My name is Pete ‘Pman’ Collins and I want to be a formation aerobatic pilot, This blog post and those that follow will follow me from having no experience in any kind of formation into hopefully being a reasonable pilot able to do my mentor proud.
My intention with this series of posts is to give people who have no experience of formation flying some idea of how my progress has gone, and hopefully show people that although its a tough skill to learn its not impossible with patience, grit and abit of luck.
So…Me, before we compare where I started formation flying from, I think it might be beneficial to give you abit of background as to what experience I had before I started this learning curve. I have played flight sims for years, dating right back from Fighter Bomber on the C64 :
I have flown many different sims throughout the years, mostly combat I have to be honest. The civvie simulators have never done much for me. I have played around in and out with FSX but that has been it.
I play DCS with Track IR 5 and a X52 Pro, My pc is capable of playing the game as high as it will go, I have to say that I wouldnt be able to do any of this without a decent HOTAS and Track IR. Without these these I doubt that it is possible to fly formation aerobatics.
Ok, so where to begin. Well a friend and I have had DCS A10c for quite some time, I had previously brought Black Shark 1 and written it off as too much of a time sink to make anything worthwhile of it, fast forward a year and I had seen the Virtual Horsemen’s videos and got a bit inspired to have a go myself. So I picked up a copy of P51 and dropped VTA / VH some messages on facebook and I got invited to come and have a go with them. So thats exactly what I did.
Now the first time I joined the Virtual Horsemen server will go down as a session of legend with Rock, I only had DCS A10c and DCS P51 Mustang, The Pony it was, One minor problem though was that it took me over 30 minutes to get the Mustang started and considering I didn’t have Flaming Cliffs 3 at this point it I was left little choice but to contrinue, So eventually I manage to get the aircraft in the air and into somewhat of an even flight path and before I knew it Rock was flying close to me and asking me on Teamspeak to “just hold still” … Hold still he says, easier said then done when its taken me half hour to get the damn motor running, when he asked me what kind of curves I had all I can think of is that I dont wear a bikini…forget talking about control customisation…I was in total amazement, awe and scared like hell… All thats going through my mind is “Dont hit him, fly straight, Dont hit him….ohhhh f…..” So having had Rock Fly by me and around me like a hawk circling an injured rabbit I called it a night and was just astounded to the precision of his flying and how can he do that when my plane handles like a shopping trolley with 2 wheels missing. Back to the drawing board, Could I actually do this?
Few days later its the weekend and Rock sends me a message on facebook saying that he is popping up a public server and to join up if I can, so I go on a bumble determined that I will be able to start the Mustang in less time then it takes a roast dinner to cook… So I pop off into the dedicated server for a few practise starts, he isn’t getting the better of me this time! First time everytime for about 4-6 goes on my server and I head into Rocks server confident that I will at least be able to get it off the ground… Do I hell…. 3 burnt out starters and 5 Mustangs later, Rock has fallen out of his chair laughing and I just about get it to the taxi way…not a good start. By this time Rock has run out of fuel and gone back up in a Sukhoi. The only things going through my mind I cant repeat in this blog but suffice to say that if you are of adult age you will have a fair idea!
The rest of the evening went by without too many hitches, Rock flying around like he was born with wings, me flopping about like an upturned crab trying to right itself. There was another pilot with Rock this evening that I was following around, He goes by the name Sawamura and watching Rock and he rolling through the skies was a sight to behold and left me in no doubt that this was something I wanted to be able to do. The question now was how?
After some more thinking and getting to know the P51 in DCS I got hold of Flaming Cliffs 3 and set about playing around with the jets in that, Rock had another server up this time midweek and I joined up in the Sukhoi Su-27. After a chin wag we go to have a flight together, Rock offered to give me some pointers on formation flying so putting his aircraft straight and level he instructed me to close in on him from below and behind putting me into what was to become known to me as ‘Slot’, Slowly getting my aircraft nearer and nearer I was edging closer before Rock makes the call to come about as we are about to fly off the map into territory unknown (Arghhhh I could have sworn it didnt take me that long!) So having been thrown out on the turn like a runaway train I start stalking up behind him again only to hear that familiar voice encouraging me to “get closer, come on…your so far back I cant see you…” So just as we get back to Sukhumi I am what I consider close enough to his rear that I was starting to think that I was going to hit him. Feeling quite pleased with myself I start to relax a little, then I F2 and see that I am about 100ft behind Rock, in those 2 seconds I think I wiped out confidence that it had taken me an hour to build up.
When you first try formation flying it feels A LOT closer in the cockpit then it looks from the outside. I thought I was flying closer to him then lycra clings to a gymnast but in reality it was more like the kind of reaction people give to West Ham supporters…! The session draws to a close after a running break and I go on to review some screens from my first session flying formation in DCS. I have included some pics here for you to see where I started from.
The next day I am talking to Rock again over facebook and he seemed to be impressed with my initial efforts and we spoke about how much I wanted to do this, if I was committed to learning this art. There is so much more to this skill then simply being able to pull rolls and loops its all about co-ordination with people that you may well never meet. People that you have to be able to trust to do their bit and do it right.
After a good discussion on the topic Rock offers to train me up in this art and this is when my training really begins…
In Part 2 I try my first 4 ship formation with Rock, Sawamura and Fadec. I lose the plot during a loop and I get my first pass where by I am close enough to be in the same screenshot