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Thread: Background to innovation of formation keeping lights

  1. #1
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    Default Background to innovation of formation keeping lights

    Can any member who has knowledge of the introduction of formation (or station) keeping lights on certain RAF aircraft from the late 1930s onwards enlighten the rest of us as to their exact purpose. They seem to have been installed on single-seater fighters, including the twin-engine Whirlwind, as well as the Blenheim day-bomber, although in the case of the Whirlwind fighter they are referred to (in the pilot's notes) as "station-keeping lights" rather than formation keeping. Were these lights intended for use in practice formation flying, to aid the pilots in judging correct distances and angles between individual aircraft in the desired formations, or was the aim to provide a safer means of maintaining formation in conditions of poor visibility? I cannot believe that they were intended for night flying, as why would you attempt to fly in formation in the hours of darkness? It is worth bearing in mind that Fighter Command during most of the inter-war period seemed to regard all single-sea fighters as suitable for day and night operations, because they were equipped with both external lights as well as instrument lights and other lights in cockpit, plus by about 1938 all new types of aircraft were being equipped as a matter of course with the full bind flying panel. Unfortunately none of these features were capable of assisting the pilot with the difficult task of locating and destroying enemy aircraft at night, something that another new tool under development was hoped to provide some of the answers for. I note that many of the aircraft equipped with these particular lights seemed to have dispensed with them by the mid-war period, with the Hurricane in particular including this removal in the list of on-going modifications which can be found in the re-published version of the AP on the type. All comments welcome. Perhaps there is something about the intended use of these lights in an appropriate volume of AP 129, Manual of Flying Training, although this publication tends to concentrate more on earlier flying training than operational flying.
    David D

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    They could perhaps have come in useful for the fighter and its Turbinlite partner to keep contact, but that can hardly have been the initial aim.

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    Should be something in these files at Kew:

    AIR 2/3230 :
    AIRCRAFT: Fighter (Code B, 5/6): Station-keeping lights for fighter aircraft.
    AIRCRAFT: Equipment (Code B, 5/21): Station keeping lights for fighter aircraft.
    FLYING (Code B, 38): Night formation flying: station-keeping lights for fighter aircraft
    Date: 1938-1939

    ... and ...

    AVIA 13/522
    Formation flying lights: Fleet Air Arm scheme
    Date: 1938-1950

    ... and ...

    AVIA 13/521
    Formation flying lights: Fleet Air Arm scheme
    Date: 1937-1938

    HTH

    Bruce
    http://www.filephotoservice.co.uk/
    RESEARCH AT THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES & OTHER UK INSTITUTIONS

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    Not much chance of me checking out those files, being in NZ, but certainly hints that indeed night flying IS involved, contrary to my musings! Still it seems weirder and weirder - they definitely seemed to think that formation (or station) keeping in single seat fighter aircraft at night (presumably for some types of operations) was a possibly feasible idea, but these thoughts must have been abandoned early in the war (perhaps 1940/41) when it was deemed impractical, and lone wolf night fighters operating under ground control as well as AI became the norm. Interesting that the FAA file continued as late as 1950 - they may have had alternative uses for such lights, or maybe the just persisted longer.
    David D

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