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Formation Pilots: We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

A look inside the Cherokee Mass Arrival

By Chip Gentry, EAA 1013383

January 28, 2016 - “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”  - William Shakespeare, 1599, Henry V.

When Shakespeare penned those famous words over 400 years ago, he could have been writing about the group of pilots who fly their Cherokees in mass arrival into AirVenture each year. Our motto, “Growing our family one aviator at a time” exemplifies the welcoming nature of our group. 


As one might expect, some incredibly accomplished pilots enjoy the deep friendships created by sharing the joys and challenges of formation flight. We have airline pilots, military pilots, doctors, accountants, lawyers, business owners, and others, in our group. The list goes on and on.

Something wonderful occurred during our intensive training over the last few years, and it had more to do with ourselves rather than our flying. Our group gained clarity on why we find such happiness in formation flying. When you reflect upon each and every formation flight, a universal truth comes to light. Each formation flight involves:

1. Trust

2. Support

3. Mistakes

4. Accountability

5. Learning

6. Love

When you analyze any relationship you have and the ones that bring honest happiness to your life, it is the relationships that have the components listed above that are the most important.  Those of us that are blessed to be surrounded by happiness enjoy richer, fuller lives and learn that the most valuable relationships have trust, support, mistakes, accountability, learning, and love.

Trust.  Every flight begins with a thorough briefing. Formation flying involves operational standards, required proficiency, a proper attitude, and proper focus. All pilots participating in a flight must have sincere trust in each other. Trust is the foundation that allows happiness to grow and thrive.

Support.  The flight leader supports his wingmen. The wingmen support each other and their flight leader. Each pilot provides advice and help before, during, and after each flight. They help each other understand the flight parameters, sight cues, various maneuvers, techniques that help maintain position, and other helpful information.

Mistakes.  If any pilot of a formation flight did not make a mistake or witness a mistake, they were not paying attention. Every flight involves mistakes. Many may be quite small. However, the goal of formation flying is perfection. While we all understand perfection is impossible, it is a worthwhile goal for which we all strive.

Accountability.  The most important part of any formation flight is the debriefing. When a formation pilot makes a mistake during flight, he or she owns up to it. In addition, other members of the flight are expected to point out mistakes. This process is done respectfully and out of a sense of understanding. It isn’t to ridicule or embarrass. Holding each other accountable to constantly search for perfection builds trust and strengthens the bond between the pilots.

Learning.  Each and every formation flight also provides the unique opportunity for each pilot to learn something new. Every flight they learn about their skills, their machine, themselves, and their fellow family of formation pilots. The consistent challenge and learning process keeps flying fresh and exciting. 

Love.  There are many forms of love. Formation pilots experience love at a high level. Because of the epic trust, support, accountability, learning, and excitement that is formation flying, formation pilots grow quite fond of each other. They have each other’s back. They are there to help with personal struggles at a moment’s notice. The nearly constant ribbing is one of many examples of how formation pilots express their love for each other.



Our training satisfies a number of our extended family’s goals. First, it gives us the opportunity to befriend new people who enrich our lives. Second, it improves our formation skills, which will measurably improve our focus on safety. Third, it allows us the joy of satisfying our passion for flying. Fourth, while incredibly challenging, it is a ton of fun! Most importantly, we gain clarity.  We more fully understand the driving force behind formation flying. The reason we are so happy flying in formation is that it provides us a perfect opportunity to build and maintain incredible relationships that enrich our lives.

As Leonardo da Vinci said, “For once you have tasted flight you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” How right he was. For those few of us who have challenged ourselves to enjoy the privilege of flight, there are few opportunities to enjoy such intense friendships and that bring the same amount of joy, thrill and happiness. I can’t wait to continue to safely enjoy our passion of flight with my formation flying family! Secure your spot, join the family, and register for the 2016 mass arrival into OSH at www.cherokees2osh.com.

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