“Da Bone” taking off = awesome sight.
The following video is particularly interesting as it shows a type of departure rarely seen at airbases across the world: the so-called “airborne pickup.”
Military aircraft that don’t take-off in formation, usually depart in sequence, rejoining (if needed) during the climb. In an “airborne pickup” one of the aircraft takes off, makes a 180-degree turn to enter the downwind leg for the runway in use and then turns back again to rejoin with the second aircraft that, in the meanwhile, has just got airborne.
It’s a visual maneuver in which perfect timing is essential to achieve the expected outcome: if everything goes as planned, the first aircraft should be flying in formation with the other one as soon as the second aircraft has completed the departure and before it starts the next turn inbound the first waypoint.
There are no special requirements of configurations and it’s a fairly simple maneuver that requires the airborne plane to compensate for any differences in performance between the aircraft by adjusting the pattern and by calling the “brake release” to aircraft on the ground.
The following video appears to show the final part of the maneuver, with the B-1 Lancer (or “Bone”) already airborne eventually becoming number 1 of the formation departed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas (as opposed to the airborne pickup where the airborne aircraft completes the maneuver as chase plane, trailing the aircraft just taken off).
I imagine the advantages are:
1. You get into formation with a minimum of fuss and trouble.
2. There’s no need to break radio silence to do so.
I wonder how the enormous bomber formations of WWII joined up. I suspect it involved a lot of dangerous flying in circles in darkness or bad weather.
It’s difficult to even imagine 1000-plane raids.
You are not far wrong. The US 8th Air Force in Britain would formate on very brightly-painted formation leaders, near to a beacon or their home base, before setting off on their mission. The night bombers of the RAF eventually adopted a Bomber Stream tactic, where each aircraft flew individually with a time on target, with their own altitudes assigned. There is a wealth of information available with Google and Wiki already!