Planes flying in formation?

Just saw 4 planes go by close together (lined up 1 behind the other), seemed pretty low. They seemed to be big but it was at night so it was hard to tell . I assume they were military ? I don’t think commercial planes would travel that way would they?

We have an AF base 45 miles away to the east but they only have F-15 fighters. They could have been traveling from Ft. Bragg/Pope Air Field which is around 50 miles south of here.

How close together? feet, or hundreds of feet? Commercial aircraft don’t travel in formation but they can appear to be very close together when they are in fact separated vertically by 1000’. Given that you have AF bases near by, it’s probably just military traffic. An AF base may only have a certain type based there permanently but that doesn’t preclude other types from visiting.

I think I live in the same area as you (Cary, NC, right?) and I think I saw the same formation. Given the slow rate they seemed to be moving, I bet they were helicopters, which I have seen flying in formation in the daylight hours numerous times. There is an Apache helicopter battalion based in Morrisville.

I used to live in NE Baltimore, close to Martin State Airport. The A-10’s stationed there would often fly in groups of four in very close formations, often very close to the ground. They would usually fly in a diamond formation, but when they got close to the airport they would switch into a single line formation. Then they would peel off one by one and would land in very rapid succession, not quite as close together as they had been flying, but definitely without the usual spacing between landings that you would see with the private planes flying in and out of there.

This video shows you how quickly they take off from there (basically, one right after the other as soon as the first one’s wheels leave the runway)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFwJTLV-Z34

This video shows you how low they fly in the area:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Brc9uPuIVJU

This shows you how close they would typically fly together:


(note that I did not take any of these videos)

The planes you saw may not have been A-10’s but if they were flying that close together it’s almost certain that they were military.

I don’t think civilian aircraft fly in formation at any altitude. And I doubt you’ll ever see 3 or more identical (except for tail numbers) civilian aircraft flying together. And I don’t think being 50 miles from one’s airbase is that far for a flight of military aircraft.

Yes they could have been Apache choppers because I do see them around here on a regular basis. But normally I see them in pairs, not 4 together. One of the 4 seemed to have less lights on, maybe they had an equipment problem. They could have been headed to their base at RDU. In case anyone is wondering , these choppers are NC National Guard, not Army. I don’t think there are many guard units that fly Apaches. Don’t think Ft. Bragg has Apaches but I could be wrong.

Airliners won’t but other civilian aircraft may do. Still most likely military though.

A common version of formation flying is a glider aerotow.

In rare cases, two (or more) gliders might be towed by a single towplane.

How do those great air to air shots of planes get taken?
Air shows.
Oskosh

Formation flying is dangerous. The closer the planes the harder & more dangerous to do.

It is hard work & if it is close, that much harder so why would they do it real close just to go somewhere?

Most formations you see that are not part of something special like an airshow, are really sort of loose, & the longer the flight, the looser they will set up just for safety.

I have never been a pilot in the military ( legally ) but in many years of civilian flying, I have been in many tight formation flights. Wings so close to the other plane that it is in between the other planes wing & propeller tight.

Dangerous & very hard work.

It has been a long time since this happened. I was flying pipeline in this one company that had 3 almost identical airplanes. We flew off of a controlled airport with radar & approach control, was an international airport. The full ‘Monty.’

The tower & approach control people knew us very well, knew what we could do & we were never cranky about extending patterns to allow other plane in, or argue about directions or clearances etc… So once in a while they would do something nice for us.

Several times when the airport was not too busy, & we were all leaving at the same time, we would contact the tower one after the other saying we were ready to go. They would ask if we wanted to go all together? “Affirmative.” one of us would say. ( Yea Haw!!! under our breath ) (Really not good to do in just that way without paper work etc., so they were going out on a limb for us which made us all the more ‘good guys’ in the daily mess that they usually had to handle with normal traffic. )

The tower would come back with XXXXX* flight of three, cleared for takeoff with a right turn to 235 degrees as soon as possible. ( always the direction we needed to get to the start of our local lines ) This was way fun for us. We would take off so tight that we had wing overlap, would fly at about 40’ & down the runway just a bit to where there was a good gap between two hangers, formation turn to 235º with a slow climb holding as much speed as we could ( C-150’s so it was not that impressive Bawahahaha ) as we left the airport traffic area. Did a ‘flight’ contact with Departure control who would let us descend to work altitude in a few miles with a “Good Day XXXXX.”

  • = Company Name

Night formation flying is much harder and without special training, a thing most civilians pilots should really stay away from.

If you can see the aircraft lights, you should be able to hear the engine sounds & with their apparent speed, probably tell if they were jets, piston engines or helicopters. ( 99% they are military if it is dark. )

Faster, heavier & being identical aircraft make it some what easier, but it should not be done without training and practice.

I was in a 22 plane, single echelon formation of Beech, T-34’s at Oshkosh in the late 70’s. God that was a dangerous mess. Was lucky that some of the pilots knew what they were doing. It is crazy that 22 pilots who had better sense all agreed to do that. :smack: