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Fundamental to flying in formation is the ability to make corrections to regain your correct position and spacing. This is vital when later operating as a section while in combat, as many tactics are built around the two-ship combat spread. However these techniques are also important to maintaining proper formation while in cruise to target.
Although correcting formation can be accomplished by the changing of power settings, this is actually not the most effective way to correct, as it can be much more difficult to control your rate of closure sufficiently to prevent overshooting, or from dropping back too far. When possible, throttling up or down should be the last thing done to correct your position in the formation.
While maintaining formation, the lead plane should be running at a slightly reduced power level. This allows his wingman/flight to increase their own power if necessary to stay with the leader. The lead plane should avoid running at full throttle or WEP unless the extra power is needed for maneuvering.Minor Correction
Being out of position by a small distance is fairly straight-forward and simple to fix.
For relatively small distances, pitching up or down slightly can be used for correction by controlling the aircraft's speed. If falling behind dropping the nose and accelerating can move you back into position, while if you're out ahead, pulling back slightly on the stick will cause the aircraft to decelerate as it climbs. However these are only effective if the aircraft out of position is sufficienly close that these sorts of minute changes to airspeed will work.This should not be attempted for more significant corrections. If the distance is great enough it may require the correcting pilot to dive or climb for too long to build or cut sufficient airspeed to return to position, which may only compound the problem by adding too much vertical separation. This may also lead to overspeeding or falling too far back, making maintaining your position more difficult.
A Check Turn is a short turn design to maintain formation and distance.
The command to execute the Check Turn is:
[Leader], Check [direction] [bearing].
"Red One, Check right 15." to execute a simultaneous turn 15 degrees right.
The Check Turn can be used when one aircraft is slightly trailing the leader to allow him to regain position. The bearing roughly equals the trailing aircraft's angle off tail. IE, if the trailing plane is 30 degrees behind the leader's tail, the section turns 30 degrees, with the trailing aircraft on the inside of the turn. A Check turn should ideally be for corrections of no more than 30 degrees.
It can also be used defensively if a bandit is closing on the formation from astern to build separation or force a poorer target aspect and still keep a visual tally on the bandit ("kick" turn). When used defensively the aircraft calling the turn should not use his compass to turn, but pick up a visual reference at the correct bearing so he can focus on keeping the tally in sight. The other aircraft is responsible for maintaining position.
When two aircraft are out of position by a moderate distance, the S Turn is an efficient means of correcting. The aircraft that is in front begins to weave in a series of turns, increasing the time it takes to cover a given distance without slowing down while allowing the trailing aircraft to catch up. There is no specific command as execution, but the weaving pilot should make it clear his wingman should maintain a level course.
While correcting for angle off tail, the S Turn can simultaneously be used to correct spacing in combat spread.
This maneuver can be used for corrections of between 30-45 degrees angle off tail, and the weaving pilot may need to increase power to prevent energy loss. It should not exceed a 3G turn.
The Shackle is an extreme method of correcting distance, and can be used for corrections of greater than 45 degrees angle off tail. It is performed in a similar manner as the Thach Weave, with each aircraft crossing the flight path of the other, reversing sides. The aircraft in front will be turning harder than the other to correct the distance. This is a complex maneuver and should be avoided if the section is under attack, and will also require the aircraft involved to add power to avoid losing too much airspeed. The aircraft should not exceed 3G during this maneuver. Defensively, execution of the Thach Weave operates under a similar principle.
The command to execute is:
IE, "Red One, Shackle."
Under extreme conditions, some adjustments to power may be necessary to restore the formation, however care should be taken to avoid accessive use of throttle to correct spacing. Once the aircraft are close enough, the methods outlined above can be used to fine-tune position.