Jet Fighter School

Air Combat Simulator Tactics and Maneuvers
by Richard G. Sheffield

The Pilot

Being a winning combat pilot, whether you're flying a computer simulator or a 30-million-dollar airplane, requires confidence and aggressiveness. See how these two personality traits—and other skills—can make you a better combat simulation pilot.

In 1915, a young Dutchman named Anthony Fokker was designing airplanes for the German army. Intrigued and inspired by a clumsy British design, he was the first to develop a system that could successfully fire a machine gun through turning propeller blades. In many ways, Fokker ushered in the age of air combat.

During World War I and World War II, dominance of the air became a major tactical advantage, and sophisticated training courses in air combat maneuvering were developed.

With the advent of the jet age, training became even more important—the speeds and distances involved increased dramatically. During the war in Vietnam, these speeds were thought to be so great that the first F-4 Phantoms weren't equipped with guns at all, but were only loaded with long-and short-range missiles.

The theorists quickly learned, however, that many air battles were still fought at close range, and that missiles weren't very effective in close quarters. Once again, heavy emphasis was placed on training pilots in air combat maneuvering, and guns were put back on jet fighters.

Your Own Jet Fighter

For the first time, anyone with access to a personal computer can sit in the cockpit of a sophisticated jet fighter and experience a very real simulation of air combat. The designers of simulations like F-15 Strike Eagle, JET, Jet Combat Simulator, and others, have gone to great lengths to program accurate performance characteristics of some of today's most advanced aircraft and weapons systems.

But accurate aircraft performance doesn't automatically turn the average computer user into a Top Gun jet fighter pilot. In the area of training, most of the available simulations are lacking. A first-time user of these programs is in the same position as World War I pilots, learning air combat maneuvering by the slow (and dangerous) process of trial and error. The purpose of Jet Fighter School is to let the simulator pilot more effectively use his or her aircraft and weapon systems.

With today's advanced technology, airplanes can accelerate straight up and missiles can destroy an enemy aircraft 60 miles away—even before the pilot sees it. These capabilities are only important, however, when they're in the hands of a well-trained pilot. Now, as in 1915, the pilot is the most important part of the system.

Fighter pilots come in all shapes and sizes, but they generally exhibit similar temperaments and personality traits when flying. Understanding and attempting to adopt the same attitudes when using air combat simulators will improve your performance and make the games more fun to play.

To be a successful combat pilot, whether you're flying a computer simulator or a 30-million-dollar airplane, you must have confidence and aggressiveness. These two traits form the basis of a good fighter pilot attitude. All great combat pilots have the confidence and aggressiveness to identify a target, and to pursue and attack relentlessly until that target is destroyed. In aerial combat, there are no points for second place. Most dogfights last only a couple of minutes, so if you don't constantly push the attack or totally disengage, you can become a target very quickly. Your computer opponent makes no obvious mistakes and is constantly trying to gain the advantage for a shot. You must do the same.

The fact that you're only simulating combat gives you the opportunity to disregard caution and feel the thrill of combat without the consequences. In other words, take a chance on a dangerous maneuver. What have you got to lose?

Actually, the United States Air Force and Navy use jet simulators to teach pilots air combat maneuvering for the very same reason: The best way to learn is to learn by doing.

The Fighter Pilot's Mission

The jet fighter pilot's mission is to intercept, engage, out-maneuver, out-gun, and eliminate enemy aircraft. That's it, pure and simple.

Any true fighter pilot will tell you that there are two kinds of aircraft—fighters and targets.

An aircraft that has anything to do with delivering air-to-ground weapons (bombs) is a target. Heavy bomb loads reduce maneuverability and speed, as well as causing your aircraft to gulp fuel more rapidly. Whenever you're simulating air-to-air combat, then, get rid of your bomb load at the first opportunity. With your load lightened, you become a very dangerous weapon, ready to go looking for trouble.

Fighters sent up just to look for trouble generally fly what's known as the Combat Air Patrol (CAP). Fighters flying a CAP are configured strictly for air-to-air combat. F-15s on CAP usually carry Sidewinder short-range missiles, Sparrow medium-range missiles, and a Gatling gun or cannon. This mission fits well with the F-15 Strike Eagle simulator capabilities.

Pilot Training

Getting the most out of a combat aircraft and its weapon systems takes a very skilled and highly trained pilot. Jet Fighter School offers a condensed and simplified pilot training course covering the same topics discussed daily in military jet pilot training centers all over the world.

First the pilot must learn aerodynamics and how to get the best performance from the aircraft during a combat situation. The pilot should develop a gut feeling for flying—there's very little time to concentrate on flying the plane during actual combat. Flying must be instinctive.

Next, the weapons systems must be mastered. Fighter planes exist only to bring weapons close to an enemy. The advantages and disadvantages of every weapon available, and of those likely to be used against a fighter's aircraft, must be learned and understood.

Finally, actual combat maneuvering must be learned. All pilots learn the same basic maneuvers and tactics. The difficulty is in knowing what maneuver to use in the ever-changing set of combat circumstances. The complexity of air combat precludes any set “correct” ways of responding to a given set of conditions. Experience is the only way to master air combat. It's here that simulators play an important role.

The U.S. military currently uses two kinds of simulators—pilot against the computer, and pilot against pilot (twin tub) simulators.

In the pilot-versus-computer simulators, the pilot tries to shoot down an enemy aircraft which is controlled by the computer. Military simulators are far more sophisticated versions of the simulation games you use on your personal computer.

The twin tub systems allow two pilots to fly against one another with the aid of a computer. Currently, the only home simulation with this capability is MiG Alley Ace.

Once the basics of one-on-one combat are learned, multiple-aircraft fighting must be mastered. This is usually taught in the air in mock combat drills. These skills are then refined at the U.S. Air Force's “Aggressor Unit” or the Navy's “Top Gun” school.

Attention to detail is the credo for military combat pilots. Likewise, close attention to the details described in Jet Fighter School will improve your scores and your enjoyment of your air combat simulation, whether it's F-15 Strike Eagle, JET, or any other.

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