane simply because I feel it'd be more of a challenge than a jet, since the light plane is a less stable platform due to it's being more susceptible to turbulence, the presence of prop wash/slipstream, etc.
 

ERAU_Intern

New Member
Yeah, it would certainly be an exercise in concentration. Not to mention, that in a light aircraft, with no extra energy to play with if something goes wrong, you really have to be on top of things.
 
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