From the South Beach Campground on the western shore of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State we observed this unusual formation:

enter image description here

I only had a Sony RX100 at hand but perhaps the image quality is sufficient to recognize the airplanes.

The picture was taken on July 23rd, at 20.20h PDT (the image timestamp is 6 minutes off), looking roughly NNW. I don't dare guess the altitude, but to the bare eye the small airplane was a mere dot. The two planes flew in formation in a circular counter-clockwise pattern around the north-eastern part of the Olympic Peninsula. They re-appeared two or three (I think three) times. They appeared to fly at low speed.

We realized that we were only approximately 150 km west of Seattle, the Boeing headquarters. Was this a test flight? Which planes are involved? What is the function of the small accompanying jet?

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    $\begingroup$ Possibly two aircraft at different heights in a holding pattern? $\endgroup$
    – Mike Brass
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeBrass That didn't occur to me -- may be; but the relative position was almost identical each of the three times we saw them which appears unlikely for two unrelated aircraft, doesn't it? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ The smaller aircraft was probably filming the larger one for promotion/advertisements. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 8:38
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    $\begingroup$ It's a tow plane :D $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ Did the larger plane ever eclipse the smaller from your point of view? If so, you probably appear in their photos! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 13:45

2 Answers 2


It's a Fedex 777F N894FD in (probably) pre-delivery aerial photography/test flight accompanied by one of Boeing's chase aircraft.

After some maneuvers (shown below), the plane headed to MEM, Fedex's "SuperHub".

enter image description here

The flight on flightradar24: https://www.flightradar24.com/2019-07-24/03:16/12x/FDX9032/2168b4b1 and flightaware: https://flightaware.com/live/flight/FDX9032/history/20190724/0215Z/KPAE/KMEM

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    $\begingroup$ I'd say that's clearly a business jet not a T -33 $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, the engine position and T tail distinguish it. But worth remembering the Learjet's inspiration by 1950's military jets - viewed overall, the P16 often considered the most direct inspiration actually looks more like a T33 than it does like a Learjet. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ I give you the accepted answer because of the flight radar link, even though the leading plane does not look like a T-33 to me either. Very nice to see the flight pattern, thank you for the research. They must have got a few nice pictures circling Mount Olympus in the evening sun. How did you identify the plane? Did you just go to FlightRadar24 and observe all airplanes in that area around 20.20h PDT, spotting the loops I described? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterA.Schneider I had a lot to work with. I knew the time, date and location, the aircraft type (777) and that it most probably have taken off from Everett since it was a delivery or photography flight. $\endgroup$
    – DeepSpace
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ Watching the flightradar24 link the chase plane never shows up as its own aircraft. From what I understand "formation flights" frequently only have one operating transponder, but since the aircraft was delivered to MEM shouldn't the chase at some point show up as a distinct track? $\endgroup$
    – nodapic
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 3:17

It looks like an air-air photography trip by Boeing - the lead airplane is a LearJet, a type often used for this type of job with a turreted camera sticking out of the floor for views to the rear, ie for head-on shots of the target aircraft which in this case is a 777.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a 20 series Lear. Total shot in the dark, but my guess is that the exact airplane is N49WA. $\endgroup$
    – Bronco6363
    Commented Jul 26, 2019 at 17:21

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