Air Combat Simulator Tactics and Maneuvers
by Richard G. Sheffield
Playing the Game
Tips and Information
These hints, tips, and techniques for playing a better “game” can increase your score and make you a long-lived jet fighter pilot.
|Some of the following playing tips and bits of information were gathered from other F-15 Strike Eagle players, and from conversations with Bill Stealey, President of MicroProse Software, and Sid Meier, the author of F-15 Strike Eagle.|
In the Commodore 64 version of F-15 Strike Eagle only, it's possible to accidentally activate the ejection seat. This can occur when you're pulling on the stick and trying to change the radar scale at the same time. To avoid this, always let off the stick when entering keyboard commands on the Commodore 64 version.
Air Combat Mode Only
At the beginning of play your F-15 is always configured in the air-to-ground mode. The F-15, however, was designed as an air superiority fighter. From time to time you may want to simulate this mission.
The air superiority role can be simulated using any of the seven missions except Mission 3—Haiphong—and Mission 6—Iraq—as enemy air activity over these areas is slight.
The first thing to do on an air superiority mission is to drop all bombs. They severely affect your aircraft's performance. Next, climb to 40,000 feet. This will give you plenty of maneuver altitude and put you out of SA-7 SAM range (which is 32,000 feet). Go looking for trouble by flying close to an airbase.
Missions 1 and 2 are particularly good for this due to the low SAM activity and multiple target possibilities.
Many F-15 pilots think that they could become an ace on their first mission should a shooting war start. Becoming an ace should be your goal for an air superiority mission.
Each time out you should collect at least five kills. Once you accomplish this on a regular basis, try to become a double ace each time—that's ten kills. Since you carry only eight missiles, at least two kills will have to be made with your guns to become a double ace in one mission.
As your dogfighting skills improve, work your way through the various skill levels to increase your difficulties.
If you're competing against another pilot, you'll want to accumulate as many points as possible. Points awarded for enemy kills increase with the difficulty level, with destroying a primary ground target resulting in the most points. Though primary targets can be destroyed with one bomb, it's possible to drop more than one on a target in a single bombing run, and get point credit for all hits.
If you have a primary target lined up properly (and you have the time, uninterrupted by SAMs or enemy aircraft), you may be able to drop as many as four bomb loads before you finish your pass. If all four hit you have quadrupled your point total.
Don't be afraid to use the bail-out function when things get bleak. Don't ride your airplane into the ground. At least try the bail-out—key—after all, you have a 50/50 chance of being rescued and continuing your mission.
Bombing on Afterburners
Once you become proficient at bombing at 100 percent power, you should learn to bomb while on afterburners. Though this reduces your time over the target and lets you drop only one bomb load, it does have advantages. You're most vulnerable to both enemy missiles and aircraft while making a bomb run, so going in at maximum speed makes you harder to hit and harder to catch.
Clear the Map
Once you've successfully completed all the scenarios, you can go back and start with Mission #1 and not only hit the primary target, but clear the map of all targets. Remember that once all primary targets have been hit you cannot continue if you return to base. Save at least one primary target for the last strike.
Clearing the map takes a different plan from just completing the mission. Decide in advance what you want to do first—attack the closest targets or eliminate the SAM threat or air opposition.
The ultimate in map clearing is to start with Mission #1 and clear each map in one sitting without losing your aircraft. Give yourself plenty of time, as this could take eight or nine hours.
It's helpful, not to mention time-saving, to go through the simulation's manual and make a chart of the Authorization Codes. Keep this with your manual or beside your computer location for quick reference.
The computer can't tell the difference between two bomb hits on one primary target and one bomb hit on two primary targets. If the mission you're flying has two primary targets and you hit the first with two bomb loads and return to base, the computer will give you credit for successfully completing that mission—and you won't be able to go after the second primary target.
Copy the Maps
One of the things that help keep F-15 Strike Eagle interesting is the variety of ways to complete each mission. Plan your mission on a photocopy of the mission map and keep track of successful routes—that's what real fighter pilots do, and it's a good idea for you, too.
