by Richard Sheffield
If you're closing in on an important target with a lot of air cover, it's much easier to lure the enemy aircraft away than it is to try and fight them and attack a ground target at the same time. A good way to do this is to attack something that's 90 degrees off of your flight path. Use as much standoff as possible. A Maverick shot off to the side from 35 km is perfect for this task. If you get low and slow, and then head away from the fake attack site, the enemy air cover will pass right by you, letting you continue to the primary target area unopposed. Be aware that once you attack that target, they'll all head back to you in a hurry. If you don't want to use one of your Mavericks, you can pop up, let yourself be seen on radar by opening your bay doors and so on, and then disappear again to low altitude. This will draw the enemy aircraft to your last known position; if you move away in a hurry, you can avoid them. Doing it this way, however, doesn't give you the extra 35 km the Maverick attack does.
Air-to-air missions aren't the real purpose for the Stealth Fighter, so you generally get fewer points for them. But they are a lot of fun. One problem often seen by players is that of finding the Primary target. Ground targets are easy—they don't move. But air targets move so fast they're sometimes hard to find.
One frequent air-to-air mission target is a AN-72 Coaler Transport. At first these are a little hard to find; your tactical might may show a half dozen aircraft in the air, but which is the AN-72? There's an easy way to tell: Just look for an aircraft that's not putting out a radar signal. That's probably it. If your target is an IL-76, just look for an aircraft putting out a huge signal.
Another critical thing you need to know about air-to-air missions is they'll often reroute the target plane if there's even a hint of trouble in the area. This is especially true if the plane is carrying important supplies or high-ranking officials. So keep this in mind and don't make too much noise on the way in. This goes for flying over enemy positions as well. Even if you aren't picked up on radar, you might be seen or heard and reported. If this happens, your target might turn and head back home or to another base, landing before you can get there.
You should also be aware that many of the air-to-air missions have an unwritten time limit. If you're to intercept a plane traveling from point A to point B, you must get him before he reaches point B. Once he arrives at his destination, he'll circle the airfield once or twice and land. Once he lands, your chances of completing your mission are gone. There are a couple of points here in your favor, though. If the main target is traveling with a fighter escort, one or two of the fighters might land first, giving you a couple of extra seconds. If you see the message that the target is on final, your only hope is to try a long-range shot. This will occasionally spook them enough to cause them to break off the landing pattern to take evasive action.