Chapter 6: Combat Flight Training
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.
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.
Figure 6-1: The 45-degree-up views are key to keeping sight of your enemy while maneuvering for position.
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.
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.
Figure 6-3: Padlock view enables you to follow a selected aircraft automatically.
Figure 6-4: The enemy indicator will point to a selected aircraftin 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.
Table 6-1 The keyboard shortcuts used to control the view from the Virtual Cockpit.
COMBAT TIP #6:
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.
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."
Figure 6-5: You can use the gunsight to judge the distance to a target, even without the help of labels.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Figure 6-6: Pure pursuit is the simplest pursuit: just put your sight on the target and close the distance.
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.
In lead pursuit, you point your nose ahead of the target. Lead pursuits are usually used while turningsee Figure 68but 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.
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 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 P38 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.
Figure 6-9: Lag pursuit offers slower closure rates and steadily works you behind your target.
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.
COMBAT TIP #7:
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 62 gives the key points of each pursuit.
Table 6-2 The three types of pursuit.
Figure 6-11: An example of both lead and lab pursuit in a combat maneuver.
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.
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:
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.
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.
COMBAT TIP #8:
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.
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.
Figure 6-14: Relative position and firing range determines whether your shot is a snapshot or a tracking shot.
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 616 illustrate.
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.
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.
Figure 6-17: Cross with separation and break left or right at the passor even slightly before the pass.
Figure 6-18: Continue to turn steeply to work your way to greater angular advantage.
Figure 6-19: When possible, turn hard to establish a tracking position. Use lead or lag pursuit as appropriate to close in.
Figure 6-20: Fire when in position and range.
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.
Figure 6-21: Pass with little separation and always try for an early shot.
Figure 6-22: Turn to face the enemy with a descending medium turn, preferable a nose-to-nose turn.
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.
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.
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.
Last Updated: Saturday, July 7, 2001