Saturday morning we all woke up early to head over to the airport for Frank Pullano's briefing - we were going to have a formation flight of canards over to Dare County airport (MQI) from SFQ (just about 60 miles). MQI was the staging point of the Airventure Cup Race, and is only 7 miles from Kitty Hawk, NC and First Flight Airport (FFA), which was the location of the race starting gate.
Frank did a great job of explaining to everyone, including this formation newbie, how to deal with the other planes close by, what formations we'd use and how to communicate. Frank (in his V.E.) and David Orr (in his L.E.) would fly leads in the two four-plane diamonds, with Misha Kasyan (in his Berkut) flying rings around the rest of us. We taxied out around 9:30 AM, lined up on the taxiway, and took off in sequence, starting the roll after the previous plane had broken ground. We made two climbing circles around the airport, using the turns to help everyone catch up and make formation. Of course, although the airport had been dead for the previous hour, everybody and their mother-in-law decided to visit SFQ just as the nine of us were circling, along with a flight of parachutists dropping over the field. It was a bit hectic -). We then headed straight out to MQI.
In the first diamond was Frank Pullano (V.E.) in lead, Kevin Funk (COZY MKIV) on the left, Jay Blum (L.E.) on the right, and Harry Manvel (Defiant) in the rear. Frank and Jay fly in airshows together, so they're pretty good at it and can maintain a VERY close formation. Jay backed off a bit so that the first diamond would stay symmetric.
The second formation, about 1/4 mile back, was David Orr (L.E.) in the lead, Jorgen Skovbjerg (COZY III) on the left, your's truly (COZY MKIV) on the right, and Edgar Flaig (L.E.) in the rear. After about 15 - 20 minutes of straight and level flying, everyone had pretty much figured out how to stay in the right place, and we practiced a few shallow turns as well.
I found the formation flying to be a lot of work but a lot of fun. We stayed about one wingspan away from David's right wing, and about 10 feet below him. My goal was to keep Dave's wingtip strobe light just about on the back of his head in the cockpit. I felt like I was continually manipulating the stick and rowing the throttle to stay in position, but I eventually got to the point where I could anticipate the motion and stay in place pretty easily. I found that I couldn't take my eye off David's plane for more than 2 seconds before losing synchrony, however, so I had NO clue where I was, or at what altitude. Wayne kept telling me how wonderful the view was, and pointing out things that I couldn't look at, however :-).
Upon reaching MQI, we performed a low approach down the runway at about 500 ft., and just as Frank reached the threshold (with everyone on the ground watching - and there were hundreds of spectators as well as the hundred or so competitors) Misha's Berkut screamed underneath us, crossing the threshold at the same time at 275 mph at about 100 ft. It was extremely impressive. We then did a circle around the airport and another low pass in right echelon fingertip formation without the Berkut, then we circled around again, breaking off the upwind at 6 - 10 second intervals to land.
The rest of the day was devoted to time trials. Since they actually didn't count for anything whatsoever, I opted out and we just hung out in the air conditioned terminal planning our flight for the next day and eating and drinking a lot (that would become a hallmark of the race - lots of food, some of it pretty edible -) ). Jack Watson announced the speeds for each airplane as it made its pass down the runway, and it all sounded very official ("that was 193.52 mph, folks!") until we found out that he was making it up as he was going along, since he didn't have a connection to the guys with the radar gun.....
After a fish fry dinner, we had a race briefing at 7:30 PM, and then went to the motel to catch some shut-eye.
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