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Formation Flying and Formation Cards - Jul 2023

The Northwest Formation Flying Clinic, held every summer at Bremerton, WA, is the perfect venue to get extensive formation practice and potentially a check flight to obtain new formation ratings or 'cards'. As part of FAST, the Formation And Safety Team, the clinic has representatives of many formation training organizations that are dedicated to providing safe and effective formation training, leading to a formation 'card', which allows the bearer to participate in flights in waivered airspace during public airshows. In 2023, the clinic had representatives from NATA (North American Trainer Association), JLFC (Joint Liaison Formation Committee) and RPA (RedStar Pilots Association), which focuses on Nanchangs, Yaks and other Soviet and Chinese-built aircraft.

Although I had previous extensive formation flying during my F-15 career, I found that in order to effectively train formation flying in the civilian aviation world, I needed to obtain my formation 'card' to document the FAST training I had received. Using a stepping stone approach, cards are issued first for the wingman position, then after a number of wingman flights and lead training, a subsequent card can be issued for the lead position, which also allows the bearer to instruct in formation.

Since my normal formation warbird, the Nanchang CJ-6, was unavailable, I had been practicing using my Piper Warrior as wing, with Bob Stoney leading a prep flight in his O-1 Bird Dog. When I arrived early before the official start of the formation clinic, I found out that Bob's Bird Dog was down for maintenance. As a backup, Dave Desmon volunteered the use of his Navion, which is also compatible with Warrior speeds. Bob Stoney briefed and flew with Dave Desmon in his Navion as lead for my JLFC 2-ship wingman check flight, while Smokey Johnson flew with me as the check pilot in my Warrior. I took off as #2 from runway 20, flew fingertip and route, cross unders, close and extended trail and two pitchouts and rejoins, with one forced under run, all smooth. I took the lead to get Bob Stoney his Formation Proficiency Review, led a pitchout and rejoin, gave the lead back, then flew to initial and pitched out. It was an very enjoyable flight, with very few comments in the debrief, and I finally got a formation card.

During the remaining four days of the formation clinic, besides my own check flight, I had the great opportunity to instruct in T-28s and Nanchangs, and helped support T-28B owner Scott Urban as he also successfully completed his check flight for his first wingman formation card. We had four T-28s on hand, Scott's, Charlie Goldbach's T-28B, and Roger Collins with his two T-28s, specifically T-28C 'Lima Charlie' and combat veteran T-28D 'Lumpy'.

We were able to welcome our Canadian contingent again this year, including Dave Gagliardi with his Nanchang, Chris Cowan in another ‘Chang and Tom Spreen in his Yak-18. I flew a number of flights with the Nanchangs and Yaks, plus an instructional flight with local pilot Larry ‘Spooky’ Pine in his ‘Chang.

The weather was excellent, and all participants enjoyed great flying, good food and enjoyable evening war stories! We capped it off with another epic callsign naming session, this year for Mark ‘Liener’ Darrow, in memory of his strut leak and lean which led to a major overnight fuel leak of Jet-A all over the ramp from his T-34C. Here's to more formation flying and more formation cards again next year!

Dan 'FAGIB' Shoemaker posted 104 great photos from the 2023 Bremerton formation clinic on his Facebook site, great photo work, FAGIB!