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First, I must find a plane with the same capabilities to fly in its wake. As a pilot, what would I need to locate other planes near me? Or find and weight on a plane going in the direction with equal cruising speeds to follow? Then would there be and issue of just taking position without asking. Should I ask for permission to do so, from the pilot which I'm shadowing or no I need more?

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    $\begingroup$ "First, I must find a plane, to fly in its wake" What are you following? A Cessna or an A320? Wake turbulence can be very hard on aircraft, and has caused crashes and these incidents/crashes. What airspace are you flying in? What type of equipment do you have on board? How close do you want to be to this aircraft? $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonBeyer I'm just looking in the legality of it and the equipment or knowledge needed to do so for 2 planes of similar capability. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ The "legality" changes based on airspace and how close you want to be... If you are flying in Class A airspace, you need to coordinate this with a controller and they won't break standards to get you in the wake. Same with other controlled airspace. This is different for uncontrolled, and you may be able to get as close as 500 feet, but I wouldn't do that without coordinating with the other pilot. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Justintimeforfun if you're thinking that you can save a few pennies in fuel by riding in the vortex field of another airplane like a goose, forget it. A: you would have to be so close that you are basically in tight formation flying, which is quite dangerous. B: If you are close enough to be riding in the out and up circulation of the other airplane, it will be quite bumpy and unpleasant. C: Extended periods of more than a few minutes in such a tight formation are very tiring. You can drive 6 feet behind a semi and raise your gas mileage dramatically, but you won't want to do it for long. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Aug 10, 2020 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnK Birds are professionals $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Aug 11, 2020 at 1:36

1 Answer 1

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Here are the regulations in 14 CFR 91.111:

§91.111 Operating near other aircraft.

(a) No person may operate an aircraft so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.

(b) No person may operate an aircraft in formation flight except by arrangement with the pilot in command of each aircraft in the formation.

(c) No person may operate an aircraft, carrying passengers for hire, in formation flight.

"Formation flight" is defined in the Pilot/Controller Glossary:

FORMATION FLIGHT− More than one aircraft which, by prior arrangement between the pilots, operate as a single aircraft with regard to navigation and position reporting. Separation between aircraft within the formation is the responsibility of the flight leader and the pilots of the other aircraft in the flight. This includes transition periods when aircraft within the formation are maneuvering to attain separation from each other to effect individual control and during join-up and breakaway.

a. A standard formation is one in which a proximity of no more than 1 mile laterally or longitudinally and within 100 feet vertically from the flight leader is maintained by each wingman.

And there are ATC instructions for handling formation flights but they're too long to quote here; see the ATC Orders 2-1-13.

So, let's assume that the distances between the aircraft in your proposed flight would make it a formation flight, per the FAA's definition in the PC/G. Putting all that together:

As a pilot, what would I need to locate other planes near me? Or find and [wait] on a plane going in the direction with equal cruising speeds to follow?

No idea. This depends very much on the type of aircraft and operation. Two friends in C172s flying half an hour for lunch somewhere? Two Boeing 777s flying internationally? But practically speaking, this would be near impossible without prior coordination on the ground. How would you know what route the other aircraft is following, or what cruising speed they plan to use?

Then would there be [an] issue of just taking position without asking. Should I ask for permission to do so, from the pilot which I'm shadowing or no I need more?

Per 91.111(b) you must have an arrangement with the other pilot first. In theory you could do that in the air but people who do formation flying seriously - and safely! - spend more time on planning than on flying. I don't know many pilots who would form up in formation with a stranger who just asked.

If you're thinking of using the V formation for commercial passenger flights then see this question. Although as you can see from 91.111(c), it isn't legal today, even if the pilots coordinate and work out all the necessary procedures first. And that's without even considering what their employers and insurers would say about it.

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