Formation Flying

Ok, let’s imagine two F-18s are flying in formation in a right echelon. They have the same speed, heading, wing angle, and vertical speed.

If this is the case, the wingman would say the flight leader is stationary from his reference point.

However, let’s say the wingman turns from his current heading of 360, to a heading of 350. The wingman would see the flight lead drifting to the right, and slightly forward.

So the wingman corrects using right rudder until he is flying along a heading of 360 again and the flight lead is stationary in his view, and the formation is restored.

Let’s say the wingman now has a relative descent rate of 100fpm compared to the flight lead. The flight lead would now appear to drift upward, and slightly The wingman notices this, and corrects by pulling back on the stick.

However, if the wingman is 50 feet below the flight lead, and he speeds up, the flight lead would appear to drift both left, and up. The pilot should realize that neither his heading nor his vertical speed are different from the flight leads, and corrects by slowing down.

It’s important for a pilot to be able to recognize and correct for a relative drift. However, to avoid these excessive corrections, the pilot needs to have a steady hand.

The smallest possible corrections, and a knowledge of relative velocities, will help make formation flying easier.

Ok, How do we keep our velocities the same? Communication.

Speed checks should be given by flight lead anytime speed changes by more than three knots.

When doing loops, power setting checks should be used.

Turns should be announced before hand, including what direction and how many degrees bank.

Seriously, In too many formations the flight lead is almost silent. This almost always kills it.

The flight lead needs to inform the wingmen about changes in almost everything.

(Putting this knowledge to use)
Quick Tips:

Keep your wing angle the same as your leader’s always. If you are drifting, use rudder to correct, changing wing angles could have unknown side effects, and it also doesn’t look good at demos.

Very small corrections. The F-18 Has a VERY sensitive throttle, which makes it easier to over correct for maneuvers.

Don’t stress. Stress reduces your performance. Find stress relieving activities that work for you when flying.

Communicate Efficiently, not just Regularly. Concise and fast spoken terms should be used to save time.

To practice, find a buddy to fly with. Take turns being flight lead, and focus on staying in tight formation.
Find a reference point in your cockpit, like the corner of your HUD, and do your best to keep that point on him. Make sure your wing angle and speed are the same as his, and keep practicing!

If you end up losing him, don’t freak, but deploy your speed-brakes, and fly along his last known heading. Ask for his altitude, and change yours about 50 feet so you don’t crash, and ask to rejoin the formation.


I think the biggest way to sum this up, is fighter pilots are very highly trained, and sensitive throttles and the like don’t make that much difference because they are trained for them, and they know what the lead is going to do before they do it so they don’t end up 50 ft below them…

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The numbers used there were for example. They would actually be 10 or 20ft below if possible.

P.s they were also mainly to let people know about what drifting looks like from your POV

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I know, and I was just using them as an example… 😊

I was just making the point that this is one of these things that is very hard to do in a sim with minimal communication…

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Yea, especially since I wrote this for my Fsx demo team. But DynamX uses discord, which works

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