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Microsoft® Combat Flight Simulator 2: WW II Pacific Theater: Inside Moves
Author Jeff Van West
Pages 336
Disk N/A
Level All Levels
Published 10/11/2000
ISBN 9780735611764
Price $19.99
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Chapter 6: Combat Flight Training

Chapter 6 Combat Flight Training

Success in combat—in both real and virtual aircraft—relies on a mixture of tactics, skill, aggression, ingenuity, and luck. Of these five items, all but luck will improve with training and experience. However, only one item, tactics, can actually be taught. The next two chapters present the what, how, and why of aerial combat tactics and maneuvers. I’ve included several example maneuvers to illustrate certain points, but many more possibilities are out there. Over time, you’ll develop a set of maneuvers that works for you, your airplane, and your wingmen. This set of maneuvers will become the tactics that you carry into combat. A Japanese combat training document captured on Saipan in 1943 summed up this idea well:

In close combat, achieve mastery of the tactics which are your own strong points. After gradually reaching proficiency, you will discover your own characteristics in battle. When you fight with your favorite tactics, victory will be easy. When you become aware of these tactics, study and master them at once. When in battle, it is important to entice the enemy into your favorite battle tactics.

It’s also important to keep in mind the goal of fighter airplanes: fighter aircraft exist to provide use of the sky to friendly forces and to deny use of the sky to the enemy. Although many fighter airplanes can carry bombs and torpedoes, there are better airplanes for those tasks, so those roles are secondary. Your job is aerial control, and the primary method you have for maintaining this control is putting your guns on enemy targets and promptly removing them from your personal piece of the sky.


Since weight is a critical factor in airplane performance, the necessary compromise in weaponry is usually a balance between number of shots delivered and the lethality of each shot. Machine guns deliver many shots, or rounds, per second, but each bullet does little damage unless it happens to hit a critical area. Enough bullet strikes will down an airplane. Cannon fire much larger, heavier shells that explode on contact. Only a few cannon hits are needed to destroy an airplane, but the shots do not travel as far, and making a hit is more difficult. Since cannon rounds weigh more than bullets, the airplane cannot carry as many. When firing a cannon with a limited ammo supply, you need to make as many rounds count as possible. Projectiles can be described by diameter in millimeters or in inches. Caliber actually refers to hundredths of inches; so .50 caliber rounds are .5 inches in diameter. All the American player-flyable airplanes, except the P-38, carry only .50 caliber machine guns. The two Zeros and the P-38 carry a combination of machine guns and cannon; however, the Zeros’ machine guns are a lighter .303 caliber compared to the P-38’s .50 caliber guns. The George carries cannon only. In Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2, all the player-flyable aircraft have fixed, forward-firing guns. The guns are all set to converge at approximately 300 yards. Details of each type of gun are found in Chapter 11, "Machines of War," of the Combat Flight Simulator 2 documentation.

To help poorer shots make a hit, some U.S. aircraft had their guns aligned to create a spread of bullets, similar to a shotgun. This configuration increased the likelihood of a hit but decreased the hit’s damage potential.

Bombs, Rockets, and Drop-Tanks

All of the player-flyable airplanes can carry some combination of ordinance and extra fuel under their wings. Weight is always a limiting factor in aviation however, so if you need to carry extra fuel in drop-tanks, you may not be able to carry heavy bombs or rockets. Not every airplane can carry every weapon either. Rockets are only available on the Wildcat, the Hellcat, and the Corsair. The drop-down menu marked Loadout will show you the available options for your selected airplane.

Using Views

One of the most important aspects of combat flying is situational awareness. Approaching airports and carriers requires use of lateral views. These views are important, but the key views will be the 45-degree-up view (shown in Figure 6–1) and the straight-up view. As seen in Figure 6-2, your enemy will often end up in this part of your field of vision during maneuvering; you’ll need to slowly work the enemy into your forward field of view to gain an advantage. Once you have an enemy in the forward view, you can get him into your sights. It takes practice to successfully switch from one view to another and remain oriented.

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Figure 6-1: The 45-degree-up views are key to keeping sight of your enemy while maneuvering for position.

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Figure 6-2: Use your 45-degree-up views to keep your enemy in sight until they are brought in line with your gunsight. Keep checking ahead so that you don’t forget in which direction you’re flying.

