You get more than formation training when you go to a formation training clinic. While all formation clinics have several things in common, each clinic is unique and enjoyable for a variety of reasons.
Things you get at every formation include mentoring, encouragement and fellowship. Flight leaders, instructors and check pilots want to see you succeed at your next goal regardless of what it is, wingman, flight lead qualification or another skill. There’s as much learning in conversations in the evening as there is in flights during the day. Not only do you get to learn from pilots experienced in the skill you are trying to accomplish, you earn the respect and appreciation of your peers and mentors.
An added aspect is the unique character and atmosphere of each clinic. Every clinic has distinguishing attributes. Redstars Over Kingman every fall is a really great introduction to formation flying with a very laid back atmosphere and a great throwback experience on Route 66 often called the Main Street of America or the Mother Road. The hosts of this event, M-14P (http://m-14p.com), have two of the most knowledgeable airframe and engine mechanics in the Yak and Nanchang community in America. Carl Hays and Jill Gernetzke are world renown Yak and Nanchang mechanics (Aviation Maintenance Technicians – AMTs) who can tell you anything you want to know about your Redstar aircraft and help you locate any part you need in addition to any services or modifications you want.
The Informal Formation Clinic at Falcon Field every spring is another good event for pilots new to formation. Great opportunities for wingman and flight lead training exist and several check pilots are in attendance for check ride qualification. Steve and Stuart Glemba are two excellent Yak and Nanchang mechanics that are there all weekend to keep your airplane flying and ready for the trip home. Mike Harlow of Phoenix Flight Gear is there to repair any problems with your helmet or help you select a new helmet if you’re looking for one. Chris License is a master parachute rigger who will provide overnight repacking services and answer any questions you have. Give him your parachute Saturday afternoon and it will be ready for you Sunday morning. Southwest Aviation Insurance is available on Saturday to answer any insurance questions you may have and provide quotes for you and your airplane. Clinic participants usually stay at the Arizona Golf Resort
(http://www.arizonagolfresort.com), a great facility that is a fantastic retro experience of the 1950’s golf resort.
The Mooney Caravan/Redstar Gunfighter clinic in Yuma every winter is a workup for Mooney pilots who want to participate in the Mooney mass formation arrival at Oshkosh in the summer. Not only do Redstar pilots help Mooney pilots learn to fly formation it’s also a great opportunity for Redstar pilots to fly with each other. Flight leads and check pilots are available for lead and check rides. Yuma in the winter is a great experience and although everyone tends to equate Yuma with the desert, Yuma is not that far from the Gulf of California and the Mexican seafood cuisine is excellent. The hosts at Millionaire make everyone feel welcome and assure a great experience.
The All Redstar formation clinic at Porterville is arguably the premier west coast clinic. Always well attended, with great airspace for training, many recommendation and check rides are accomplished each year. While there is always a lot going on, the planners and schedulers are alert to the training requirements of every attendee. There is a 4-ship formation flying competition and always a chance for any attendee to distinguish themselves for a brilliant lapse of attention and qualify for the Bonehead Award. Callsigns are awarded based on performance during the weekend. Porterville has a great Central Valley California vibe.
Finally there’s the Desert Thunder tactical formation training clinic every fall in Thermal (think Palm Springs), California. Participants in this event must already have a FAST wingman or flight lead card or fly with someone who has the requisite qualification. Thanks to the experienced instructors at this event the mysteries of tactical formation flying are easily unraveled and you can have a great time emulating air-to-ground and air-to-air operations. The event organizers include a Navy Top Gun instructor, a USAF Fighter Weapons School Instructor, and a Canadian Air Force Fighter Weapons School Instructor. A U.S. Marine with combat experience as a ground forward air controller provides instruction in air-to-ground operations and then each participant gets to fly a close air support mission that includes flour bombing a tactical target in the desert. On the air-to-air side an Air Force fighter weapons instructor provides training for 2-ship flights to fly a “low level” route where they are vulnerable to attack from an adversary aircraft. The objective is to detect and defeat the attack with the appropriate defensive maneuver. There are very thorough and easily understandable safety provisions briefed for each scenario. In addition to awards for the top air-to-ground and top air-to-air flights callsigns are awarded and the bonehead award is presented for a distinguishing flight performance. The Night Crawler award is presented for a distinguished performance after hours in Palm Springs. You must attend to understand the criteria for this award. This is desert resort living at a very reasonable price and Cunard’s Sandbar is an excellent watering hole next to the hotel.
All these clinics work to achieve the goal of serious fun and if you attend any of them I guarantee you will have a great time and come away with enhanced flying skills. There’s no doubt that clinics in other areas each have their own personality and are equally rewarding and fun.