Ted's Aircraft Shop
Formation Flying in L-Birds
page 2
Lined up ready to go, preflighted, gassed up, and all systems “go”, we line up ready to take the runway.  Don demands attention, time check 5:50 pm, “safety and formation discipline”.  “Watch for hand signals.”  Thumbs up, ready to roll.  Four second internals, stay alert.  Leaving the ground at 65 mph, climbing to 500 feet, gentle climbing turn to the left, time to join the formation.  Turn inside,

meet on a 45 degree angle, move up into position off the wing of the lead airplane.  3 and 4 airplanes close up on the right wing, wing tip to wing tip, trailing planes low.  1000 feet of altitude, head out over the lake.  “Lead” waggles his wings, “close it up”, nose to tail, wing tip to wing tip.  (The separation is exactly designed to reduce the potential for collision by keeping proper clearance between aircraft.)  Now into air show formation.  Lead puts his fist up in a signal for number 2 (me) to cross under to the other side.  Pull off power, slide down, move slowly and gently onto the opposite, check position, add power, and climb into position.  Next a double pump of the fist by lead and 3 and 4 four cross over to the other side. We are now into a “fingertip” formation, strong left. 


A gentle turn to the West and we head for the “initial point” outside Elwood City.  Here we go.  Gentle, slow descent to 500 feet, lead airplane lining up on the stadium.  Tighten it up, starting our run.  In close, I can see the intense concentration on lead’s face.  Then a quick “get ready” over the radio, a pump of the thumb distinctly upward, a quick call of “3 pull up”, and up goes Chuck away from the formation.  The formation of three airplanes with number 3 gone is the classic missing man formation.  A slow turn to the right and head for the barn. 4  crosses over for the right echelon formation as we approach the Zelienople airport.  Switch to landing frequency. Lead signals a break with an overhead swirling motion and breaks sharply left for landing.  Count four seconds, firewall the throttle, and pull sharply in a vertical turn to the left to come in trail behind lead.  “Downwind” call, “base”, close the throttle, “final”, keep you distance, and land behind lead.  Not so hard after all. 

Roger Mapel, youngest member of this team, and Bob’ son, is our pitch hitter.  He is currently a pilot with US Airways. As the newest member of this flight exhibition team, I am in distinguished company.  With 350 hard won flight hours spread over long dry spells since the U.S. Air Force Academy, I am the least experienced.  Not a bad pilot, mind you, I am working up the learning curve in the art of military formation flying. 


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