Padlock View

You can use Padlock view (shown in Figure 6-3) to have the computer automatically choose the correct view to keep sight of the enemy. To use Padlock view, first press Tab. This will engage the Padlock function, and a set of yellow bars will appear around the target. If more than one target is available, you can cycle forward through the targets using Tab or cycle backward through the targets with Shift+Tab. Once you have the chosen target padlocked, press ` (the key above Tab on your keyboard) and your view will switch to Virtual Cockpit and will automatically follow the target. The disadvantage of this view is that it can be hard to figure out where you’re looking and therefore distracting. Padlock view also tends to make you fixate on your target, rather than remain vigilant for enemies targeting you and for other shots of opportunity.

Your views to the right, left, forward, and back are assigned to a hat switch on your joystick by default. It can help a great deal to program all the 45-degree-up views to either a hat switch or to the keypad without modifier key so that you can easily access these views in combat. (By default, the 45-degree-up views require holding down the Control key while pressing a key on the numeric keypad with NumLock engaged.) To customize these assignments, go to the settings screen, click Controller Assignments, and select View Commands from the Event Category drop-down list box. Now you can change the assignment of any view command to whatever keyboard or joystick button that you want.

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Figure 6-3: Padlock view enables you to follow a selected aircraft automatically.

Enemy Indicator

Another option you can use with the padlock function is the enemy indicator, illustrated in Figure 6-4. To use this function, engage the padlock on the selected target and then press U. A yellow cone will point in the direction of the selected enemy. This function can be helpful in showing you where to look, allowing you to manually choose a view for that direction. Using the enemy indicator allows you to split your attention between following the enemy and watching where you’re going. Pressing U a second time will toggle off the enemy indicator.

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Figure 6-4: The enemy indicator will point to a selected aircraft—in this case, it’s above and in front of you. Using the enemy indicator, you can momentarily choose the view you need without losing track of what’s in front of your own airplane.

Virtual Cockpit View

Virtual Cockpit can be helpful in the initial stages of combat, when you’re searching for the enemy. Virtual Cockpit view allows you to scan the sky in a natural manner; you can pan smoothly from inside the cockpit in a manner that’s similar to turning your head. Once you’re engaged with enemy aircraft, however, it usually responds too slowly to meet the demands of combat. You can get to Virtual Cockpit view by pressing S once. To look around, use your joystick’s hat button or the keyboard commands listed in Table 6-1.

ViewKeystroke Combination
Pan leftCtrl+Shift+Backspace
Pan rightCtrl+Shift+Enter
Pan upShift+Backspace
Pan downShift+Enter
Snap to front viewCtrl+Spacebar
Snap to rear viewCtrl+Shift+Spacebar
Zoom inEqual Sign (=)
Zoom outHyphen (-)
Zoom normal (1x)Backspace

Table 6-1  The keyboard shortcuts used to control the view from the Virtual Cockpit.

Combat Scan vs. Normal Scan

In a noncombat situation, you must divide your attention between tasks inside the cockpit—such as checking the operation of the engine, switching fuel tanks, and calculating courses for navigation—and scanning outside the cockpit to maintain awareness and avoid collision. In combat, you still have all these tasks, but you also must remain aware of the dangers around you. Your awareness of the world outside the aircraft now must include looking for the enemy’s hiding places. Attacking from the direction of the sun and from behind clouds are two common ploys to close in on a target without being seen. Another part of your scan might be a bomber or torpedo group you’re escorting. When flying alongside slower aircraft, you must keep your speed high for potential combat. This actually provides an excellent opportunity to keep checking the area behind you. Imagine you’re flying high cover above a bomber group. You keep your speed up by weaving back and forth. Each time you pass over the escorted airplanes, look over your right wing, look ahead, and look over your left wing. You have just checked three out of four quadrants of the sky. When you reverse direction over the escorted airplanes, make the same check to cover the rest of the sky. When you’re centered over the bombers it’s a good time to check above, and while you’re banking in the turns it’s a good time to look below.

Even while flying only in a formation of fighters, keep checking the six o’clock position. You can calculate how often to weave and check behind you if you know how far out you can see the enemy and how close they can come before they start shooting. If you can see enemy aircraft at 1000 yards and you assume that they won’t fire until they are within 300 yards, you have 700 yards to detect their presence. Assume that since they’re attacking they have already built up a speed advantage by attacking from above or in faster aircraft. If they have the speed advantage of 60 knots, they’re moving 100 feet per second. Seven hundred yards in 2100 feet, so with the enemy gaining on you at 100 feet per second, they’ll move from visual detection range into firing range in 21 seconds. If you check behind and above you every 15 to 20 seconds, you should see an enemy plane before it’s close enough to take a shot.

