Looking into how to best learn formation flying I came across this old post. I’d like to figure out how to get in close formation with either others or real or AI traffic to work on it, and saw a suggestion to have good coms and VR.
Do I need VATsim or something like it for communicating?
If communicating, do I need to wear a headset (I have my Bose aviation headset) or something over my Reverb G2 for that? Or can I talk and listen with just the G2? If I do need another headset, how do you hear the game/engine sounds? One ear in headset and one ear out for G2 speakers?
Sorry if these are rookie questions, I am definitely a rookie with all this flight sim stuff.
PREFACE: I am a casual virtual pilot and not a real pilot. However, I am decent at formation flying in MSFS - but not demonstration team skill level. And, I have been where you are - not too long ago
One forum for practicing formation flying is joining multiplayer community flights on Twitch:
You don’t need to communicate to practice “loose” formations in MSFS (unless your goal is precision level flying like demonstration teams. Personally, I prefer joining a community flight that accepts people that want to practice formation flying. NOTE: just yesterday I was flying solo over Northern Italy in multiplayer and tried to join up with two random players. Both of them hit “esc” as soon as I got close to them and until I left the area.
Group/Community flights have been the best place for me to practice the skill. I suggest one community stream in particular: Scrufytam. “No rules, just flight” His streams and his motto are why I started flying with him on his group flights. As it turns out, He’s one of the most approachable, humble, and entertaining streamers on Twitch that explicitly welcomes any type of flying. He is also now the Official MFS Thunderbirds Narrator - Thunderbird #8
Here’s a few links to streamers that I’d recommend so you can generally plan your schedule around for casual learning of formation flying. scrufytam - Twitch CaptArash - Twitch
I have tried other Twitch streamers, but I have not once received any “mocking” chat messages while flying with the above streamers. There are other Twitch streamers that you can fly with that are just as accepting as well. The two mentioned above just stream during the times I can afford entertainment time.
One group that is a precision formation team and regularly streams on Twitch and invites others for group flights is the Shadow Display Team. They are planning on creating group flights to specifically help teach others formation flying: ShadowDisplayTeam - Twitch
If you own the FlyingIron Spitfire, you will want to fly with this group on Sundays. A well known virtual pilot by the name of Dougal McTavish usually puts those tour flights together: Casual, picturesque flight plans, fun, and all in the Spitfire (currently the most conducive addon to practice formation flying skills - IMO). Dougal_McTavish is like “Kilroy” in MSFS - no really - He’s everywhere.
The aforementioned two Twitch MSFS Streamers have been openly accepting of me while flying in formation with them, and they have thus allowed me to become fairly proficient in my formation flying skills. Again, not virtual Blue Angels level, but tight to loose formations to enjoy the scenery while looking solid.
NOTE: I recommend flying with Twitch streamers because you need to visually critique and review your positioning. The visual distortion of distance in MSFS makes it difficult to judge your true relative position while in the cockpit. After the stream ends, you can fast forward to where you saw the stream Host capture your positioning relative to their aircraft. This is not the most efficient way to perform and evaluate your performance, but I place a higher priority on enjoying the beauty of the MSFS virtual World representation with the group over focusing on my own formation flying skills.
Understanding the basics. Note: It is rare for Civilian or GA aircraft to fly in formation, and it apparently ruins other people’s immersion in MSFS (see above)
Here are the most informative YouTube posts that I found helpful:
Fixed Wing (Posted on YouTube by Kideuce):
ALSO, you need to know what it looks like (what you should see) when you are positioned correctly. Aside from the above videos, here’s a video (posted by USA Military Channel) of what precision formation should look like from a pilot’s perspective - AND NO, I don’t think you can do it consistently nor successfully in MSFS 3rd person view, nor do I recommend it:
I have restricted myself from flying on Vatsim or other ATC servers out of respect for others’ immersion. Many times I see people comment on how ATC would be screaming at me for flying the way I do - I’m not 100% sure they are only talking about IRL controllers or if their comments are inclusive of Vatsim etc. However, you will find many content creators that stream flights as well as other group flights that might accept people that want to practice flying in formation.
VATSIM does facilitate civilian formation flying, but any kind of military formations are restricted to members of a VATSIM Special Operations Organization. However ATC might tell you to split up, and I wouldn’t do it in very busy airspace…
Possibly an initial easy option would be to find like minded players and set up a multiplayer group in MSFS and just try some basics.
For communication Discord would be a quick and easy option. You would only need the G2’s built in mic and headphones for communication and would still hear sim sounds as well. Possibly adjusting sounds levels to hear other people effectively.
With a little practise it it not too difficult to fly in formation with other aircraft/people, certainly in level amd casual flight anyway. For synchronised manoeuvers it would no doubt take considerably more practise, cooperation and discipline. I would actually say DCS is probably better for formation flying as other aircraft does not disappear when you get close, in fact you can collide in DCS.
I actually saw a couple of the virtual Red Arrows pilots flying in DCS at the RIAT airshow back in 2018, it was quite interesting to watch some the techniques being used. E.g. constant micro adjustments with the throttle by the following aircraft who also remained totally focused visually on the lead aircraft.
That’s one of the problems I have with VATSIM. As a real life pilot and former controller, formation flying is no big deal. We saw it all the time. I flew formation routinely as a civillian. It was never an issue. Why VATSIM has these rule I shall never know. Maybe VATSIM should go and tag along with a controller for a day.
As a controller, we would sometimes have to tell the flight lead to have his wingman squawk standby to keep the proximity alerts from going off on the scope. But generally, it was never a headache for a controller.
That being said, you cannot just go and fly up next to someone in real life. The formation flying must be approved by both pilots. In the present day, you would probably set off a TCAS alert long before you got close enough.
Again, VATSIM has no rules against, and even actively facilitates for civilian formation flights in its Code of Conduct.
The restriction VATSIM has regards military formation flying. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that military activity naturally attracts a certain kind of pilots who might not be the best fit for flying that type of operations. In order to reduce the «memefest» factor, military operations have been restricted to trained members in an VATSIM Authorized Special Operation Organization. In that way, those who really want to, or those with real-life experience can still do it.