Aviation In Canada

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Formation Flying

I have a newfound respect for aerial demonstration teams like Canada's Snowbirds and the American Blue Angels. Over the last week, I've taken the opportunity to connect a multiplayer session in Microsoft's Flight Simulator and attempted to fly formation with one other person, and then once with three other flyers. The idea of flying in formation is that one person leads, and navigates, while the others pay all of their attention to the leader and watch nothing else. It takes a steady hand, to say the least. It was all I could do to keep a relatively close position and keep him in sight. Up and down, side to side, and faster and slower. Trying to keep it all together without putting us together. Now you think that these teams do this in faster aircraft, where twitching a control could make a lot more difference than in a C172 or the like, and they're doing it merely as little as 3 feet apart! It's a lot tougher than it looks. Now you start to add formation rolls and loops, and it's hard to believe these guys don't get killed much more often. They're damn good.

For information sake, we connected not using VatSim, but by using FS's built-in multiplayer hosting. This allows for a much faster refresh rate of position and therefore a much more accurate picture of where your leader is, which way he's going and so forth. VatSim only refreshes every 5 seconds, and a lot can change in close proximity in that time frame. If you're interacting with others without being that close, VatSim is still better overall. But this experience is one I'll repeat -- at least until I get it right.