Formation flying with the Navion
The Navion is such a verstile aircraft that it should be no surprise that it is right at home in the formation community. Formation flying is a challenging and rewarding skill. Like any demanding activity it is best to approach it with the proper mindset, equipment and training. Formation training has been standardized for civilian pilots through the FAA's Formation and Safety Team (FAST) program. FAST is administered by various signatories which handle the training and credentialing for pilots of specific aircraft models, groups or categories.
Any level FAST card permits you to fly formation in waivered airspace, i.e. air shows. But how many of us are going to do that? You can fly formation at any time in any other airspace without anything other than "arrangement" between the pilots. So why not just fly with the local hot stick or someone who flew F-16's? Formation is a serious and inherently risky endeavor that should be treated with respect. The FAST program was developed by top professionals who merged the best practices of all the military services and adapted them to the civilian world. The structured program not only promotes safety during training but continued review with currency standards. Completing FAST training through any level is a rewarding accomplishment and puts you in the company of some of the best pilots in the country,
Some of the signatories and who they serve:
T-34 group handles T-34's
Red Star covers Russian Yaks , Chinese CJ's and other eastern block aircraft.
NATA includes T-6/SNJ/Harvard, BT-13, T-28, P-51, B-25 (and soon Navions)
TRARON is a CAF training group for all CAF members
JLFC covers all the liaison and training aircraft, i.e. PT's, BT's and L-birds including the L-17 Navion
While each signatory may have some slight differences due to the capabilities of the aircraft types they serve, a pilot with a Wing or Lead FAST card from any signatory will be able to safely fly formation in other aircraft types and with pilots carded by other signatories.
Any Navion can be used for formation from E185s to big engines and canopy or Rangemaster. Lower power just requires better use of geometry to maintain position and a bit longer for rejoins. Friction lock throttles are preferred due to abrupt power changes required. Likewise, during early training geared engines will be subject a lot of abuse due to power changes.
It is best to start formation training in a formation clinic. Clinics will have a ground school to cover all the basic formation
procedures and radio and hand signals. Each trainee gets paired with a formation IP who is a least a FAST Lead. Early training flights will be 2-ship flights, you and a lead aircraft, to work on the basics like station keeping and cross unders. Training flights are typically short, 20-30 mins, and always have a briefing before and debrief after landing. You'll keep a FAST Training record to document your flights.
Once the IP judges you profient in all areas and you've met the minimum training requirements of the signatory you'll be recommended for a checkride. The checkride will be with a FAST Check Pilot. The qualification levels depend on the signatory. Most have just Wing, Lead and Check Pilot levels. JLFC, which cards a lot of Navion pilots, uses 2-ship and 4-ship levels within both Wing and Lead. The FAST Training record is valid between signatories. For example, I got my Wing and 2-ship Lead cards solely through JLFC training and clinics but my 4-ship Lead checkride was done by a TRARON Check Pilot at a CAF clinic.