In September 2012 I was invited to take part in a great experience, my first formation flight! This took place during the Vintage Flying Weekend at the Historic Flight Foundation located at Paine Field in Everett (north of Seattle, Washington).
The flight was in a group of four historic aircraft from the Cascade Warbirds – two Ryan Navion’s (first introduced into US military service in 1948 by North American Aviation. These were piloted by Dave Desmon – our lead aircraft for the day and Ray Roussy), a Nanchang CJ-6 (a Chinese built training aircraft first introduced in 1960, but this one was from 1982 and piloted by Ron Morrell) and the aircraft that I flew in the IAR-823 (piloted by Robert Hill), which is a basic flying and armaments trainer built in Romania in 1974 (in Brasov a town I spent some time in during my travels in 2010). We had an interesting group in these aircraft including pilots who had military and airline experience. Once I had my basic flight safety training and all pre-flight checks and debriefing were completed we were ready to go and it was our turn to head on up. It was really cool and exciting to finally be on the other side of the fence at an air show!
One by one we all took off from Paine Field and quickly passed the Boeing Factory. Such a massive place it is really amazing to take it all in from an aerial perspective!
Once we were all airborne and formed up I could see the other aircraft close to our wingtip and just behind us, but I really had no idea what we looked like in formation until much later when I saw photos taken from ground level! Each pilot sets a visual mark on the aircraft next to them (starting with the designated lead aircraft) and basically keeps an eye on that visual mark the entire time whilst in formation to remain in the same position. I could see as a passenger that this is really hard work as they do get really, really close up there (kudos to these guys for a job well done)! While all this was going on my friend Al in the back seat of the CJ-6, Stan ‘Sundance‘ Kasprzyk a former F-15 Eagle pilot with the USAF in Dave Desmon’s Navion and myself in the IAR-823 got to enjoy the flight and take photos of the adventure. The pilots did a great job and we had a lot of fun!
Then we flew in formation across the Puget Sound, making a number of passes over the port town, US Navy base (right past the mothballed and active aircraft carriers) and the airport of Bremerton. We then landed there to take part in their fly in day to accompany the local Blackberry Festival.
The Blackberry Festival involved aeroplanes, historic cars, historic military vehicles and great blackberry pie! What more could you ask for?
While in Bremerton some of the aircraft involved in the formation flight also took part in a very special memorial ash drop flight to honour the passing of the father of a member of the Cascade Warbirds. By all accounts a very moving moment and something that was highly appreciated by the Norris family. Although I did not go on this flight I was part of the missing man pass flight on departure at Bremerton, where one of the aircraft (the CJ-6) leaves the formation of four by heading straight up.
We then all regrouped before returning across the Puget Sound with great views of Mt. Ranier and Seattle on the way. Upon return to Paine Field the warbirds completed more formation passes as part of the Vintage Flying Weekend.
We all touched down safely then enjoyed a fantastic BBQ dinner at the Historic Flight Foundation with the other pilots, organisers and volunteers who helped make the flying weekend happen. A great way to end the day enjoying good company, good food and being surrounded by the classic aircraft of the flight foundation!
A big thanks to a couple of great Seattle friends – Al & Bob (the pilot I flew with) who arranged it all and invited me aboard. This was truly an experience I will never forget! Thanks guys and sorry it took so long for the write-up!