Navigation, fuel planning, and examination of enemy air defenses is just as much a part of an actual military operation as the time spent flying. It makes good sense for you to take these items into account before flying a mission.
Don't Fly over Targets You Don't Intend to Bomb
F-15 Strike Eagle is designed to operate so that the enemy can detect your presence by radar and visual or audible contact. If you fly over an enemy airbase, you'll be seen and heard. Don't be surprised if you have company soon after.
Ease Off the Stick When Entering Keyboard Commands
In the Commodore 64 version of F-15 Strike Eagle you can't use the joystick and the keyboard at the same time. When you want to activate a system controlled through the keyboard—afterburners, weapons selection, or ejection seat—you must ease off of the stick so the computer can recognize the command. Especially keep this in mind when you're trying to eject.
Finding the Ground
Sometimes when making a steep climb, you can lose track of up and down. If this occurs, the ground can always be located by activating the bomb sight. The line attached to the sight circle always points down.
Running out of fuel is a problem with many of the missions. When it becomes obvious that you're not going to make it back to base before running out of fuel, start a gradual climb. The extra altitude will increase the distance you'll be able to glide.
When out of fuel and gliding, try to keep the nose at a level where you can maintain an airspeed of 240 knots. This yields the greatest glide distance.
Gun Fighting in Ace Mode
When attempting a gun kill in Ace mode, it can be very difficult to out-turn your opponent. In this case, instead of turning nose-to-tail, try turning nose-to-nose, slowing up, and then reversing your turn and allowing the enemy to pass in front of you. Be ready to shoot fast and be sure to lead your target.
Another tactic which may prove successful in Ace mode is to turn in front of your opponent, and then perform a maneuver that makes him overshoot. This will put you on his tail in perfect firing position.
High-Altitude Dive Bombing
If you're coming up on a target you want to bomb at high altitude, you don't have to pass it by. Such a target can be hit by following these guidelines:
- Cut power to 55 percent.
- Line up the target directly in front of you.
- Set the radar to the shortest range.
- When the target appears on the radar, activate the bomb sight and start a steep dive.
- Keep track of your progress by watching the radar screen. Adjust your dive if necessary to prevent passing the target.
- The target triangle should appear on the ground as you pass 10,000 feet. If it doesn't appear, you've probably passed over the target.
- Drop bombs and/or pull up at 3500 feet.
If at any time during your dive you lose control, extend the speedbrake to stabilize the aircraft.
Learn to Fly Low
Flying low causes the flight of the aircraft to be a little inconsistent due to programmed “turbulence.” Though this may be annoying, as constant joystick adjustment is required, it's a skill well worth learning. Low-level flying lets you come in beneath the radar which guides some of the SAM missiles.
A damaged aircraft is often a fact of life in F-15. Nursing a wounded bird back to the nest can take some doing. If you decide that you're going to make a dash back to the base for repairs, the first thing to do is drop any remaining bomb loads and the external fuel tank. Set your navigational cursor. Either hit the burners for a fast escape, or slow down, get low, and try to sneak back.
The aircraft tends to handle best at low speeds (around 240 knots) when damaged, but if you're over enemy territory you'll be an easy target at that speed.
Remember that the aircraft is much harder to handle at high speed when damaged.
The missiles in this simulation, like real missiles, are equipped with proximity fuses. In other words, the missiles don't have to actually hit your aircraft, but detonate when they're close. As you begin to operate at the higher skill levels, enemy missiles can detonate at increased distance from your aircraft and still cause damage. Take this into account when planning your defensive maneuvers.
In an actual strike against heavily protected targets, such as those seen in the mission scenarios, an attack would usually have several components.
You can simulate this using several flights from the base with different objectives.
The first attack would be made by the “Wild Weasel” squadron whose job it is to take out the enemy surface-to-air missile launchers. Following that, strikes against air bases to reduce air resistance would be conducted. Finally, the target objective would be attacked.
To complete some of the missions in the simulation you can do the same thing. On the first flight, attack SAM locations; then return to base. Fly again to take out the primary target(s) or airfields.
When making a bombing run at SAM sites or the primary target, you probably won't need more than one or two racks of bombs—drop the rest if they're not going to be used since they'll slow you down.