Tactical Display and Labels

The Tactical Display and labels available in Combat Flight Simulator 2 take most of the guesswork out of locating the enemy. As I mentioned in Chapter 5, "Takeoffs, Landings, and Advanced Flying," enemies appear in red and friendlies in green. You are always the yellow dot in the center. On the Tactical Display, a padlocked target also appears in yellow, and a dead enemy that is still falling to earth appears in black. Remember that the Tactical Display shows only information on a single plane, so it says nothing about whether an enemy is above you or below you.

The distance measurement on the label is also helpful when you judge closure rate between you and the target. Controlling the rate of closure is important in the early stages of combat. On missions, labels will show the name of the squadron, rather than the type of airplane, so you’ll need to identify the airplane by its appearance. Recognition tips for all the Combat Flight Simulator 2 airplanes appear in Chapter 10, "Player-Flyable Aircraft," and Chapter 11, "Non-Player-Flyable Aircraft."

Judging Distance

Combat pilots 60 years ago did not have labels to help them judge their distances from other aircraft. They used experience and the size of objects relative to their gunsights. Most of the fighters in Combat Flight Simulator 2 are similar in size, so gunsight ranges work pretty well for all the airplanes. (See Figure 6–5.) At 500 yards, a fighter takes up about 1/4 of the sight; at 250 yards, the fighter takes up about half the sight and is now in range. Depending on your relative position to the fighter, you might want to hold your fire and continue to maneuver for a better shot. At 100 yards, the fighter will fill the sight and its wingtips will reach the extensions off the sides of the sight. This is usually a good time for a shot. At 50 yards, the shot is a sure thing. At such close range, you should try for a kill on the cockpit or to shoot off the tail. On a Zero, you can also go for a wing tank and watch the explosion. When you’re less than 100 yards from the target, be careful not to fly into a broken piece of your enemy as you disassemble his airplane with your gunfire. Flying debris will cause collateral damage to your airplane. Also be ready for an aircraft to maneuver suddenly when its pilot realizes the airplane is taking damage.

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Figure 6-5: You can use the gunsight to judge the distance to a target, even without the help of labels.

Flight Exercise: Targeting Distance

Go to Quick Combat, and choose any airplane to fly. Make your enemy a C-47. The C-47 is a twin-engine, unarmed transport that can’t maneuver very well. Set the tactical situation as Advantaged. Press N to toggle labels on if they are off. Fly the scenario. Watch the size of the C-47 in your sights, and double-check against the label. The C-47 is much larger than a fighter, so it will appear to fill more of the sight at a particular distance than the fighters will. Since it’s unarmed and poorly maneuverable, it’s good for practice. Close on the C-47 from several angles, and try to estimate the distance with the labels turned off. Turn on the label to verify your guess. Once you have the knack, try this exercise with fighter airplanes.

Combat Theory

Combat theory is one of those things that sounds great on paper but can be difficult to put into practice. It isn’t that the theory doesn’t apply. You can find many texts that accurately describe the techniques that separate the aces from the rookies. The problem is that the best pilots have a feel for what they need to do in combat rather than a formula. The following list best sums up their principles of battle:

  • Be aggressive.
  • Maintain high airspeed.
  • Turn to face your adversary whenever possible.
  • Keep your lift vector—that is, the top of your wings—pointed at the enemy.
  • Surprise the enemy if at all possible. Attack from the sun or from behind clouds.
  • Be patient.
  • Fight your battle, not theirs.
  • If you find yourself in a dogfight, you’ve already messed up.
  • If you don’t win early on, escape and live to fight another day.

These are all excellent words to live by (and in combat we do mean live), but none of these words of wisdom help you actually put your guns on the target. Guns on target is the fundamental goal of any type of combat flying that doesn’t involve air-to-air missiles. Guns on target means that the ultimate goal of your offensive maneuvers is to create a shot opportunity. To achieve guns on target, you go through a process that can be broken down into four steps: detection, pursuit, engagement, and disengagement.


In this stage, you’re still searching for the enemy or you’ve found the enemy but haven’t yet chosen to attack. Since you don’t yet have a target for your guns, your main objective is to keep your guns’ potential motion as free as possible. This includes flying in formation with enough space to maneuver, searching all quadrants to prevent surprises and give you more time to maneuver, and acquiring more E whenever practical to give you more energy with which to maneuver.

