Flying formation with Nobu

As a layman, one of the thing that fascinates me most about flying formation is not just how close the planes can get (which is fascinating, of course), but how they manage to fly exactly the same speed. Maybe I’m embarrassing myself now with stupid questions, but how accurate and how sensitive is the throttle of a plane? How precise can you set the speed, and then keep it? With the throttle, you adjust the thrust, not the airspeed, right?

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5 comments on “Flying formation with Nobu
  1. Fabo says:

    It’s… complicated.

    Basic idea is that you control your rate of climb/descend by throttle and speed by pulling/pushing on the yoke. But of course immediate result of pulling and pushing on the yoke is for the plane to climb or descend, making it more difficult to use it in conjunction with throttle to control speed.
    You also have throttle lag and propwash effects in small planes.

    A nice option, if available, is to use braking shields. But those aren’t exactly common….

  2. JP Kalishek says:

    Don’t know how to do it myself, I.R. not pilot.
    But I know that the plane(s) holding on the lead will burn more fuel as they keep having to adjust to hold formation.

  3. Austin says:

    Formation flying is actually not quite as difficult as you may think. It does take some coordination, focus, and practice. You pretty much just trim it for the airspeed the lead is supposed to maintain and make small corrections to keep yourself in the same relative spot. To answer your question about the throttle, it usually isn’t too terribly sensitive. Plus, because of all the drag being produced, speed changes take a decent amount of power.

  4. Quill says:

    My mom flies formation from time to time, and has let me try my hand at it. It’s not that difficult in terms of thought, but it’s certainly a coordination thing. To stay in position one must make a lot of quick inputs, it’s not a matter of being gentle necessarily, it’s almost more “twitchy,” especially in anything less than perfectly smooth air. The throttle is probably the most difficult, as one must anticipate energy. One would expect slow, small, gradual throttle changes, but actually, in my experience anyway, it’s quick, abrupt, large power changes. As soon as you start lagging back, punch the throttle, and as soon as you start pulling forward, chop it almost to idle, then quickly bring it back to the regular power setting. The plane I’ve done it in is an RV-7 with a constant speed prop, which gives very quick throttle response and a good breaking effect when the throttle is pulled back. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be in a jet, which has no prop braking effect and a much slower throttle response.

  5. Hawk says:

    Small smooth anticipatory control inputs are the order of the day, a bit of anticipation is needed but flying wing shouldn’t need more than playing around in a few hundred RPM range. Back off the throttle friction if you have one, so you can make smaller changes more easily. It also takes a lot of practice to see the change in relative movement with your lead and make an immediate correction of the correct amount! Funny thing is, the closer you get the easier it is as you see changes in relative motion earlier before they have time to develop, thus reducing further the corrections needed. Of course, if you need to firewall it or chop power you gotta do it but in competition formation that is very noticeable.. Good communication with your leader through briefing, hand signals or radio commands, practice and a whole heap of trust is essential.

    I’ve led two ship formations in AA-1Cs for club and regional competitions at 3m wingtip separation and half a length back for echelon, a length back for trail and it is a blast (during training we learned both lead and wing skills to improve understanding and versatility). Leading up to four aircraft takes more and more anticipation, we take up a great deal of sky and turn radius is rather large ha ha! Formation take-off and landing is also a good challenge as are the little polish details, simultaneous starts, taxi in formation matching control positions, doing engine run-ups in formation, and shutting down at the same instant all give a great buzz!

    Still at the club and instructing now, teaching formation from time to time in C-172s, they can do it but it’s not great you are reliant on the radio for communication as you cannot see hand signals, and as soon as you start getting forward on your position line the wing starts blocking your leader, not so good!

    Quill – you didn’t mention your spacing but perhaps a little closer would help as you get more comfortable? Try to smooth out the throttle changes and watch your lead carefully for any change in your relative speed, as soon as you start moving backwards apply a small increase in power, and when you regain position reduce power by about half the application, same if you start moving forwards think “throttle change then 1/2 back” this should help you even it out, it’s a great feeling sitting in the slot making small adjustments and not moving much at all relative to your lead! (also ensure lead is flying as smooth as he can, constant power setting, nothing abrupt or rapid except in an emergency).

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