Text and Photos by Bruce Estes
I recently was invited by Richrd Bristow to ride along with him for a few flights in his RV-6 while he practiced formation flying with some of
his RV owner buddies. This was capped off with a “flyover” to dedicate the opening of an athletic field in Lincoln. The flyover was requested by the City of Lincoln. Pretty cool stuff.
Formation flying is very disciplined, practiced, and all flights are briefed prior to the flight and debriefed after the flight. The basic formations and procedures date back to before World War II. Most of the communication for changing positions in the air is done by hand and head
signals. Radio communication is kept to a minimum. More information on this can be found at several sites online. A pilot new to formation flying is not allowed to just join up and fly with others. He or she will have to study and learn the various procedures, then fly with a seasoned formation flying copilot, and then be allowed to fly with one other airplane (a two ship formation), and only then be allowed to participate in two ship formations without a copilot. All of this is as a wingman, placing your airplane is a very defined position off of the lead airplane. Next is flying as part of a four or more ship formation. Richard was lead pilot as part of a five ship formation when I rode along with him. Generally, your head is about 30 feet from the next pilot’s head. The wingspan of an RV is either 23’ or 26’, depending on the model of RV. In other words, you are CLOSE. One of the first things you notice is that even in very calm air, the airplanes are always moving around a little bit. The pilots are constantly moving the throttle and control stick to stay as close to their required position as possible. Then, throw in climbs, descents, turns away from you and into you, changing position in the formation to create a different formation, etc. As a wingman, you NEVER take your eyes off of the lead airplane that you are positioned off of. Lead watches where you are going, and you follow lead. You are a very busy pilot if you are flying in formation.
Charlie Rogers, one of our EAA Chapter 1541 members, flies a red and white RV-8. Charlie is new to formation flying, and says that this is the most intense, fun, flying that he has done. He is tired after a thirty minutes practice flight. Practice flights include formation take offs, join ups, break aways, lazy eights in formation, changing positions, etc. I’ve included a few photos taken from the right seat of Richard’s RV-6. The camera perspective makes the airplanes appear further away than they actually are. It is very cool when you look around (which as a passenger
I could do) and see several airplanes in perfect position around you, and watch everyone change position on cue.
A nice photo of Charlie Rogers flying his RV-8 in tight with Richard Bristow’s RV-6 during a formation practice session in January, just one example of the many and diverse aviation activities undertaken by members of EAA Chapter 1541 on an ongoing basis.