HOW TO BE A BETTER WINGMAN
;e real Mustangs don't fly
inverted, but the mirror pass
looks pretty cool. Photo by
and visually acknowledge the inputs you are giving it. When we
fly, especially on the downwind leg, we both rock our wings occasionally to make sure the right aircraft is responding. One thing
that really helps to keep us from getting confused are
the ID numbers on the fuselages. Ok, just kidding!
Actually, I think we would do just fine now if both
planes were painted black, but when we started, different paint schemes were a good thing!
The number three rule of flying formation is to
keep everything straight and smooth. Don’t do any
movement too quickly. If Steve and I are both flying
parallel to the runway, then we can’t cross into each
other’s paths. Easier said than done, but it is another
“buffer” that helps us to maintain our separation.
The correct use of rudder is imperative in formation flying. It is so helpful in nudging a little this
way and a little that way—to keep it smooth. And
rudder is imperative to keeping a straight line down
If you find that you are drifting into each other,
don’t start cranking around on the sticks and get
whirling parts and wings flashing around each other.
Just gently guide your aircraft slightly away from the
other plane’s pointy parts. Nice and gentle is a lot
easier to recover from than both planes going in com-
pletely different directions (or the same direction) in
what you want to do before getting airborne! Now we emphasize,
“smooth and easy, smooth and easy.” We have successfully accom-
plished “fourmation” with two Stukas at Warbirds Over the Rock-
ies several years in a row with pilots Jimmy Cowman
and David Breedlove. These guys know how to have
fun flying formation, and man, does the audience
love our mock-dogfights!
Steve is #1 and I’m #2 in the formation. Steve’s
job is to keep everything smooth, call out what he
is doing, and help me keep up in turns by throttling
down. You see, as we turn, I’m usually on the “
outside” and any NASCAR fan knows the car on the outside of a turn has farther to go and therefore must
go faster. It makes it easier if the inside car, or plane,
goes slower so the outside plane can keep up.
As we fly the far away downwind leg, we aren’t
quite so tight. I generally fly above Steve, keeping
some sky between us. As we turn crosswind and get
ready to make a pass in front of the crowd, Steve
slows down a bit and lets me swing around behind
and slightly above him. By checking how different
our wingspans are, I can tell if I am ahead or behind
him in the turn. That should set us up for a good
pass and whatever we want to do: be it rolls, loops,
a bombing run, or a down on the deck strafing run.
The number four rule of flying formation is just
relax and be awesome. Hey, it’s fun!
You are accomplishing a very difficult skill, so
enjoy the sound of those two aircraft ripping down
the runway and the camaraderie that goes along with
it. Another great thing about formation flying is that it takes a lot
of flying to get good at it. Just when you and your wingman get
comfortable flying together, go ahead and throw in another pair!
The fun factor gets multiplied by 4, or 6, or 8... ;
We once had a pair of guys that wanted to “fourmate”
with us. After we got airborne and were more or less together, the
four of us went into the first turn and the other two guys just made
90-degree snap turns leaving Steve and I all alone in our quadrant
of the sky. We learned that it might be a good idea to go over
THE TEAM Steve Forrest and Lyle Vasser have been flying formation together for over 10 years. ;ey currently are flying Top Flite ARC P- 51 Mustangs powered by Zenoah G45s with Robert retracts, Futaba and JR radios, and Best Pilots in the cockpits. ;ey have won several awards for their flying, including Best Formation Flight five years in a row with Jimmy Cowman and Dave Breed- love at Warbirds Over the Rockies.
Lyle Vasser and Steve Forrest with their
Best Flight awards at Warbirds Over Iowa.
Photo by Rich Dean