Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering

Author: Robert L. Shaw
This Month Reddit 2


by TacoGrease051   2019-08-24

This one

by Ophichius   2019-08-24

Oooh boy, hope you like novels.

So, to start with, turn fighting vs energy fighting is a simplification that people make when talking about fighters. I'm guilty of it too (obviously).

The physics of flight has some pretty unforgiving rules, one of which is that any change in velocity requires energy. If you're constantly turning, that's a constant energy requirement. Some of that energy can be supplied by your engine, but only up to a limit. Past that limit, the energy is coming out of your plane's kinetic energy (i.e. speed). Hit your stall speed and you're in a bind. You can't go any slower without stalling, so your turn rate is limited purely by engine power at that point.

Of course, it gets worse. When you turn, your load factor increases, the higher the load factor, the higher your stall speed (And the higher your drag). So pulling into a hard turn raises your load factor, your stall speed goes up, your drag goes up, and you start bleeding speed once drag exceeds your engine thrust. Pull the hardest turn you can and you're creating as much drag as possible, which costs you a ton of speed.

But wait! There's more! Drag also scales with the square of velocity. Going twice as fast requires four times as much power. So a high-speed turn induces tremendous drag, and consequently costs you a tremendous amount of energy.

The net result of all this is that engaging in sustained turns will push you down to low speeds and keep you there.


At this point I think it's time to talk about energy. You'll see the term thrown around a lot on this sub, and in various contexts. The strict definition of an aircraft's energy state is its total specific energy, or (kinetic energy + potential energy)/mass

Since your plane generally isn't changing mass too much in flight, we typically ignore that bit and just think about speed and altitude. A good chunk of dogfighting comes down to energy management, making sure you have more energy than your opponent. Since your engine puts out a finite amount of power, you need to be looking at how to most efficiently use that power. Going fast during a fight is good, it gives you options. However, recall that drag rises with the square of velocity. Going fast before a fight is bad because you're throwing away some of your engine's power output fighting drag. You want to climb at an efficient speed, to store as much energy as you can in potential energy, that way you can later convert it back to speed when you need it.

So now you know that turning costs energy, high speed turns cost more energy, and altitude is good because it stores energy efficiently. So let's look at speed and how to use it.


Speed allows you to dictate range. The faster plane in a fight cannot be escaped, nor can it be chased down and forced to fight. There's no point to being agile if your opponent can simply avoid being in range. This is the underlying principle of why speed is so important.

If you're above an opponent and have the energy advantage, you can convert your altitude to speed, rapidly close range on them, shoot, and be far enough away that they cannot hit you before they can even turn to get guns on you. At which point you recycle that speed back into altitude by gently pulling the nose up (Remember, hard turns lead to greater loss of energy due to drag.) and climbing to reset for another attack. This is the quintessential boom and zoom attack. The simplest and easiest of various energy fighting techniques.

If your opponent sees you coming and dodges, they've just made a hard turn, costing them energy. Instead of trying to follow their turn at high speed, simply blow past and reset for another run. You've lost little to no energy, your opponent has lost a substantial amount. It's a patient method of wearing an opponent down until they make one final mistake.

This is all general stuff that applies to any plane, of any type.


Now here's where we get into discussing a plane's strengths and weaknesses.

Some planes have low wing loading and lose less energy in turns relative to other planes while being able to turn tightly at lower speeds, these are typically referred to as turn fighters. The drawback of a low wing loading is typically a lower top speed, as a lightly-loaded wing has more surface area which creates more parasitic drag.

Other planes have high wing loading, which has exactly the opposite effects. Poor low-speed turn performance, high energy loss in turns, but higher top speeds. These are typically referred to as energy fighters, because they cannot generally win turning engagements and thus must rely on energy tactics.

Either type can use energy fighting tactics, however planes with low wing loading tend to lose more energy during high speed runs, and are less suited to the BnZ attacks I mentioned above. They can still utilize them of course, but they're more often suited to other more complicated (and more situational) maneuvers.

