Straighten up and y right

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1 Straighten up and y right Understanding formation ying in the B-17 Flying Fortress Flying the B-17 is easy, she is a forgiving aircraft and was designed to be stable. However, ying the B-17 in formation and to the correct navigational timings is a bit trickier, so to help you get a handle on that, this document will show you how to get in formation properly, and how to y the way you are supposed to. It is not going to cover the technical details of how to operate the systems on the B-17, the pilot s manual will tell you how to do that, so if you need to brush up on anything, be sure to read the manual which came with your B-17. Why formations were own the way they were... Real WW2 B-17 formations were arranged according to a strict set of standard operating procedures. These evolved over time, but essentially there were two of them, one for clear weather and one for poor weather, however, eventually the poor weather procedure became fairly standard, even in good weather, so that s the one we will look at here. The system revolved around two basic navigational aids, these were known as Splashers and Bunchers, both of which were radio beacons, although the type, strength and frequency of these two beacons differed. Typically, Splashers were beacons not at air elds, whereas Bunchers were usually located on air elds. Each Bomb Group was assigned a Buncher or Splasher which was to be the location for its ight pattern whilst organising itself into an airborne formation. Occasionally, different Squadrons within the Group were given different altitudes at which they could y when using these beacons. This system is very similar to how modern-day airliners y holding patterns, stacked vertically over the same holding point, and was in fact the precursor to that system. A typical squadron of B-17s comprised 12 aircraft, but sometimes less aircraft went on a mission, often nine or just six from a Squadron would y, although initially, other supernumerary aircraft would also take off, to ll in slots in case an aircraft from the main force had to abort (more on this later). Notice that the number of aircraft is always divisible by three, since a Flight of three aircraft was the basic building block for Eighth Air Force bomber formations. Of these formations, there would typically be Lead, Low, and High squadrons, which made up a Group. Groups that formed up together were called Wings. You will notice that since there is a Lead, High and a Low Squadron, that makes three Squadrons, but Bomb Groups you will notice, had four Squadrons. This is because originally when the tactics were conceived, Bomb Groups only had three Squadrons, but later

2 gained a fourth. It is also why you will notice that many Bomb Groups, including the 91st, have non-sequential Squadron numbers, in that there is the 322nd, 323rd, 324th, and the 401st. This is simply because by the time the USAAF got around to having four Squadrons in a Bomb Group, the sequential numbers were already assigned to other Groups, so most Bomb Groups are like that. As the air war changed, Luftwaffe tactics changed. At various stages it could be worse to be in the any of the formation positions, but more often than not, the Luftwaffe pilots went for the middle Squadron, as this was usually where the leaders were, with the formation s command pilot usually riding in the tail gunner position of the lead aircraft so he could observe the formation and the group s lead navigator in that aircraft too, with all other aircraft simply following their lead. Luftwaffe pilots tended to go for the sloppiest formations, since it was often a clue that the crews were not that experienced, or were in trouble, thus there would invariably be less return re from such formations. This is why good formation ying was important, but it was also important so that a tight pattern of bombs would hit the target, since all aircraft in the raid would drop their bombs when the lead aircraft did so. What is more, the formations were designed to concentrate large hails of bullets from all the bombers, thus ensuring it was more likely that enemy ghters would be either hit, or discouraged from pressing their attack in too close. This is also the reason why supernumerary bombers took off to ll in slots on Squadrons where aircraft had to abort, because any Squadron with a gap owing to an abort would also have a gap in its cones of defensive re and would therefore attract more ghters. If no aircraft had aborted by the time the formations had made it to the rendezvous point for the start of the mission, these spare aircraft returned home and their crews were not credited with a mission. The competition to ll slots from these supernumerary aircraft was often erce on milk run targets, with many of them racing to ll a slot, because the crews would get credit for a mission even if it was a milk run. If the raid was a big one going to Berlin or St Nazaire, the crews would naturally be less keen to ll in. How to form up a formation... To keep things easy, we ll look at how three aircraft form up for a raid. Let s say we are at RAF Bassingbourn, and we are taking off for a raid. The lead aircraft, will taxy to the runway with the other two following. The lead will line up and then take off. After thirty seconds, the second aircraft will then take off, and another thirty seconds later, the third aircraft will set off. Regardless of runway heading, once airborne, all of these aircraft will stay on the runway heading for two minutes (sometimes four minutes, depending on the brie ng). When two minutes is up, the lead aircraft will take up a standard heading from its Buncher beacon to a speci ed distance. In the case of the 91st Bomb Group, this was 179 degrees from the Buncher at RAF Fowlmere, which is to the East of Bassingbourn, however, in FS, there is no Buncher beacon at Fowlmere, so we will need to do things a little differently. But we will keep it as authentic as we can.

