Formation flying is one of those enjoyable skills that needs a few refresher flights at the beginning of each fair weather flying season, not only to 'get the rust out', but also to remember the fine motor skills and smooth handling required to optimize your formation flying. A new member of our Cascade Warbirds group, Bob Stoney, was looking to re-vitalize his formation skills in preparation for formation flying at Oshkosh 2021. Bob is a co-owner of a gorgeous restored O-1E/L-19 Bird Dog, and has lots of Navy/Naval Test Pilot School formation experience, but was looking to get current under civilian FAST Formation and Safety Team rules.
Bob was having issues finding a lead aircraft with comparable speed performance, and Cascade Warbirds member Tom 'TP' Jensen noted that his Cessna 180 might be a perfect aircraft to fly as lead while Bob honed his wingman skills. Although TP has some formation experience, I was requested to fly as lead, while Bob Stoney and Dave Desmon conducted training on my wing. Twist my arm!
We met and briefed our two planned formation flights at TP Jensen's home at the Evergreen Sky Ranch airport near Black Diamond, WA. Evergreen Sky Ranch is a private use airport community with a well maintained 2600' grass runway and gorgeous views of Mt. Rainier looming to the southeast.
We took off as lead in TP’s Cessna 180 in the late afternoon, and I had to throttle back in the climb as we were running away from the Bird Dog, especially since they had two large pilots onboard, which Bob Stoney later equated to '500 feet per minute' of lost climb capability. I led the Bird Dog through a number of formation maneuvers, including station keeping, close and route formation, cross-unders, and a number of pitchouts and rejoins. Bob flew well in all the maneuvers, and the in-flight views of the Bird Dog over the greens of the Great Northwest looked impressive.
With willing support from the tower, we cruised to initial in two-ship close formation to the Tacoma Narrows airport and pitched out on runway 17. Debrief was included with dinner at The Hub restaurant on the field. I led a second formation flight in the 180 with Bob and Dave on the wing as we cruised to Lake Tapps, practiced more station keeping, turns, pitchouts and rejoins, and trail. We flew initial to runway 16 at Evergreen Sky, for two enjoyable formation training flights with lots of learning all around.
After the second debrief, as we helped the Bird Dog launch, the NW skies provided a glorious background of orange fair weather clouds as the Bird Dog departed to the north. Thanks, TP, for loaning your capable Cessna 180 to the cause, and to Bob Stoney for maintaining the Bird Dog as an impressive legacy aircraft.