Nine Russian jets were filmed flying at high speeds and low altitudes over Crimea this weekend.
No, it wasn't another step in the hotly debated Ukraine-Crimea-Russia debacle; it was a World War II commemoration.
Russian "aviation aces" took to the skies this weekend to perform a rare nine-ship jet formation flight for Victory Day, the official Russian recognition of the defeat of the Nazis. The nine dissimilar aircraft -- four Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums and five Sukhoi Su-27 Flankers -- are flying just feet apart for nearly six full minutes. The mental and physical strain put on these pilots is real, but bless their hearts, they still need a little practice.
In other words, while the jet team delivered a solid performance with the difficult maneuvers, it wasn't "perfectly executed," as some have suggested.
We decided to ask a pilot what he thought of the performance. While it was good, here are the things only a pilot would notice:
1. "They use visual cheats, just like some of our performance teams do, to make sure the audience sees the best alignment on the ground."
TheBlaze spoke to a former Air Force Thunderbird pilot and operations officer, who not only flew with the jet team but also spent two years grading their performances for safety-of-flight procedures and visual accuracy. He asked to go by "Red" for this article, and he pointed out that Russians use the same "visual cheats" that American jet performance teams take advantage of to make sure the audience sees a perfect diamond from the air.
The view from the last plane in the formation, and the jet is slightly to the left of the plane directly in front. That is a "cheat" to make sure the crowd -- who is viewing the performance from the bottom right of the video frame -- will see a formation that looks more like a diamond. (Image source: YouTube).
If the pilots only spaced themselves apart by a few feet with the same spacing on either side, from the ground it would actually look like the planes are out of position and closer on one side than another. So the pilots have to use these visual cheats to make it look like they are flying in a perfect diamond formation.
2. Only the first pilot looks around. The rest only look at each other's planes. And sometimes they can't even see that.
"Take a look at right around 2:50, see how they are flying right into the sun?" Red asked. "You can see when they start to get past the sun that the last guy in formation there has to creep back in, he definitely dropped back a little to give himself some safety room because he couldn't see the planes in front of him."
When jets are flying in close formation, only the lead pilot gets to look at the ground, buildings or other reference points to guide the flight. The rest of the pilots keep themselves from crashing into each other by lining up visual references on the plane -- it would be the same as lining up next to another car on the highway and only being able to stare at the other car's side door mirrors.
Now imagine doing that with the sun blistering your retinas.
3. "Did you notice -- except for a few -- these are all mostly left-hand turns?"
"Planes are all designed to be flown with your right hand, no matter if you are a lefty or not," Red said. "A lot of these demonstrations are choreographed with that in mind."
Try it for yourself, put your right forearm on your thigh with your wrist roughly at your knee. Now turn your wrist in toward your other knee, then out away from it. Which is easier? Turning to the left is ergonomically more efficient, and therefore used more in formation flying, especially when the team has to turn under heavy G-forces.
And the one thing you'll really remember from this article: How do U.S. pilots remember the difference between the Russian planes in the air?
"The Flanker has a wanker," Red said, "See that little thing that sticks out the back of the SU-27? Yep, that's an easy visual reference."
"The Flanker has a wanker." See that little thing that sticks out the back end of the larger jets? Just take a look and you'll get it. That's one way pilots tell jets apart in the air when they are miles away.
Setting aside (just for a few minutes) the rather thick irony of this "Victory" celebration -- it was held as a remembrance for the Russian defeat of the Nazis in Crimea, the focal point for the tense takedown of sovereign Ukrainian territory. One can still appreciate the aviation feat and the mistakes you probably didn't notice. Check out the video below, and don't miss these notable moments:
- At: 1:34: Perhaps Putin did notice the mistakes; he looks absolutely unimpressed with the performance.
- At: 3:05: The most movement you'll see out of the jets is at the top of their loop; the pilots are dealing with a negative to positive G-maneuver while trying to reposition and end their loop overtop the military ships at "show center."
- At 3:30: The pilot on the outside of turns has the hardest time staying in formation because of the gravitational-forces on the aircraft.
- At 3:34: Dude, did you really earn all those medals?
- At 5:35: The happiest little fan graces the screen.
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