Prioritization and Threat Assessment

Once you have your targets, you must decide how high a priority their destruction is and the level of danger they pose. The first decision comes back to your mission goals. Both in the real Pacific theater and in the Combat Flight Simulator 2 campaigns, achieving the mission goals is your first priority; anything that compromises your mission should be questioned. The more complicated mission environment in Combat Flight Simulator 2 allows a mission designer to put enticing traps into the mission. For example, if your mission is to torpedo an enemy ship, the mission design might include two or three opportunities to engage a small band of enemy fighters that your squadron easily outnumbers. However, if you attack these enemy fighters, the ship you were to torpedo might spawn a large band of fighters and move to a new location. When you approach your target, the fighters will be airborne and ready rather than caught off guard. If your mission goals are best served by engaging the enemy, you can move on to threat assessment.

When assessing a threat, you must again consider mission goals. The greatest threats are the enemy targets that jeopardize the completion of your mission. The next greatest threats are targets that could destroy large resources, such as your ships or airbases. A dive-bomber, about to drop down on one of your ships, is more of a threat than a single fighter, even though that fighter poses a greater threat to you personally. Your personal safety is still part of the threat assessment. Aircraft that have a better chance of shooting you down pose a greater threat. If you’re a Hellcat squadron, the three Georges on the horizon are a bigger threat than the four Zeros. This threat is tempered, however, by the ease of making a quick kill. If you can dispatch three of the Zeros before the Georges get in range, you’ve reduced the number of people shooting at you and bettered your odds of survival. Even a rookie in an inferior airplane gets in a lucky shot once in a while.


Once you’ve chosen your target and begun to close the distance, you’re in pursuit. (Pursuit is what the P stands for in P-38.) The purpose of the pursuit phase is to achieve guns on target from the most favorable position possible given the circumstances. Success in the pursuit phase sets the stage for a successful attack. Your method of pursuit will, in part, determine how rapidly you close on your target, the angle at which you close on your target, and the E you have available as you close on your target. You have three kinds of pursuit to choose from: pure pursuit, lead pursuit, and lag pursuit.

Combat Position Terminology

When describing relative position, it’s helpful to have a few agreed-upon terms to ensure everyone gets the same picture in their minds. Here are a few common terms:

  • Head-to-head  This refers to two airplanes with their noses pointed at each other, although they might be at different altitudes.
  • Nose-to-tail  This is when one airplane has its nose pointed at the other airplane’s tail, though again, they might not be at the same altitude.
  • Angle Off Nose (AON)/ Angle Off Tail (AOT)  This describes in greater detail the relative position of two airplanes. For example, if you were directly behind another airplane flying in the same direction, you would be Head-to-tail with an AOT of 0 degrees. If you were diving at a 45-degree angle on another airplane but flying in the same direction, you would be head-to-tail with an AOT of 45 degrees. If you were lined up directly with an opponent’s wing, you wouldn’t be head-to-head or nose-to-tail, but you would have an AOT (or AON) of 90 degrees.
  • Angular advantage  This is the measure of AOT for the airplane in the stronger position. If you are 45 degrees off your opponent’s tail, you have a 45-degree angular advantage. If they were 45 degrees off your tail, they would have the 45-degree angular advantage. Angular advantage is always measured off the tail, so if you had your guns on your opponent and were 45 degrees off his nose, you would have a 135-degree angular advantage because your AOT was 135 degrees.
  • Rate of closure  This is the rate at which the distance between two airplanes decreases. Two airplanes converging head-to-head will have a high rate of closure, while one airplane slowly gaining on another from behind will have a low rate of closure.
  • Twelve o’clock high  When you describe the position of another airplane, you use the clock positions to give the direction around you horizontally and then add high, low, or true (at your altitude) to add the vertical direction. One of the hardest parts of combat to the new pilot is to think in three dimensions.
  • Crossing  As two airplanes converge, pass each other, and separate, there’s a point at which they are closest to each other. That is the point of crossing. What is important here is that crossing does not mean the airplanes met at the same spot at the same time. Suppose you’re flying north and closing with another airplane flying west. The westbound airplane now moves from your two-o’clock position to your twelve o’clock position to your ten o’clock position. The brief moment when the other airplane was in your twelve-o’clock position was the crossing. Whenever two airplanes cross, at least one of the airplanes can maneuver for a shot opportunity.
  • Horizontal and vertical separation  When two airplanes cross, there’s always some distance between them horizontally, vertically, or both. If there were no horizontal or vertical separation at a cross then the airplanes would collide. In combat, as you close on an opponent with the intention of crossing, you’ll maneuver to either increase or decrease separation, depending on the combat tactics you want to use.

