Formations taking off and landing together is obviously a thing in VFR, but I'm curious if these operations are possible/remotely safe when the formation is flying in IMC.

Example: A two-ship flight of Cessna 172s is nearing their destination airport on an IFR flight plan. The airport's ATIS says to expect an ILS approach.

Can the formation shoot the ILS approach together, or do they need to breakup the formation and then get sequenced individually?

If the latter, when is the best time for the break to occur? (I'd assume either before or after you get handed off to Approach.)

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    $\begingroup$ To build off this, under what circumstances is IMC formation flight NOT possible? It has to be reeeeeeally foggy on the ground for visibility to drop below 1/4 SM vis, for example—are all clouds at that uniform level of fogginess? How close together are typical aircraft in formation? Etc. $\endgroup$
    – randomhead
    Jan 5, 2023 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ Related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/96772/… $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Jan 10, 2023 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Nah that was good enough for our purposes. Sim crashed just before we established on the localizer anyway. >.> $\endgroup$ Jan 11, 2023 at 13:58

1 Answer 1


Sure, that is in fact, one of the justifications for training military pilots in Formation approaches and landings... To lead an aircraft with an emergency down to a safe landing in IMC conditions when their emergency would otherwise prevent them for executing an instrument approach on their own (instrument failure, or electrical failure, etc.).

But just to comply with an ATC instruction to shoot an ILS approach (assuming both aircraft are ILS capable), would not seem appropriate to me.

... and, before someone else points this out, this is an inherently, potentially risky procedure, which requires a great deal of training and proficiency. It should not be attempted without both.

  • $\begingroup$ My practical needs are in a simulated environment, so the safety issue is mitigated, but I'm far less interested in simulating something that would basically never come up IRL, so thank you for the context. What sorts of minima are needed for IMC formation operations of this sort? $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2023 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ This raises an interesting issue of how training could be done. IFR training is generally done with vision limiting devices (Foggles etc) so the trainee can only see the instruments. Formation flying is all about visual separation from the lead aircraft. You could not safely train for formation flying while your outside view is restricted. $\endgroup$
    – Adam
    Jan 5, 2023 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Adam, the required skill sets between lead and wingman in IMC are as different as night and day. Lead is all about being the smoothest and best instrument pilot they can be, while the wingman just needs to hold position. Really zero instrument scan at all sometimes for the wingman, occasional quick peeks inside for awareness when you can loosen things up. So yeah, no view limiting device! $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2023 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Clearly, the wingman performing a formation approach and landing in IMC is not operating under IFR (Hopefully his/her flight leader is). It might be said that he is operating under FFR (Formation Flight Rules?) He is almost 100% outside the cockpit, flying with reference to the lead aircraft. $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2023 at 22:58
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    $\begingroup$ As to weather minimums, it has been 35 years now since I did this, but to my recollection, there were no distinct weather minimums for performing a formation approach and landing. The published weather minimums for the approach itself governed whether the flight leader could perform the approach. It did not matter if he had a wingman, or not. $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2023 at 23:01

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