Pilot - - BEYOND THE PPL -

After sev­eral in­stances when im­pro­vised and even planned for­ma­tion fly­ing es­capades went wrong, Pilot’s Edi­tor needs no con­vinc­ing that proper train­ing is a very good idea.

First, there was the air-to-air pho­tog­ra­phy ses­sion with an old fam­ily friend. A highly ex­pe­ri­enced pilot fly­ing his own Tay­lor­craft along­side our Cub, he still al­lowed his aero­plane first to lunge to­wards ours and then dis­ap­pear out of sight un­der our tail (at which point we de­cided to knock it off!) Les­son One: just be­cause some­one is a skilled pilot it doesn’t mean they are nec­es­sar­ily a skilled for­ma­tion pilot.

Then there was the in­struc­tor and ex­am­iner who said he’d flown in for­ma­tion be­fore and reck­oned po­si­tion­ing his mi­cro­light along­side the Cub for pic­tures would be straight­for­ward enough. He led our de­par­ture and sped to the ren­dezvous point at such ve­loc­ity that he rapidly be­came a tiny dot on the hori­zon. This was fol­lowed by that dot rapidly grow­ing in size as he at­tempted to join up, kamikaze style from a re­cip­ro­cal head­ing, shoot­ing past at a com­bined speed of 120 knots or so. When he did fi­nally join in ech­e­lon ‘as close as he felt com­fort­able with’, he re­mained a cou­ple of hun­dred yards dis­tant, well be­yond the use­ful range of the long­est lens. Les­son Two: just be­cause some­one says they have ‘flown for­ma­tion’ is no guar­an­tee that they can ac­tu­ally do it.

Even after you have been trained and think you know how to make a for­ma­tion work safely it can go wrong. After a brief­ing dur­ing which it was made clear to — and seemed to be un­der­stood by — the PPL/ATCO lead pilot that he would be re­spon­si­ble for nav­i­ga­tion and pri­mary look­out, treat­ing the for­ma­tion as one large air­craft, an­nounc­ing any change in

di­rec­tion and mak­ing gen­tle, de­lib­er­ate ma­noeu­vres, we set off for an air-to-air photo shoot. All went well and we had the sub­ject air­craft tucked in nice and close for the pic­tures when our man, pan­ick­ing at what he thought was our prox­im­ity to con­trolled airspace (it was ac­tu­ally sev­eral miles dis­tant) for­got all pro­to­col — for­got even that an­other air­craft was along­side — and broke hard to­wards us. The silly sod would have killed the owner and me had I not slammed the stick for­ward and ducked un­der our er­rant leader as he skimmed over us with barely a few feet to spare. Les­son Three: even the ‘easy’ role of lead­ing a for­ma­tion re­quires in­tel­li­gence — and, bet­ter still, in­tel­li­gence and train­ing.

Fi­nally, there was the time that de­spite hav­ing both been trained to fly for­ma­tion safely and hav­ing done it for many years, I be­came com­pla­cent and very nearly made one of the old­est for­ma­tion fly­ing mis­takes in the book. Pic­ture a calm sum­mer evening: I am re­turn­ing to the home airstrip and look­ing to my right when a mate’s home­built Pi­eten­pol swims into sight and set­tles in for­ma­tion on my star­board side. For while we bob along in close prox­im­ity and then I de­cide I will break away to port, head­ing for home. As I ap­ply left stick and rud­der, I glance left and there’s an­other air­craft in ech­e­lon. With a wob­ble I mod­ify the break into a gen­tle climb and turn over­head my un­ex­pected wing­man — an­other friend who’d been fol­low­ing the first and sim­ply joined up un­seen the other side. Two lessons here: first, to self, al­ways look be­fore ma­noeu­vring and sec­ond — to every­one out there — for­mat­ing on other air­craft with­out prior agree­ment is never a good idea, even if they are be­ing flown by pi­lots you know. — Philip White­man

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