By Jim McGarvie, AG1 Operations Officer
What is formation flying? Whenever two or more aircraft are flying in relatively close proximity to one another, heading in more or less the same direction, that is formation flight. Depending upon whom you ask, the answer might get a bit more specific. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines different categories of formation flight: All aircraft within 1 nm laterally or 100 ft vertically; two or more aircraft with the same intended route of flight maintaining stationkeeping operations by either or both visual and electronic means, etc. There is even a regulation (Federal Aviation Regulation, or FAR) addressing the subject:
Sec. 91.111 Operating near other aircraft.
(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation.
A formation flight can vary from “same way, same day” (which is how Navy pilots describe an Air Force formation) all the way to the incredible precision demonstrated by the likes of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds.
Why would a civilian pilot want to fly in formation? Mostly because it is an incredible rush. There are few aspects of flight as challenging, precise and satisfying as formation flying. It is just plain (or plane) fun!
As with many such exciting activities, however, there is an element of risk involved. Acknowledging that risk the FAA, some years ago, came down with an edict that anyone who wanted to fly formation in FAA waivered airspace (i.e. an air show) had to have a formation card issued by an agency authorized by the FAA to do so. The principle such organization is known as the Formation and Safety Team (FAST). FAST is a worldwide, educational organization dedicated to teaching safe formation flying in restored, vintage military aircraft and civilian aircraft. FAST is comprised of seventeen signatory organizations whose mission is to support education in the restoration, maintenance and flight of their members' aircraft. One of those signatories is the Commemorative Air Force, of which—as you know—Air Group One is a member.
Periodically, formation clinics are held in various parts of the country sanctioned by FAST signatories. These clinics provide opportunities for aspiring formation pilots to hone their skills and become formation-certified. One such clinic was held 20-22 March at the Ramona Airport (RNM). It was sponsored by Classic Fighters of America, and Chuck Hall Aviation extended a discount on fuel to participants. Along with a few other aircraft there were seven AT-6/SNJ aircraft participating, one of which was Air Group One’s SNJ “Sassy.”
Jay Consalvi at Ramona
Sassy was flown to Ramona from her home at Gillespie Field by Jay Consalvi, a fairly recent member of Air Group One and sponsor of the aircraft. Jay is currently an Instructor Pilot and LSO (Landing Signal Officer or Landing Safety Officer, I can never remember which) flying F/A-18 Hornets at MCAS Miramar. Now, you might think that a military fighter pilot would need little additional training to become qualified as a civilian formation flight in T-6 aircraft, and in Jay’s case you would be right. Despite the fact that the T-6 is quite different from the Hornet, and more difficult in most respects in which to fly formation, Jay received his qualification in record time.
Air Group One is justifiably proud of Jay. We would also like to express our appreciation to Doug Matthews, a director of the Naval Aviation Legacy Foundation and the sponsor of Classic Fighters of America, for putting on a safe and successful formation clinic.