Welcome back everyone, it’s time for another section of my trials and tribulations with formation flying!
Right, when we left off I was just finishing my first flight with Rock in the Sukhoi 27. A couple of days have passed between my last flight with Rock and, feeling about as steady as an elephant on a unicycle with a flat tyre, I had been flying the Sukhoi around Sukhumi on my own to get a feel for it.
I remember I was late home this evening because, by the time I had got home, showered and on the PC, Rock and the others had already started to get airbourne. I spawned and started up the engines to join them as soon as I could. I had gotten some basic curve settings and changed all my keys around so that they were centred around aerobatics and so I felt a bit more confident in the evenings proceedings than I had the night before.
Just as I am taxing out, Fadec joins the server, so Rock and Sawa respawn so we have the same fuel loads. Soon we are positioning for a formation take off with Rock leading, Sawa on left, Marc on right and me on outer right for finger formation.
Rock had briefed me before the flight that he would call “Four go slot” to indicate my change to slide in from outer right into the slot position as we had been doing last time round. “Brakes on power to 95…” and we were off down the runway like children on the last day of school screaming for freedom. Before I knew it the wheels were lifting off the deck and we are climbing in formation. Again all that I can think of is total concentration on just holding still, for the love of god don’t move and, for all that is holy, don’t sneeze!
So there I am, clinging to Fadec’s wing with gear and flaps still down waiting for Rock to make any of the expected calls and, sure enough, gear and flaps go up but Rock still is yet to call “four go slot”. The next call I hear indicates a left turn back to runway for the photo op pass. At this point I feel like a startled deer in headlights, being stuck out on outer right and now we are making a turn in, I have to be honest, I was less then confident. As we approach turn in I am starting to slide so I break silence and ask Rock when I should be moving to slot. Confirmation quickly comes that Rock had forgotten and he told me to move over (Charming, eh?) Anyway now the task of sliding into slot without:
A) losing it altogether and slamming my aircraft into something less then soft
B) taking out any of the other pilots
C) making a right mess of it and ending up 3 postcodes back in the formation.
Do you remember at school when you used to get picked on by a teacher to perform a task in front of the class, and you just wish that the moon would fall out of the sky so the other kids were looking at something else instead of you? That’s how I was feeling as I rolled left and squeezed the rudder to slip into the formation.
… Option C happened…
I close up on the formation and we set about doing some rolls and a couple of loops, nothing to strenuous to start with. Now, I knew that I was not hanging as close as I should have been. Looking back at it now, I know what I was doing wrong and can counter for it but, for completions sake, I will elaborate. As you are pulling into a loop or a roll with you in slot, the leader will generally power up before going into the climb to start the move. If you misjudge the timing of the leader, you will either over shoot in the lead up to or in the climb itself, or you will fall back with not enough power. Ideally you would go for hidden option #3, which would be to match his throttle control. Now let me give a few words of advise for new pilots reading this: You will get it wrong, a lot. But, it will get better as you learn how to control the throttle. Back then, I was either fully on or off with the throttle and it made my aircraft look like I was a drunk bulldog lashing at his chain. By flying with the same leader, you do get to know how they fly loops/rolls etc and you just need time with them and with your aircraft. I promise you, it will and it does get better.
We must have been doing our 3rd or 4th loop of the display and as we were coming down on the back half of the loop the call went out for the air brakes to be deployed. Mine, however, decided that they didn’t want to do that and they would much rather hide the same way a rabbit would after stealing all the farmers carrots, and by doing this made me look like a right pillock as I flew straight by the formation and out the front as I couldn’t get my airspeed down. Low and behold “Um…Pete, what the F*** are you doing out there?” comes from Rock over Teamspeak. Now, I cant quite remember my reply, but it obviously wasn’t a good one as all I got back was “o….k, fancy coming back any time soon?” Red faced and slightly pissed off, I break off and rejoin the formation at the back of the pack, kinda thankful that I just didn’t hit anyone.
Flying in formation with just a leader and then being effectively boxed in by 2 wing pilots is a strange sensation, and I found it to be both a help and a hindrance. Firstly it helps as it give you more reference points, normally as if you hit them you knew you were doing it wrong. hah! But it acts a bit like a guide to where you should be, it makes it very, very obvious if you get the rudder wrong in a turn or whatever. But it is a double edged blade as any slight movement and wham you have slapped not only yourself but up to 3 other pilots…not a good feeling, and no matter how much Rock and the others say it is ok, I never feel ok about doing it.
Fadec and Sawa break off for the day, Rock and I continue for a while completing a few more rolls, loops and low passes, and, as the evening goes on, I get better at it, especially the rolls and passes. I was still struggling getting the throttle right into a loop but it was progress on the other 2 fronts at least! We called it a night and time was left for me to reflect on the days events.
Rock ends the evening with a few words of encouragement which are greatly received after a hard evening where it feels like I have run 2 marathons while being chased by Justin Bieber…frickin knackered.
Well think this post is getting quite long now, In part 3 Rock introduces me to his signature slogan, I manage to surprise Rock and I also come to realise that this really is harder then it looks…
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