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This weekend the Blue Angels came to town. The weather was less than perfect. A quick look at SkyVector during their show indicated there was an active AIRMET for moderate turbulence.

This made me think about the effects of weather (namely phenomena that can change affect the physical location of an aircraft in flight like turbulence and thermals) on planes flying in extremely close formation.

  • How is close formation flying possible with conditions like this?
  • Is the net effect of this type of weather minimized for planes of this type?
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    $\begingroup$ They are close enough that a thermal that affects one should affect the other the same way. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Oct 4 '16 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer There's a limit, but that's my regreet: I don't have the Sop anymore. $\endgroup$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 4 '16 at 6:32
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Disclaimer: I'm not a Blue Angels pilot so don't know their exact procedures/limitations, but have done a fair share of military formation flying.

Answer:

It is possible, it's just a more "bumpy" ride. Not a huge issue if the turbulence is not severe enough (or of a "rotor" type) to cause uncontrollable rolls in three dimensions.

When flying formation you are separated from other aircraft in three dimensions. In turbulent weather conditions the aircraft position usually results in vertical displacement, not so much in horizontal displacement.

This means the aircraft will not roll into the adjacent aircraft (the roll effect happens when you fly into wake turbulence or through rotors for example), but do more of an "up and down" jump.

The same air disturbance will effect several (if not all) aircraft in the formation, sometimes with just a tiny delay.

Also, the heavier and faster the aircraft is, the less effect the same amount of turbulence will have. If weather doesn't permit a small single-engine piston to fly formation, it may still be workable for jets.

Ultimately, it is up to the flight lead to: - determine if conditions permit close formation - fly the formation to avoid known hazards (for example if the wind is from the N, don't fly on the S side of hills/mountains)

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    $\begingroup$ Would they simply add more spacing if the air is turbulent, or have they drilled so much on a specific spacing that adjusting that would throw everyone off? (best guesses, as you're not a former BA pilot, would be sufficient) $\endgroup$ – FreeMan Oct 5 '16 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ You could do that, but I don't think a display group would. When flying close formation you keep your position relative to other aircraft based on visual cues. I don't know specifics for F-18s, but things like: keep wing tip just below the canopy, see only the bottom half of horizontal stabilizer, keep tail light aligned with rudder etc... BA (and other display teams) practice so much that keeping position, even in turbulence, becomes second nature. $\endgroup$ – c4n Oct 5 '16 at 13:29

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