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Face Formation Fun Flying - June 2016

In the spring of 2016, the Cascade Warbirds planned a weekend formation clinic to train new warbirds owners in formation procedures, and help get the rust out of former formation aviator's skills. After checking out in Justin Draft's Nanchang CJ-6 in April, the timing was perfect for an opportunity to refresh long lost formation flying skills. Sign me up!

Early June weather in the Puget Sound often suffers from low clouds and 'June Gloom' conditions, but we were blessed with a gorgeous weekend of clear skies and warm, even hot, temperatures. Instead of merely taxiing from Paine Field's east hangars to the Kilo-7 west ramp on Friday, I took the opportunity to fly my first solo flight in the Nanchang. The Nanchang had great performance and, as always, any airplane flies better solo! A number of pilots gathered on Friday for practice briefings and ramp walks of 4-ship formation procedures with local and visiting instructors from the RedStar Pilots Association, Formation and Safety Team (FAST), and the North American Trainer Association.

We had about 14 total aircraft in the formation clinic, including three Nanchang CJ-6s, Navions, IAR-823s, T-6s, T-28s and Stearmans. I had the pleasure of 'getting the rust out' in two great formation flights on a glorious Saturday, flying as #2 with Dean 'Frito' Friedt in the backseat of my (Justin's) Nanchang, led by Brad Engbrecht in his Nanchang C-GYKK from Victoria, BC, and Larry 'Spooky' Pine as #3 with his Nanchang N8181C based in Arlington, WA.

The clinic started with a focus on safety, and then each flight conducted a full pre-flight briefing, stressing the need for good briefing guides to ensure coverage of all flight planning information. Over the two Nanchang formation flights on Saturday, we briefed, flew and debriefed formation takeoffs, close and route formation positioning, cross-unders, echelon turns, pitchouts and rejoins, overhead patterns and landing procedures. We were also lucky to have photographer Karyn King flying in the backseat of Brad's Nanchang, where she got a bunch of great formation photos.

On Sunday, we added an IAR-823 flown by Bob Hill as lead, to make a 4-ship. Having a full 4-ship was great practice for more complex cross-under procedures, close and extended trail, and allowed diamond formation practice in addition to all the Saturday formation maneuvers.

Besides the outstanding skills 'rust removal' after the three formation flights, I picked up excellent techniques for formation throttle use in propeller vs. jet aircraft, and learned more taxi techniques to feel much more comfortable in taxiing with the Nanchang's castering nosewheel and pneumatic brake system.

Justin, thanks for the opportunity to exercise your excellent Nanchang and revel in her great handling while formation flying!