The Echelon Break is one of the most fun formations to fly. We dive down in Echelon Formation, and then pull up sharply, one after the other.
<– This is what our dive looks like!
During this maneuver, the pilots must closely watch their speed. When diving down, the speed may not go over 140 knots, which is the highest speed our planes are allowed to fly. However, for pulling up we do need quite some speed. Our dive gets us to about 130 knots (240 kilometers per hour). And that while we see the beach and the sea get closer and closer…
The Pull allows the formation to quickly gain altitude without the formation breaking apart. It’s not a maneuver performed during shows, since the planes are already at the right altitude prior to entering the display area. The formation does frequently perform this maneuver on Sunday mornings during training.
The departure route from Rotterdam The Hague Airport to Hook of Holland is situated at 1000 feet (about 300 meters). More than high enough to fly safely, but for practicing formations we prefer to start a bit higher. The Pull brings the formation to 1500 feet, just about 450 meters. This allows for more leeway to correct any mishaps. Besides, the higher we fly, the less loud we are for people on the ground. We do like to entertain you on Sunday morning, but we don’t like to ruin your lazy morning, and six planes do produce quite some noise!
The goal of a Crossbreak is to create the illusion that the airplanes are flying directly through each other. Then they create a beautiful explosion with planes flying in all directions.
The Victor Romeo Formation flies crossbreaks with three, four, five, or six airplanes. It’s not an easy maneuver to perform and also not without risks. The formation has taken care of the risks though, by incorporating several safety measures that ensure that nothing can go wrong. The most important measure is separation: the planes need to keep enough distance so they can safely turn away in front of one another.
When the leader calls out “prepare for Crossbreak” over the radio, the planes start to form a line, alternating between flying on the left and flying on the right. The leader always flies left. Planes flying left will make a right turn and vice versa.
Because the leader is unable to see all the other planes from his frontmost position, he is relying on the last plane to check whether everyone is in the right position. Over the radio the last pilot will verify “in position”, and then the crossbreak can begin!
The formation will start a dive. They do this because they need to pick up speed to turn away (and sometimes pull up) sharply. When the formation nears the display line (when practicing in Hoek van Holland, this is the beach) the leader will count down: “three, two, one, go”. Then, all the planes will start their turn (or pull).
A Two-Seventy is a maneuver, not a formation. This means that it’s a pattern flown through the air, much like lazy eights or chandelles.
As the name suggests, a Two-Seventy refers to a turn of 270 degrees. Three-fourth around the protractor! Such a turn in itself isn’t very special. However, the formation incorporates altitude differences throughout the turn. From the perspective of the audience, it looks like the planes are performing a looping!
You can see the flown altitude differences in this schematic. At the beginning of the turn, the formation is flying relatively high. They then dive down, picking up speed. A bit later they pull up again, trading speed for altitude.
A fun fact about the Two-Seventy: only the leader knows about where he is throughout the turn. He also knows when to dive, when to turn, and when to pull up. The numbers 2, 3, 4 and so on certainly know what is about to happen but they rely on the leader for the commands to guide them. They are too focused on flying a tight formation to know how much of the turn has already been completed. The commands used for guidance by the leader are the following: “Two-Seventy, left-hand”, and “dive… start banking… and pull up”.
The Victor Romeo Formation performs three different formations based on dice: the Carré Formation, the Dice Formation, and the Dice Six.
Out of these three, the Carré Formation and the Dice Six are the most difficult to fly, because these comprise several rows of airplanes flying Line Abreast. As there is only about one meter of air between the wingtips, there’s not much space for movement (or mistakes). As an extra challenge, the second and third row must keep not only the distance between the plane next to them neatly at one meter but also have to watch the distance to the leader or the row before.
The Dice Formation (five aircraft) is a bit less complicated. The two planes in front are flying Line Abreast but with more distance between the wingtips to allow the one in the middle just behind some space.
The Finger Four Formation is based on the index finger, middle finger, ring finger and little finger of a hand. Its basis is a Vic Formation with the number four joining the wing of the number two (left-hand) or the number three (right-hand).
All planes fly on the same level in the Finger Four Formation, much like the traditional Vic Formation. Each plane’s wing is about next to another plane’s horizontal stabilizer.
The Finger Four Formation can be flown either on the left side or on the right side. Because of this, the leader or number one must call either a “Left-hand Finger Four Formation” or a “Right-hand Finger Four Formation”. This way, the pilots are clear on where to go.
The Box Formation is one of the most frequently flown formations. It is also used during a formation take-off with four aircraft. Here, the first three aircraft take off in Vic and number four will take off alone. Number four will join the first three in the air by flying behind the number one. He is then flying in the “box” created by the first three aircraft.
In a formation of six aircraft the take-off procedure is different. They will start in two groups of three, two Vics. The second formation – in this case called the Blue Section – will join the first section (Red Section) in the air. When the Blue Section is approaching the Red Section, the Blue Section’s leader will call “Blue Section, split” – the sign for the number two and three of the blue section to move towards the outer wings of the Red Section.