Pure Pursuit

Pure pursuit is simply pointing your nose directly at your target and moving in, as shown in Figures 6-6 and 6-7. Pure pursuit works well when the target has little lateral motion, meaning it is not rapidly climbing, descending, or turning. Two examples of this are closing from directly behind the enemy and closing head-to-head. If your airplane and the enemy airplane have comparable performance, pure pursuit also puts you in the best position to follow any evasive maneuvers the enemy tries to perform.

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Figure 6-6: Pure pursuit is the simplest pursuit: just put your sight on the target and close the distance.

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Figure 6-7: Pure pursuit also includes head-to-head approaches.

With a head-to-head approach or a nose-to-tail approach from the enemy’s 6 o’clock, pure pursuit will ultimately end in a collision. When you make a pure pursuit approach from the side, you need to continually adjust your course in the direction the target is moving to keep it in your sights. In the last dozen yards, the rate at which you must turn to keep up with the target will exceed your airplane’s capabilities and you will overshoot. Pure pursuit to very close range is only practical from directly behind a target.

Lead Pursuit

In lead pursuit, you point your nose ahead of the target. Lead pursuits are usually used while turning—see Figure 6–8—but also apply to closing on an aircraft from the side. Lead pursuit has two advantages: it has the most rapid closure time, and it allows you to maintain a shot opportunity by training your guns on a point directly ahead of your target. When performing a lead pursuit in a turn, you must have a smaller turning radius than your target, but you don’t need to be moving as quickly to still converge. Picture yourself in a Zero on the 6 o’clock position of a Wildcat but still out of shooting range. The Wildcat turns left and you follow, but you aim for a position ahead of the Wildcat. As you both turn, your Zero is actually traveling in a smaller diameter circle and the distance between the two airplanes will close even if they are traveling the same speed. Essentially, you’re "heading him off at the pass." As you close in lead pursuit, you’re increasing your AOT in relation to the Wildcat. If that doesn’t make sense, remember that you’re constantly aiming for a spot in front of the other airplane. Eventually you would move into that spot so long as both airplanes kept turning. You wouldn’t take the lead pursuit that far. Once you got within range, you would relax the lead angle a bit and let your guns move into position for a shot. High lead pursuits can result in very rapid closure. One danger in a lead pursuit is that closure on the target can be so rapid it results in an overshoot, putting you in the role of target.

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Figure 6-8: Lead pursuit provides the fastest closure but requires a smaller turn radius. Lead pursuit also keeps your guns in position to make a shot if you lose the lead.

Lag Pursuit

Lag pursuit involves putting your nose behind the enemy airplane, as shown in Figures 6-9 and 6-10. This approach sounds ineffective, but it has several advantages: It is the slowest method for closing on the target, and with aircraft of comparable speed the rate of closure will slow as the two aircraft converge. Even though rate of closure slows down, continued lag pursuit decreases your AOT (improving your position at the target aircraft’s six o’clock), thereby reducing the danger of an overshoot. Lag pursuit is most useful when you’re faster than your target. If you’re in a P-38 diving on a Zero that is slightly ahead of you, initially making a lag pursuit is a good choice. Lag pursuit can be skillfully used even by a slower aircraft, because the distance traveled by the pursuing airplane is slightly shorter. Lag pursuit also keeps the enemy slightly above your airplane rather than below it. This positions helps keep the enemy in the viewing area you want and makes escape maneuvering more difficult. There’s a danger in a lag pursuit of an airplane with a tight turning radius, such as in the Zero and P–38 match up. If the enemy turns inside your turn, he can gain an advantage. You’ll know this is happening when the distance your sight lags behind the target steadily increases. This is a warning that you need to change your tactics. Lag pursuit never provides a shot opportunity by itself. The goal of lag pursuit is to get into a position where the AOT is low and a pure or lead pursuit can be taken for a shot.

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Figure 6-9: Lag pursuit offers slower closure rates and steadily works you behind your target.

Figure 6-10

Figure 6-10: Both lead (top) and lag (bottom) pursuits result in closure because of shorter distances traveled by the pursuer.

Lag and lead pursuits work for closing on the target from any angle and will have roughly the same effect. These same principles apply even when converging nearly head-on.

One of the biggest mistakes a pilot can make in lead and lag pursuits is following with too much angle of bank. Often the lead or lag position can be maintained with less bank and more speed. When in pursuit, use the smallest amount of bank necessary to get the job done.

