This is the most exciting flight I've been on this year! I've never experienced something like this before, being so close to another airliner in-flight. It was exactly like the footage we saw from those exciting Air-to-Air films!
I flew inside two of the four Saudi commercial airliners that participated in the Saudi 91st National Day Airshow 2021.
The four Saudi Airliners involved in the formation were:
- Saudia B787-9 (Call sign: Falcon 1)
- Saudia B777-300/ER in Retro Livery (Call sign: Falcon 2)
- Flyadeal A320neo (Call sign: Falcon 3)
- Flynas A320 (Call sign: Falcon 4)
On day 1 of the Saudi National Day AirShow rehearsal I flew inside the Saudia B777-300/ER, with a Retro 75th anniversary special livery (registration HZ-AK28). Saudia revealed this stunning retro livery just days before the 91st National Day.
We climbed to around 10,000 feet, south of Jeddah City. Air Traffic Control and the AirShow commander were coordinating all 4 airliners, to bring them all onto similar headings and at the right speed in order to line up for the flypass over Jeddah Corniche.
The pilots explained the special flying procedure of formation. As you can see below, the Saudia B787 takes the lead and is followed by the Saudia B777 Retro livery; two A320neo's from Flyadeal and Flynas then follow behind.
The flyby took place at 500 feet with the B787, 700 feet on the B777 and 900 feet on the two A320neo's. The four airliners were flying with just 200 feet of separation, which requires precision planning and discipline.
All the pilots must spend considerable time being briefed for the formation, along with many hours in simulator training, before such a flight takes place.
From the Saudia Boeing 777, I could see the B787 right underneath us. We followed each other with a slight variation of 20 degrees in the heading. Check out the video below:
We returned to Jeddah after 2 hours of flying, which included 2 successful low flypass's over the Jeddah Corniche.
On day two I flew inside a brand new Flyadeal A320neo to film the other formation aircraft.
We initially cruised at 11,000feet, circling and waiting for permission for the flyby. After almost 40-50 minutes of holding, we finally lined up with the other three "Falcons" ready for the first flyby.
From the Flyadeal A320neo position I was treated to some amazing and incredible air-to-air flying footage by the Saudia B777 and the B787.
The crew initiated the flyby perfectly, the airshow commander, who observed the flyby from Jeddah corniche, sent his approval via radio. It was an incredible feeling to have two large airliners below us, with just 200 feet of separation! All the pilots involved must be extremely disciplined and they have to follow strict commands.
You can see more action in my full video here:
An Absolute Thrill
It was an absolute thrill and delight for me, as an AvGeek, to be on these training flights, getting a first-hand experience observing of how the pilots fly on close formation in large airliners. It requires absolute precision planning and discipline to execute such an airshow mission.
The 91st Saudi National Day AirShow was held in Jeddah on 20th Sept, in Riyadh on 23th Sept and in Damman on 25th Sept. There were also military displays at the shows, as well as civilian airliners. Here is more coverage from various tweets.