Latest AT-6 Flight Formation

By, Dr. Lionel D. Alford, Jr.
Aerospace Engineering Consultant
Experimental Test Pilot

25 January 2012

Formation in an AT-6 with PH-1. The AT-6 is the weaponized follow-on to the T-6. It has 7 hardpoints, an Electro/Optical Turret, the brains of an A-10, and a 1600 shaft horsepower turboprop engine. PH-1 is a T-6C.

Our job today was to ring out the aircraft in formation training and a checkout. PH-1 was doing the checkout, and we were along for the formation and the training. I flew front seat, and it was a blast. The AT-6 has power to spare and is super responsive.

We led a 10 second interval takeoff and PH-1 rejoined on us. From there we led the formation out to El Dorado for formation work. We started with a pitchout and rejoin. That’s where the lead signals a break usually 5 seconds, and the other aircraft follows after that time. You signal a rejoin with a wing rock in the direction of the rejoin and start a turn. The other aircraft flys up the rejoin line with some overtake (airspeed) and comes into a wingtip position. After the rejoin, we moved into wing work. In wing work, the other aircraft stays tucked up on your wing in wingtip position, and you fly aerobatics together. Additionally, you change the side of the other aircraft with a signal and they try to make the "cross under" without falling out of position. Unfortunately, the clouds were a little low so we couldn’t get any over the top maneuvers. We gave them a good workout as far as we could go. I think it was a challenge. The trick with leading wingwork is that you want to be very smooth. Not so slow that you stairstep the aircraft, but smooth and controlled all the time. Then we worked our some echelon turns. Echelon turns are accomplished level and are a real challenge by themselves. We kicked the other aircraft back to close trail and led that with some gs and near over the top attitudes (90 degrees in bank). The point in close trail is to keep the aircraft aligned just behind the tail of the other aircraft with a similar fuselage angle. You basically try to keep the aircraft aligned–that looks best and is the challenging part. Plus you don’t want to fall out (let them lose you). From there we moved them out to extended trail and tried to lose them on purpose. Extended trail is where the lead aircraft maneuvers extensively and the follower tries to keep up with about 500 to1000 foot spacing. It’s kind of like dog fighting, but that’s not what it’s called ;-). Hey, this is the kind of stuff you do in formation. We were just making the typical UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) type formation sortie. When we were done with leading, we gave PH-1 the lead and let them take us through the paces.

The high points were these. On the first rejoin, I had about 50 knots overtake. The other pilot with me said, "You’re going to have to overshoot (go under the other aircraft because you aren’t in a position to rejoin)." I just said, "Watch this." The AT-6 has such great power control for slowing down, I just pulled some good gs and yanked the power back to idle. She eased up into position. It was great. In extended trail, they couldn’t shake us even a little. We had power on them, but the AT-6 is just a fine flying beast. I had PH-1 in the pipper almost the whole time (we did put up the Air to Air pipper).

When we’d had enough formation wingwork, we took up the lead again and headed to El Dorado for a formation instrument approach. A formation approach is necessary when you lead another aircraft through weather to land. We made the approach to a missed approach and then led the formation in two practice fly-bys. A fly-by is accomplished to display an aircraft in formation during an air show. All went well so we headed back to Beech Field (BEC) for a pitch out and rejoin landing. Since this was an all Air Force crew, we used mostly formation signals and AF formation procedures–all was well in the world. I like learning the Navy stuff, but it is comfortable to use the techniques and skills you learned at mother’s knee.

Great flight. Great aircraft.