Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Formation LITE

Lauran Paine, Jr. writes for EAA's Sport Aviation with a distinctive voice.  I don't always agree with him, but I always look forward to his articles.

This month he wrote about formation flying, but the real topic was flight discipline.  He was a military and airline pilot, but has lots of examples of flight discipline from plain old private pilots like you and (in my heart, not on my certificate) me.

But he omitted a few things, so I wrote the following letter to the editor:

I enjoyed Lauren Paine Jr.'s article on formation flying discipline, but want to add a little from my experience as a CFI-G. Towing a glider behind an airplane is a formation flight, and glider pilots take this very seriously. We have pre-arranged signals, procedures, and contingencies. For example, what if the towplane has an engine failure? For us, vertical position is more crucial: if the glider gets too high it might pull the towplane's tail up too high to allow it to recover. Rather than stars and wingtips, we use markers like stabilizer and main gear on the towplane. We practice changing position on the tow, too, all with prearranged signals. That's Lauren's discipline again. Where things get really interesting is when a slick glider starts to catch up to a draggy towplane, causing a loop in the tow rope. Getting the rope tangled around the glider is a very scary idea. If mishandled, the shock of the rope becoming taut again can break the rope. At the end of the tow, the glider goes up and left, while the towplane goes down and right. Discipline, again.

I got a nice note from editor Mac McLellan this morning saying that they would try to get some of my comments into the magazine. Mac is another guy I look forward to reading: his columns in Flying in the 1980s were masterpieces of explaining technical subjects to a wider audience, and really influenced how I think about aircraft.
I also got a nice note from Lauran Paine...what a wonderful magazine to consider comments so nicely!