The "Finger-four" formation (also known as the "four finger formation"), is a flight formation used by fighter aircraft. It consists of four aircraft, and four of these formations can be combined into a squadron formation.


The formation consists of a flight of four aircraft, composed of a "lead element" and a "second element", each of two aircraft. When viewing the formation from above, the positions of the planes resemble the tips of the four fingers of a human right hand, giving the formation its name.

The lead element is made up of the flight leader at the very front of the formation and one wingman to his rear left. The second element is made up of an additional two planes, the element leader and his wingman. The element leader is to the right and rear of the flight leader, followed by the element wingman to his right and rear.

Both the flight leader and element leader have offensive roles, in that they are the ones to open fire on enemy aircraft while the flight remains intact. Their respective wingmen have a defensive role - the lead wingman covers the rear of the second element and the element wingman covers the rear of the lead element.

Four of these flights can be assembled to form a squadron formation which consists of two staggered lines of fighters, one in front of the other. Each flight is usually designated by a color (i.e. Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green).


The formation was initially developed during the Spanish Civil War by Luftwaffe pilots, most notably Werner Mölders and his fellow airmen. The Schwarm (flight) was made up of two Rotten or pairs of aircraft. Each Rotte was composed of a leader and a wingman. This flexible formation allowed the pilots to maintain greater situational awareness, and the two Rotten could split up at any time and attack on their own.

Luftwaffe units used this formation during the Battle of Britain, in which its effectiveness was shown to be considerably greater than the standard three-aircraft "Vic" close formation used by the Royal Air Force (RAF). The RAF and later the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) adopted this formation and used it themselves against the Luftwaffe.

Missing man formation

The finger-four formation became less common after World War II. However, it is still used in the "Missing Man Formation" at pilots' funeral ceremonies. The formation performs a fly-by in level flight over the funeral, at which point the second element leader climbs vertically and departs the formation, symbolizing the departure of the person being honored.

See also

Further reading

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