3 This is a screengrab of the Navigator Panel for the B-17 (call this up with Shift+5). On it we can see the airbases at Bassingbourn (UKBA), Fowlmere (EGMA) and Duxford (EGSU). Our B-17 is in the centre of the concentric rings, just near the Barkway VOR Beacon (BKY), having departed from Bassingbourn. This panel shows all the information we need to be able to form up our three aircraft just like the real 91st Bomb Group would have done, even though we don t have the Splasher Beacon at Fowlmere as they would have had in WW2. Having taken off, each aircraft maintains 150mph and climbs at approximately 350 feet per minute up to a pre-briefed altitude, which for this example, we shall say is 5,000 feet, with hopefully number two aircraft moving into position slightly low and to the left of the lead, and number three aiming to be slightly high and to the right of the lead, although it may of course take them some time to catch the lead aircraft up.. When they get to the BKY VOR, they will head onto 179 degrees, when they will be exactly 5.2 miles south of Fowlmere. Now, in WW2, they would have continued ying on that heading until they were 25 miles south of Fowlmere (using the Buncher at Fowlmere), but of course we would need to have the Buncher beacon at Fowlmere to be able to do that, which is not in FS, so we can instead use the BKY VOR and subtract 5.2 miles from that 25 miles distance, or, since this does not have to be inch-perfect,

4 we can use the range rings if we like. But whichever method we use, our intention is to y 25 miles south of Fowlmere at 150 miles per hour and at a rate of climb of about 350 feet per minute. When we get to that position, we will commence a turn to the right, but not just any old turn, we will use a Standard Rate Turn. There are several reasons why we will use a Standard Rate Turn, but mostly because it will mean that aircraft on the outside of the formation will be able to keep up. What the hell is a Standard Rate Turn? In case you don t know, a Standard Rate Turn is marked on your aircraft s instruments, and it is a requirement for all aircraft to be able to do it. In the B-17, you will nd it marked on the arti cial horizon and the turn and slip indicator. See the picture to the right. Notice that the marker for the bank angle is lined up with the marker on the outer bezel of the instrument and that the turn and slip indicator needle is pointing to the large white tick mark with the ball centred, indicating the turn has the correct amount of rudder. If I hold the aircraft at this angle and with this rate of turn, I am in a Standard Rate Turn, and it will take me exactly one minute to turn through 180 degrees, because I will be turning at 3 degrees per second. A full 360 degree turn will take two minutes, which is why you will sometimes see 2 Mins marked on the turn indicator instrument in an aircraft. Note that in modern times, a Standard Rate Turn occasionally differs for very big aircraft, where it is four minutes rather than two. Back to our scenario... So, at 25 miles from Fowlmere, were make a Standard Turn to the right from our heading of 179 degrees, and we level off after one minute, which if we turn properly, should put us on a heading of 359 degrees. We then y on that heading for exactly four minutes, at 150 miles per hour, and then we make a Standard Rate Turn to the right back onto 179 degrees. Unless there is a lot of wind drift (in which case we might have to offset our course a little), this should put us in a racetrack pattern in a known position, and we can keep repeating this as we climb up to out briefed altitude. Since we know this is what we will be doing, and know our position in the formation, there is no need for radio commands. This is exactly how the 91st Bomb Group used to do it, in this exact location.

5 Other things to consider... The only other thing we have to worry about is ying at 150 mph, and keeping to a climb rate of about 350 feet per minute, and if you are not the ight lead that s easy, because you can just follow him and maintain your position. In the picture below, we can see that I have the speed about right, at 145 mph, and the climb rate right, at around 350 feet per minute, although I am slipping a bit, as evidenced by the ball being off centre. You don t have to obsess about this, but you should practice getting these speeds and rates of climb at various altitudes and with various loads of fuel and bombs on board, and it is worth practicing Standard Rate Turns too of course. Just so you are clear... Here is a diagram of exactly how the 91st ew and formed up in their designated area. If you do this, you are doing it exactly how it was done by the real guys. As with everything else, practice makes perfect, and you should practice this until you can do it easily. That way, when things get tough you will not have to think about ying the aircraft and can concentrate on other things. If it seems tough at rst, just think about the real guys, they had to do this whilst thinking about the fact that they d be getting shot at a little while later. 91st Bomb Group Formation Area Diagram UKBA (RAF Bassingbourn) 25 miles EGMA (RAF Fowlmere) 5.2 miles BKY (Barkway VOR) 19.8 miles Note that speed is 150mph, rate of climb is 350fpm. Headings on the racetrack are: 179, 269, 359, 89. Long legs on the racetrack pattern are four minutes with Standard Rate turns at each end.

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