In practice, all the pursuit techniques are used in conjunction. For example, you might first pursue an enemy Hellcat in pure pursuit to judge its distance and then in lead pursuit to close quickly so you can make a shot with the cannon of your George. As you close, you decide the Hellcat hasn’t seen you yet, so you switch to lag pursuit to slowly move into a better position and extend the time available to put your guns on target. From the close six o’clock position you pull into a pure pursuit and with your guns on target blast the tail of the Hellcat clean off the airplane. Table 6–2 gives the key points of each pursuit.

Type of PursuitAdvantagesDisadvantages
Pure pursuitEasiest.Poor shot opportunity from sides.
 Good closing time.At high AOT, requires rapid increase in rate of turn at close distance.
 Best for head-on or tail-on attacks. 
Lead pursuitFastest closure.Highest risk of overshoot.
 Best shot opportunity. 
Lag pursuitMoves you toward opponent’s tail.Slowest closure.
 Least likely to overshoot.Vulnerable to a tighter-turning opponent.
 Hardest to escape.No shot opportunity without switching to another form of pursuit.
 Can be used to slow closure when needed. 

Table 6-2  The three types of pursuit.

Flight Exercise: Lead Pursuit and Lag Pursuit

Go to Quick Combat, and fly a Zero against a Wildcat. Set the enemy to Rookie and the tactical situation to Advantaged so that you’re above and behind the enemy. Now set up straight, lead, and lag pursuits to see the effect of each. Figure 6-11 illustrates establishing a position with lag pursuit, switching to lead pursuit, and letting the enemy fly into the line of fire.

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Figure 6-11: An example of both lead and lab pursuit in a combat maneuver.


As you close within firing range, you’re ready to engage. It is possible, but quite difficult, to consistently score a hit at a distance of 1000 yards. As you close in pursuit you must decide when to fire. Remember that your target might be unaware of your presence, and once alerted will cease to allow you to pursue so easily. Use this pursuit time to get properly lined up with your opponent to make a good tracking shot.

Tracking Shots

A tracking shot is any shot that affords you the ability to establish aim before your shot and the ability to readjust your aim while shooting. The best angles for tracking with the fixed sights in the player-flyable aircraft are between 0 and 30 degrees AOT. To get a good tracking shot you need to be "in plane" with the target. (In plane means that the lift vectors of your wings point in the same direction as those of your target.) If the bars off the sides of your gunsight are parallel to the other airplane’s wings, you are in plane. To position yourself for a good tracking shot, get into the rear hemisphere of your target. Next establish sight parallel to the other airplane’s wings and pull your gunsight to a pure pursuit or a lead pursuit. Readjust your airplane’s attitude to stop all relative motion. Now relax the lead angle as you fire, allowing the enemy to fly into the line of fire.

Pulling Lead

A bullet moves at a rate of 2500 to 3000 feet per second. That means that if you fire on a target 900 yards away, the bullet takes only 1 second to reach its target. During this second, the bullet is being pulled down by gravity, and in 1 second the bullet drops 16 feet. Thus if your guns are right on target when you fire, the bullets actually falls 16 feet below your intended target. The effect of gravity causes fewer problems as you close on the target. At 300 yards, the drop is less than 3 feet. Even at close range, the effect is worse with turns. A shot fired directly at a target only 300 yards away but in a 3-G turn will miss by 8 feet. The answer to this problem is to "pull lead." This means putting your crosshairs ahead of your target. How much lead to give a target depends on distance, rate of turn, size of target, and type of weapon used. Figure 6-12 shows the tracers striking the tail of the Corsair even with a large lead, while the B-25 required only enough lead above the target to account for the drop of the bullets over the distance. The following are the biggest factors in estimating lead:

  • The farther you are from a target, the farther above and in front of the target you must fire.
  • A target crossing your path at 90 degrees requires much more lead than a target only 10 to 20 degrees off your nose.
  • The harder you turn (more Gs), the farther in front of the target you must fire.
  • The larger the target, the more it will fill your gunsight and the less lead you’ll need.
  • Japanese cannon require slightly more lead in front of and above a target because of their slower projectiles. The cannon on the Japanese fighters can require 50 percent more lead than machine guns on the same airplane.

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Figure 6-12: The amount you must lead your target is best decided through feel and experience. Tracers help show the actual path of your shots.

Tracers are bullets with a coating that burns brightly while in flight, showing you the actual path of your shots. Tracers help with you air, but also give away your position.

Distance and crossing angle are the greatest factors in calculating how much to lead a target. For both of these, you’ll use your gunsight to judge how much lead is needed. There are no lead computing sights on any of the Combat Flight Simulator 2 airplanes, so judging lead is one skill you must master.

