Flight Academy: Flying in Formation

A Look at Formation Flying by 2012 World Champion Doug Kinney


Welcome back, cadets. We have another vital lesson for you in today's X-Wing Flight Academy!

Over the past weeks, we've seen a lot of you hitting the flight simulators, and many of you are looking as though you're just about ready for battle. You know how to fly to your ship's strengths. You understand how your squadron is a fighting unit that's more than just a bunch of ships flying on their own. And we've seen you applying the latest lessons from our look at the "Rule of 11," timing your attack runs so that you're getting the better of the opening engagements in your simulations.

Now, as you're nearly ready to fly into battle, we want to talk about formations. After all, you and your wingmates are supposed to be supporting each other… so you definitely don't want to stall each other or push each other into asteroids as the enemy's closing in!

We'll get you some video on this one soon—you'll see the concepts we're addressing today put into action during the 2018 Coruscant Invitational. But until that time, you'll want to absorb the principles of formation flying and then put them into practice, practice, practice.

Your guide through the advantages, disadvantages, and practicalities of flying in formation is none other than 2012 World Champion Doug Kinney.

Doug Kinney plotting a maneuver en route to his World Championship victory.

2012 World Champion Doug Kinney on Flying in Formation

Since the beginning of X-Wing, community members have written and shared many great articles about formation flying. A guide for understanding movement—which has been largely regarded as must-read information—was posted to the X-Wing community forums by user "Osoroshii."

Rather than rehashing his post, I'll just direct you to either read or re-read it. It provides highly detailed descriptions and graphics that help you anticipate where your ships—and your opponent's ships—will end their maneuvers. He outlines many useful tricks for eyeballing distances and describing how to keep ships tight together and maneuver them without having them overlap each other.

A key point to remember is that if two ships start a round side-by-side with each other and both want to bank, the "inside" ship will have to choose a smaller bank than the "outside" ship. For example, the inside ship in the graphic below executes a speed-one right bank maneuver, while the outside ship executes a speed-two right bank maneuver.

Knowing the ways that the individual ships maneuver is essential information if you wish to fly your ships in formation, especially if you want to fly different types of ships together in the same squadron. Another consideration is whether you wish to fly your ships in a tight formation or a loose one.

Flying in Tight Formations

When I talk about tight formations, I am referring to ships, generally small-based, that fly together, keeping within one ship base of each other. One such formation is the pinwheel formation identified by the user Klutz on Team Covenant's forums. This is a tight formation of four ships, offset from each other just enough to allow for banking and turning in tight spaces. It is a very effective design for flying four ships very close to each other.

Swarm players typically fly their ships in tight formations to benefit from advantages that tight formations have to offer. One of the key advantages is being able to train all of your guns on a single enemy ship. Firing all your guns at one ship after another in this way can quickly burn down your opponent's squad.

Ships flying in tight formations will often choose the same maneuver in order to keep their spacing. For example, if one ship in the formation dials in a speed-two straight, all the other ships in the swarm will likely execute the same speed-two straight. This means that over the course of a tournament, flying tight formations can be less mentally taxing. Another key advantage is that if your forward ships move before your opponent's ships move, you can maneuver your formation so that you force your opponent to overlap your front ship while the rest of your formation will have Range 1 attacks against it.

There are disadvantages to these tight formations, as well. If your opponent moves before you move your ships, he or she can quite easily place a ship directly into your lead ship's flight path and cause your entire formation to collide with each other. Also, flying a tight formation around obstacles without overlapping them is extremely difficult. This is one of the main disadvantages of flying in a tight formation, as your opponent can place obstacles to obstruct and control your flight paths before a single ship is placed on the board.

As we saw in our article about "The Rule of 11," a squadron that gets lured toward an asteroid field must make a difficult choice—fly past the field and leave its ships exposed to incoming fire, or turn into the field and break formation in order to face the approaching enemy.

Another major disadvantage is that when you fly against arc-dodging ships, the fact that all your ships are pointing in the same direction makes it easier for the arc dodger to avoid your arcs, leaving you with an entire round of zero shots. Also weapons with "splash damage" effects, like Seismic Charges or Concussion Missiles , have a higher likelihood of hitting your entire squad.

You have to keep these disadvantags in mind, alongside the advantages, if you choose to fly in a tight formation. For this reason, when I fly a swarm, I prefer to fly in loose formations.

Flying in Loose Formations

When I talk about loose formations, I am referring to ship proximities that are measured in range bands instead of ship bases. Pilots with a range-based effect, like "Howlrunner" or Biggs Darklighter , allow you to fly your ships a bit looser while still flying in formation.

Here's an example of a loose formation:

Both Garven Dreis and Corran Horn are within Range 1 of Biggs, and are thus able to benefit from Biggs's pilot ability, but they are more than one range band away from each other.

One major advantage of a loose formation is that you can navigate through obstacles much more easily than you can in a tight formation. Also, loose formations fare better versus arc dodgers, as you can cover more area, making it much harder to avoid all your firing arcs. Similarly, overlapping your opponent's ships—or your own—becomes far less of an issue while flying in a loose formation. Each of your ships has a little more freedom of movement if you are simply trying to stay within a single range band, so you can be a little more unpredictable with your maneuvers.

This unpredictability can, however, become one of the drawbacks to flying a loose formation. Often, your ships will perform different maneuvers each round, and over the course of a match or a tournament, loose formations are far more mentally taxing than tight formations. You also have to be better at judging maneuvers and distances in order to keep your optimal spacing each round, so loose formations are more difficult to fly and maintain.

A Sample Formation

Back in first edition, during the Wave IV meta, traditional TIE swarms that flew in tight formations had an extremely hard time defeating the TIE/ph phantoms that could then decloak right before they activated, allowing them to begin their maneuvers with a speed-two straight template to the right, to the left, or forward.

As I was determined to find success versus the TIE/ph phantoms that I faced, I developed an opening that took advantage of TIE/ln fighters broken into two tight groups, flownly loosely.

This setup allowed me to be unpredictable with my opening maneuvers, especially when I combined my maneuvers with the barrel roll action. By the end of the Activation Phase on round two, I could keep my ships in two separate groups, making it difficult for my opponent to decide which group to target, or I could merge both groups into a single unit, flown loosely around "Howlrunner."

As an example, if my opponent set up his or her whole squadron on my right, I could bring the left group over toward the right group. After a single round of maneuvering, they could start to look like one large, loosely flown swarm.

In the diagram below, you can see how the front two TIEs from the left group executed bank maneuvers, while the back two TIEs of that group performed straight maneuvers. The right group's front TIEs went straight forward, while the back TIE turned to stay behind the other two. After maneuvering, all my ships were able to perform the focus action, except for "Howlrunner," who was at the back of the left group and performed a barrel roll to get closer to the right group.

Knowing that my opponent and I would likely start firing at each other on the next round, the diagram below illustrates how, although I started out with two separate groups, I have brought the groups together to form a single formation around "Howlrunner," with all of my TIEs able to perform their actions before battle begins.

In addition to granting me the flexibility of bringing my TIEs together into one big group or keeping them apart in two separate groups (for better flanking and area control), spreading my ships out into the loose formations of this opening allowed me to block my opponent's TIE/ph phantoms' decloak options while still maintaining firing arcs, often with the bonus from "Howlrunner."

Having Fun Is the Most Important Part of Flying

Whether you choose to fly in tight or loose formations, you can find success and gain satisfaction from knowing you have flown your ships well, regardless of the outcome. Just be sure to get plenty of practice!

Have fun!

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