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My question is about Jets/planes performing acrobatic formations to stay well-aligned with the other jets/planes in formation. I could see a laser-distance meter coming in handy.

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No they don't. They rely on visual cues. Basically each pilot aligns features. For example, it could be the wingtip of the plane next to him/her to a letter or feature on another plane.

enter image description here
(YouTube) POV; the drawn circle is merely an illustration.

And they all follow the lead's commands via radio. As when to turn, when to pull, for how long (based on the tone of the voice), etc.

As a team gains experience, they start to bring the distance closer. Not usually noticeable by the crowd.


Source: Blue Angels: A Year in the Life

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  • $\begingroup$ Also, they were doing such formation flying long before the use of laser meters became practical. E.g. the US Navy's Blue Angels team was founded in 1946, and first used jets in 1949, per Google. Lasers weren't invented until 1960. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 22 '18 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ And all military pilot training includes heavy emphasis on formation flying. Demonstration teams carry this skill to a greater degree, and do maneuvers in formation that are not generally done fulfilling general military missions, but the skills involved are identical. $\endgroup$ – Charles Bretana Mar 22 '18 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ They may use formation lights, which is basically your "visual cues", but with the visual cues specifically mounted to the aircraft in order to aid formation flying. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Mar 23 '18 at 0:14

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