Flight Exercise: Deflection Shooting

As in the previous exercise, go to Quick Combat and choose a Zero vs. Wildcat with an advantaged position. Once you close in to guns range, pull lead on the enemy and shoot. Adjust your lead as necessary to get hits. Fire short bursts instead of continuous fire to better see the effects of using different amounts of lead. If the enemy is not turning, a short burst of machine gun fire to the tail will usually get him to turn. Try this exercise against other airplanes.

Deflection Shooting and the Grumman Wildcat:
In the years before the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the U.S. Navy began to educate its fighter pilots in the art of pulling lead, otherwise known as deflection shooting. Although deflection shooting was something the best combat pilots learned instinctively, only the U.S. Navy trained in this technique explicitly. Part of what made this possible was the Wildcat cockpit configuration, which allowed the pilot to see 8 degrees down over the nose. This downward view allowed the Wildcat pilot to get his guns pointed ahead of the enemy flight path while still keeping the enemy aircraft in sight.


In many situations, maneuvering for a tracking shot is impossible. In these instances, you get only a brief chance for a shot before you need to maneuver again for a second chance. These are snapshot shots, or snapshots. Because snapshots almost always occur at high AOT and rapid rates of closure, they will almost always need some amount of lead and require excellent timing. Picture the scenario where the enemy airplane starts in your two o’clock position, passes in front of your nose, and ends up in your ten o’clock position. As the enemy passes in front of your nose you have a snapshot opportunity, but you must actually begin firing before the enemy reaches the twelve o’clock position. The best thing to do is to start your burst of fire early and allow the target to fly into your line of fire. Take note of when your shots actually strike home to learn how to better estimate the lead requirement for a snapshot. Figure 6–13 shows two examples of snapshots. One firing advantage you have with a snapshot opportunity is that the high relative motion between you and your target makes it more difficult for the target to maneuver to avoid your fire.

Large dogfights can be very exciting and also very lethal. The best way to survive one of these dynamic air battles and add to your kill score is to master deflection shooting and snapshots. Although outmaneuvering an enemy aircraft one on one is an important skill, the key to survival in a multiplane engagement is getting quick kills. As a general rule in large fights, try not to turn with any potential target for more than 180 degrees. Instead, keep checking your tactical display for other enemy planes that will be crossing your nose from another part of the fight. When you detect another enemy plane entering into this zone, switch off of your previous target and try to get a quick kill on the new target.

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Figure 6-13: Snapshot firing opportunities require a well-timed burst of fire and some lead.

The kind of a shot opportunity you’ll have depends largely on your position relative to the enemy airplane and on your relative amounts of E. Figure 6-14 shows the relative positions for tracking shots and snapshots. When you have a large E advantage compared to your target, you’re unlikely to be able to make a good tracking shot. Tracking requires a few seconds during which the two airplanes move in the same plane and at roughly the same speed. Extreme differences in E make every angle a snapshot. The outer circle in Figure 6-14 represents the maximum range at which you can make a hit; the inner circle represents the minimum range at which you can avoid debris after making a hit. The area between these circles is divided by whether a snapshot or a tracking shot is most feasible. The type of shot you think you can make largely determines the tactics you use to maneuver into position.

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Figure 6-14: Relative position and firing range determines whether your shot is a snapshot or a tracking shot.

Angles and Energy

Air combat has two core tactics: the angles fight and the energy fight. You must consider both tactics in any combat scenario, but one or the other will predominate. In general, the angle fighter relies on turning ability to gain a position for a tracking shot, while the energy fighter uses an energy advantage to establish a position for one or more snapshots.

The Angles Fight

The goal of the angles fight is to gain angular advantage. As two airplanes converge head-to-head, neither has an angular advantage. As the airplanes cross, there are two possible ways they can turn, relative to each other. They can turn in toward each other (nose to nose) or they can turn opposite each other (nose to tail). Either way, the airplanes will converge again, with the tighter-turning airplane, or the faster-turning airplane, at some angular advantage, as Figures 6-15 and 6–16 illustrate.

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Figure 6-15: The Zero and the Wildcat pass and turn head to head. The Zero turns in a smaller radius and gains angular advantage.

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Figure 6-16: The Zero and the Wildcat again pass head to head but this time turn nose to tail. The Zero turns at a faster rate and gains angular advantage.

The angles fighter continues to cross paths with the enemy, slowly working toward an angular advantage of 90 degrees or more. The angles fighter also has an opportunity for a snapshot at some of these crosses. Once the target airplane crosses in front of the angles fighter at 90 degrees or more, the angles fighter can turn to follow the target airplane and establish a tracking shot from behind.