Out of Fuel and Out of Altitude
When you're gliding toward base and it appears that you'll come up short, a minor program glitch can help you out. By repeatedly hitting the afterburner key you can get small bursts of power which will increase your airspeed slightly.
Surviving an ejection is dependent upon speed, altitude, distance from base, the proximity of enemy planes, control of the aircraft, and luck.
Save Those Flares
When playing at the higher skill levels, it's a good idea to try to jink incoming air-to-air missiles without using flares. Your flares will better serve you when you're trying to avoid the much tougher heat-seeking SAMs.
Although landing isn't a part of F-15 Strike Eagle, as it is with other flight simulators, you can duplicate landing by being at less than 500 feet and falling when you fly over the blue triangle representing your home base. The ultimate is to go into the triangle with your low-altitude warning sounding.
Arcade. This level should only be used to familiarize yourself or a new user with the plane's basic operation. The aircraft won't bank in a turn in this mode. One gun hit destroys the opponent.
Rookie. (Easy) Beginners should start here. The plane operates correctly and two gun hits are required to down an enemy aircraft.
Pilot. (Moderate) Things begin to get more difficult here. The opposing pilots are much better, but will occasionally attempt to run after a long, turning fight, giving you a good missile shot or guns opportunity. At least three gun hits are required to score a kill. Bombing and returning to base must be more precise. SAMs are more accurate.
Ace. (Tough) SAMs are very accurate. Enemy pilots are very good and will not disengage. Keep an eye on your energy level and altitude as enemy pilots will turn you right into the ground if you're not careful. At least four gun hits are required to down an enemy—often more. Bombing must be precise and returning to base must be well under 3000 feet. Unless your dogfighting skills are very good, stay away from turning fights and use missile attacks only.
In both reality and the simulation, the F-15 isn't an easy aircraft to spin. It is possible, however, to find yourself in a disorienting spin due to damage to your aircraft, poor flying, or both. If this happens, extend your speedbrake to slow or stop the aircraft's rotation. Locate the horizon, level your wings, and pull out of your dive.
Although the F-15 Strike Eagle manual makes only slight mention of the two-player system, I feel this is very important.
The real F-15E is a two-man aircraft, as is the Navy's F-14 Tomcat. The benefit is not only in the extra pair of hands for operating complex weapon systems, but also in the extra pair of eyes. These same benefits translate well to the simulation.
In a two-player simulation, one person operates the joystick—functioning as pilot—and the other operates the keyboard controls—functioning as weapons officer, or GIB (Guy In Back), as they're referred to. The pilot doesn't have to look away from the screen to push buttons or check radar.
In this system the duties should be divided as outlined in the following:
- Fly the airplane.
- Choose and release weapons.
- Give orders (someone must have the final say).
Weapons officer's responsibilities
- Watch the radar screen. Things happen very quickly in battle and the radar screen gives you the best clues as to what is coming at you.
- Watch the radar and infrared-scanning indicator lights. The warning lights tell you what type of countermeasures to use. When two SAMs are in the air, the weapons officer must determine which is the infrared-homing SAM and which is radar-guided. This can only be done by noticing which warning light comes on first.
- Deploy countermeasures and tell the pilot to break away and in what direction.
- Place the NAV indicator in the correct position.
- Drop the external fuel tanks when the fuel level reaches 13,500 pounds. Continuing to fly with the drop tanks attached reduces your fuel efficiency and performance.
- Respond to pilot commands to operate the following systems:
Throttle increase or decrease
Reminding the pilot of altitude during combat
It's important to give the second player as much to do as possible to keep him or her from getting bored and becoming a spectator instead of a participant.
Use Your Afterburners
Afterburners can be useful in several areas. When you're making a low-level bombing run, the extra-speed afterburners reduce the time you're in SAM range and make it harder for them to hit you.
When involved in a tight turning fight you'll rapidly bleed energy and airspeed. If you start to get stall warnings in a tight turn, use your afterburners to increase your airspeed to 500 knots; then return to 100 percent power.
This may be necessary several times during a dogfight to keep your airspeed up and to prevent stalls.