Dan Canin provided some more info concerning the Airborne pickup described in the post titled “Airborne pickup (rejoining with an F-104)“:
I took a look at your description of the airborne pickup, and it’s good. I don’t really have much to add, as it’s a fairly simple maneuver. The only thing unusual, of course, is that the chase pilot — who is usually doing his best to be “invisible” to the test aircraft pilot and just following him around — is in this case calling the shots by giving the lead a “30 second” call and a “brake release” call. The only trick is timing those calls so you wind up in proper position when the test aircraft gets airborne. There are no special requirements or configurations, really. As chase, you can compensate for any differences in performance between chase and test aircraft by adjusting your pattern and by the timing of the “brake release” call.It’s actually very rare that we use this procedure at Fort Worth, although it’s been used recently for some of the F-35 flights. One thing it does is ensures that we have a chase airborne (it’s embarassing if the test airplane gets airborne and then the chase aborts for some reason); it also allows the chase to watch and photograph the takeoff, if that’s important to us. More generally, we just do a 10 sec interval takeoff (15 sec if using AB), with the test airplane in the lead. If there’s a ceiling, we generally try to get joined up below it; otherwise we do a radar trail departure. Formation takeoffs are possible, but it’s rare that our test aircraft and chase are the same configuration (w/i 2500 lbs of each other), as is required to do that.