The angles fight is what we tend to think of when we imagine a dogfight and is the kind of fight that makes the most intuitive sense. Success in the angles fight requires you to have a quick-turning airplane and the ability to anticipate your opponent’s moves, allowing you to turn early and gain an angular advantage. The danger in the angles fight is that all those turns drain your E. It’s easy to get so preoccupied with out-turning your opponent that you find yourself stalling in the turn. Recovering from the stall requires you to abandon your turn and give up your hard-earned angular advantage. In the recovery, you are slow and not maneuverable. This kind of vulnerability can prove fatal in combat. Figures 6-17 through 6-20 illustrate the maneuvers of angles fighting.

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Figure 6-17: Cross with separation and break left or right at the pass—or even slightly before the pass.

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Figure 6-18: Continue to turn steeply to work your way to greater angular advantage.

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Figure 6-19: When possible, turn hard to establish a tracking position. Use lead or lag pursuit as appropriate to close in.

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Figure 6-20: Fire when in position and range.

Flight Exercise: Angles Fighting

To fly the scenario shown in Figures 6–17 through 6–20, go to Quick Combat and fly an A6M5 Zero against a Wildcat. In this match up, the Zero’s excellent turning abilities should allow it to easily get behind the Wildcat and make a kill. Set the Enemy Position to Neutral (on the Enemies page) so that you pass head to head, and set the Enemy AI Level to Rookie so that the moves will be easier to execute. Make each cross with as much separation as possible, and use lead turns to gain angular advantage. Judge your angular advantage on your opponent, noting his position on the canopy. Try reversing roles and forcing an angles fight flying the Wildcat against the Zero. Try other matchups, and see which ones lend themselves to angles fighting.

The Energy Fight

The energy fight is a more difficult tactic and requires greater patience to make it pay off. The goal of the energy fighter is to continuously increase his E advantage over his opponent, which he does by getting the opponent to lose E faster. As the two airplanes cross, the angles fighter slowly gains angular advantage. This is acceptable to the energy fighter because gaining that advantage costs the angle fighter E. The energy fighter will continue to let the other airplane slowly gain angular advantage, as long as it also keeps losing E in the tight turns. At each cross, the energy fighter must maneuver to prevent the angles fighter from getting a good snapshot. An energy fighter does this by varying the descent rate during the cross erratically and then climbing slightly after the cross while momentarily safe from the opponent’s guns. After several crosses, there’s a greater difference between the E levels of the two airplanes.

The only way to kill with nothing but an E advantage is by a midair collision. That might kill the enemy, but you don’t live to brag about it. The energy fighter now has two options. One option is to use the energy difference to make a sudden reversal in angular advantage and then take a shot. If after one of the crosses the energy fighter pulls into a steep climb, the angles fighter now is in a bind. If he follows the energy fighter up, he will run out of E quickly and be a sitting duck when the energy fighter comes back down. If he doesn’t follow the energy fighter up, the energy fighter will turn around and have a high attack from directly above. Either way, the energy fighter gets an excellent shot opportunity. Figures 6-21 through 6-25 illustrate gaining advantage in an energy fighter.

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Figure 6-21: Pass with little separation and always try for an early shot.

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Figure 6-22: Turn to face the enemy with a descending medium turn, preferable a nose-to-nose turn.

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Figure 6-23: Cross and recross, allowing the Zero to reach an angular advantage by tight turns. Control your climbs, dives, and medium turns to maintain speed. The Zero in this picture is crossing behind at about 90 degrees AOT. The Wildcat has enough E advantage to pull up.

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Figure 6-24: Before you lose too much speed, pull through inverted flight with your nose pointed in the direction of the enemy and find the enemy by looking through the top of the canopy.

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Figure 6-25: Roll into a diving attack on the side of the Zero. Use whatever controls needed to keep guns on target. Fire when in range.

If you miss the target in the dive, you can pull out of the dive into another overhead attack or slip in behind the fighter for a brief tracking shot. You’ll have a large speed advantage, so the shot opportunity will be short. Moving from a position of being tracked to a position of doing the tracking is known as a reversal. Essentially, the energy fighter built up a speed advantage so as to use that speed to create a reversal.

If the reversal is too difficult, the other option for the energy fighter is to use the E advantage to keep taking head-to-head snapshots and speeding out of range before the opponent can turn around. This strategy has the disadvantage of never providing anything but a snapshot, but it’s much less complicated than executing a reversal.


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Last Updated: Saturday, July 7, 2001