Formation Flying

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Formation Flying
Editorial/Flight Training

This article is not a how-to, there are many good resources on the internet for the nitty-gritty details, rather this a high-level overview of formation flying as it relates to the general aviation pilot.

Formation flying might be one of the most rewarding things you can do with an airplane, but it is not for everyone. There are risks involved with operating in very close proximity to another aircraft and the only way to mitigate those risks is to train hard and often, and be disciplined in following procedures.

Being able to keep your aircraft in a precise position only by reference to another aircraft is something to be experienced. 


First a couple of definitions:

  • Gaggle – A loose formation that might be of dissimilar aircraft types with no formal training involved. Usually just a group of airplanes going someplace together, five to six airplane lengths or more away from each other – not the subject of this article. (ed- the pic to the left isn’t an example of a gaggle.)

  • Formation – Organized flight that is flown by adequately trained pilots, preferably in similar aircraft types. It includes a pre and post briefing to cover all the pertinent details and go over what went right and what went wrong. Formation flights can be as close as 10′ depending on the mission.
Key points
  • Formation flying obviously has its roots from the military, which provides some context into the formal nature in which a good formation flight is executed.
  • For example, there is a specific leader and he is in charge. He gives the pre and post flight briefings, talks on the radio for the flight, watches for traffic, and manages the group as safely as possible.
  • There is a great deal of pride that goes into a well executed formation sortie. Formation flying is hard and it takes constant attention.  If you do something wrong up there, you can expect a thorough berating during debrief – this isn’t for the thin-skinned, but it is also extremely rewarding if done well.
  • Camaraderie is a large part of formation flying. This is a small sub-set of sport aviation and they enjoy their status as minorities.
  • Your skills have an expiration date in formation flying. If you don’t practice it with some consistency you won’t progress or worse you may be dangerous.

There are clinics and practitioners around the country that teach this discipline. I originally learned by trial and error – NOT recommended. I have since learned for an ex-USAF instructor, which has been awesome. You really need to have an experienced mentor or group to fly with until you get to a base level of skill and knowledge.


The T-34 Association sells a variety of materials on the subject that are very good.

Formation Flight Inc

Just type in ‘formation flying’ and you will see a myriad of good (and some bad) formation videos that aren’t necessarily instructional, but give you an idea of what it looks like. Here is one of mine:





















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