#19, 6/19/94

Maintenance Item #13

*** Formation Flying ***

By Lee Beery


Although this is certainly not a maintenance item, I feel it is a topic that many members will find interesting.  Formation flying can be done safely and without stress. The following is based on material I have collected over the years and from my personal experience.  The secret to formation flying without stress is proper communication and the individual contracts.  Let me explain!


The flight leader has a contract to fulfill with those flying off his wing. #1, he is the forward-looking eyes.  No one else is responsible for spotting traffic.  #2, he navigates and holds a constant heading.  #3, he sets the altitude and holds it solid, trims the aircraft for hands-off flight.  #4, he also communicates for the flight and the only one with an activated transponder.  All others in the flight have their transponders set on "stand by".  #5, he sets his power (RPM) as instructed by the last person in the flight.  #6, he will advise the flight of a heading change, climb or descent by radio and will advise the flight if an RPM change is coming.  Actually, the flight leader's job is not that difficult, but he must be able to fly straight and level and know where he is going.


The in trail, diamond, line abreast, Vee and fingertip formations are too demanding, so lets fly the step down echelon on our leader.  To make this easy in our Vargas, place a 2 inch length of electrical tape on the inside of the windshield (both sides) three inches forward of the aft edge and eighteen inches up from the bottom.  Now when you form up on the leader, position your aircraft so the flight leader's plane is just above and the same length as the tape on your windshield.  Now you are approximately 200' outside of the leader and 100' below him.  Now adjust power and keep the leader in position above your window marker.  The wingman's contract is, #l, he is to trim his aircraft for level flight, relax but keep a watchful eye on the aircraft he is formed upon.  #2, he must be prepared to make frequent, small adjustments in the power setting.  #3, the last plane in the formation controls the leader's power setting to prevent the formation from stringing out.  Once the flight has formed up, the speed can be increased until the leader is just short of his normal cruising RPM.  We never talk about MPH because speed indicators are not as accurate as tachometers tend to be. Normal communications would be from leader to group and from Tail End Charlie to the leader on 122.75.  When a turn is coming up the leader will, for example, request echelon right for his turn, announcing turning left once the group is in position, and while turning left, reduce RPM about 100.

Once all have made the turn, T.E.C. will tell the leader to up his power.


That's all there is to it.  Why not get a Varga friend and fly somewhere together.  My only other advice is to never fly formation unless the flight has been thoroughly discussed on the ground and all details have been worked out and thoroughly understood.