Jet Fighter School

Air Combat Simulator Tactics and Maneuvers
by Richard G. Sheffield

Air Combat

An Overview of Tactics

Learn about the four criteria for air attack effectiveness, the five steps of aerial combat, and Oswald Boeleke's eight rules of air combat.

The aerial chess game of move and countermove, one plane against another, has been a difficult thing for experts to pin down over the years. The rules are constantly changing; what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, or the latest technology may be defeated by an obsolete system in actual combat conditions.

Regardless of the level of sophistication of the equipment, however, the most important measure of a country's air power is how well the pilots can tactically maneuver to utilize and deliver the weapons available. It's been shown over and over that flying skills and aggressiveness can overcome more recently developed weapons and superior numbers.

Despite all these changes, certain basic principles have remained constant over the years. The effectiveness of an attack is basically determined by four criteria, which are listed here in order of priority.


Although surprise is not often possible with the F-15 Strike Eagle simulation, it can be accomplished by firing medium-range Sparrow missiles early, as soon as an enemy aircraft is detected coming toward you.

Surprise can also occasionally be gained by detecting an enemy with long-range radar and making a wide, slow turn to position yourself behind your opponent. Once in the favorable position, accelerate and close fast.

In actual air combat, surprise has always been the dominant factor in victory. Four out of five defeated pilots didn't know they were under attack until it was too late to maneuver to safety.


Teamwork is the second most important factor. Unfortunately, you're all by yourself when flying your F-15 Strike Eagle (or when flying in any other present simulation with the exception of ACE). However, two-person play—with one flying the plane and the other operating the keyboard—can greatly improve your chances for survival.


Historically, only one out of five kills has been made by out-maneuvering an opponent, but when you're involved in a low-speed, turning dogfight, it suddenly becomes very important. Develop and practice those maneuvering skills.


As the lethality of weapons used in air-to-air combat has increased, the targets have become harder to hit due to their increased speed and maneuverability. All things considered, the current close-range missiles are not much deadlier than the machine guns used during World Wars I and II.

Aerial Combat

Aerial combat can be broken down into five stages:

Though in actual practice some of these phases may be skipped, each needs to be examined and understood.


The earlier you detect the position and course of an enemy aircraft, the more time you'll have to form a battle plan and maneuver to a favorable position.

When you're not actively engaged in combat or on a bombing run, always keep your radar in the long-range mode. If nothing appears on the long-range radar, frequently check your front and rear screens for target-designator boxes. It's possible for your internal heat sensors to pick up a distant aircraft before it appears on radar.


Once an enemy has been detected, a decision must be made as to whether or not to close. You must evaluate the damage condition of your airplane, the amount of fuel you have remaining, your current mission, and weapons remaining in order to make this decision. In some cases it's best to continue a bombing run or head for home.

If you do choose to attack, you should close as quickly as possible. Your direction of approach will primarily depend on the enemy's path in relation to yours. If the enemy aircraft is flying across your path or away from you, try to get close behind it as quickly as possible, before it has a chance to turn toward you.

If the enemy plane is coming directly at you, you have little alternative but to close head-on.


Getting off the first shot is important. With an F-15, this usually means a Sparrow missile shot followed by an attempt to get behind the enemy plane to follow up with a Sidewinder missile or guns. Your best move is to attack from behind. If this isn't possible, then the head-on approach is your next choice.

You must also decide which weapon to use. Sparrows are probably out of the question at this point due to the minimum-range requirements. If Sidewinders are chosen, care should be taken not to get too close during the attack.

If the first-shot attack is not successful, you'll move on to the next phase of air combat.


If your long-range or rear surprise attack is not successful, you must then try to outmaneuver your opponent. Decide before-hand what type of weapons you want to attack with and what type of flight plan you'll follow.

If you're at low altitude (below 10,000 feet), a close-range, turning fight is not recommended. The energy you lose during this kind of flight can put your aircraft in a stall. You can quickly find yourself out of altitude, out of energy, and out of ideas. At low altitudes it's best to keep your speed up and maneuver for a missile shot, then climb while the enemy aircraft is trying to avoid the missile.

At high altitudes, a close-range, turning, gun attack is possible. Your first move for this type of fight is to cut your power to 75 or 80 percent, which gives you your best turning performance. You may need to increase power during a sustained turn to avoid stalling. Keeping your speed low also keeps the enemy in front of you; you're less likely to overshoot.

At this point, you'll probably be approaching the enemy head-on. Your options follow.

Head-on Gun Attack. It's possible to get one hit on your opponent shooting head-on. The trick is to center him in the sight and fire early, letting him get into gun range at the same time the shells arrive on target.

(In all the following figures, assume you are the Attacker.)

Figure 6-1. Head-on Gun Attack

Lead your target during a head-on attack. Fire when you're at position #1, even though the target is out of range. Your cannon shells hit the target when you're in position #2.


Lead Turn. To perform this maneuver, put some lateral distance between yourself and your opponent; then turn early (before your opponent) toward the target. This will place you in an advantageous position behind the enemy.

Figure 6-2. Lead Turn

When an enemy aircraft is approaching, turn before he does—chances are you'll end up behind him.


Nose-to-Nose Turn. In a nose-to-nose turn you turn away from your opponent at the time you pass.

Figure 6-3. Nose-to-Nose Turn

Turn away from your opponent to conduct a nose-to-nose turning maneuver.


If you've sufficiently reduced your speed, you may be able to reverse the turn once you spot the target so that you can fall in behind it.

Figure 6-4. Reversing During a Nose-to-Nose Turn

Reduce speed, reverse your turn, and you should be in a shooting position.


Nose-to-Tail Turn. In a nose-to-tail turn you turn toward your opponent at the time you pass.

Figure 6-5. Nose-to-Tail Turn

The aircraft with the best turning performance will be in the shooting position.


This puts you in a turning contest. The plane with the best turning performance will eventually catch up with the other and be in perfect position for a gun or short-range missile shot.

Maneuvering after the initial pass is discussed in detail in Chapter 8.


In the F-15 simulation (and many of the other jet combat simulations), there's no real disengagement. The enemy fighters continue to follow you all the way back to the base or until they're shot down. There are times, though, when it's necessary to put space between you and your opponent, to regroup or take a missile shot. These maneuvers are covered in detail in Chapter 9.

In F-15 Strike Eagle, as it has been historically, the best way to disengage from an enemy fighter is to shoot it down.

Oswald Boeleke and the Eight Rules of Air Combat

Air combat has changed dramatically since World War I. Basic tactics and rules established by Oswald Boeleke in 1916, however, have stood the test of time well. He gave new pilots eight rules of air combat to help them survive and win.

This is the end of Ground School. Study this section and be prepared for anything the enemy can throw at you.

Remember that air battles are lost, not won. The pilot who makes the fewest mistakes wins.

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