Of course, this is really just scratching the surface of fighter tactics, there are literally textbooks about the subject. It's too much to cover in a single post, but hopefully I've given you at least an understandable outline.

by 3-10   2019-07-21

Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering

The only book for real and virtual fighters.

by Cephelopodia   2019-07-21

Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering

This will serve you well.

by TwistedTechMike   2019-07-21

I've had this book over 20 years, and its still a go to.

by Ophichius   2017-08-19

My usual recommendation for folks wanting to get better is In Pursuit .

Some of the tactics will have to be adapted slightly for WT's environment (For instance, hiding in an opponent's blind spot is simply not a thing in RB, nor is ducking under their nose to foil a shot.), but the vast majority of the information is applicable and worthwhile.

by Ophichius   2017-08-19

> Holy shit why do you know so much!?

> All your comments are super thoughtful and knowledgeable, are you a real life pilot?

Nah, not a RL pilot yet. Contemplating it once I have enough money saved up for all the classes and certification, but it's expensive. Mostly I'm just a flight sim geek.

> So for example, what do you do in that map where is US+Brits vs RUS in that harbor map? So basically just banking on being higher than them?

Well it depends on what you're flying and what you're engaged by. Something like the P-47, you want to stay high and scout a lot. Crisscross the map looking for high-altitude enemies before diving. If you do get jumped take advantage of your high-speed roll rate. The P-47 still rolls like mad at 500kph+ while Yaks stiffen up at that range. What you want to do is throw a look over your shoulder and roll 90 degrees to your opponent's wings. Then pull just a little bit of a turn with pitch up. This forces your opponent to try and aim into you using the rudder, which is very inefficient and saps tons of energy, since it turns the entire side of their plane into an airbrake essentially. If they roll to match your wings, you can just use your higher roll speed to keep rolling offset to them. Eventually you should bleed them of enough speed that you can just outrun them, then go into a shallow climb and head for the stratosphere again. The P-47 in particular is a monster above 5km and can easily drag Yaks up to altitude and then club them with superior engine performance. That said, if you're rolling to evade, you need to exercise a lot of discipline to avoid disorientation. It's easy to slam into the ground, or enter an unrecoverably-sharp nose-down attitude while trying to out-maneuver someone and look behind you constantly.

Part of knowing how to beat an enemy plane involves knowing your specific strengths and weaknesses against it. Unfortunately WT doesn't provide us the really meaty information I'd like to see about plane performance, but it's usually close-ish enough that you can get some basic ideas about performance from real-world charts. For example, this report of the Spitfire LF Mk. IX will give a rough idea of boost at altitude, showing that the LF Mk. IX maintains maximum horsepower all the way up to 21000 ft altitude. This chart provides a more visual display of data, and you can see that while the Spit Mk. IX is good up to 21000ft, by 30000ft boost pressure has halved, from 18lbs/in^2 to 9lbs/in^2

It also helps to just read up a lot on air combat in general. I usually recommend In Pursuit if you want to get a greater grasp on air combat theory and tactics.

by Ophichius   2017-08-19

> I have waaaaay to many hours in WOT to be this bad at ground in WT

Virtually nothing you learn in WOT will translate over. Welcome to square one again.

> despite having my pilots license IRL, I still suck in air battle when it comes to using fighters like the P-400.

To be honest, a civilian pilot's license doesn't really translate into any military knowledge. It means you can keep a plane from smacking into the ground, other planes, etc. and conduct takeoffs and landings. But it won't teach you a damned thing about air combat theory. I usually recommend In Pursuit to people wanting to get better, but in your case you might be able to just jump straight into Fighter Combat and digest it.

For ground combat, you need to learn to think and move like a tanker. Bind a key to your binoculars so you can scout, and use them frequently. You should always be looking to move through low points in the terrain, as German tankers say "Drive like water flows". Plan your movements in sprints, use your binoculars to scout for threats while turret down, identify a destination that offers good hard cover and a reasonably-protected line of retreat, then once you've determined that there are no nearby threats, move to that position and repeat.

If you're engaging enemies, do so from a hull down position. Don't camp, don't get into slugging matches. If you've lost the element of surprise it's time to relocate. And it's best to assume that if you've fired from a given position, your location will be known within 30 seconds or less.

Don't just shoot for the sake of shooting, place your shots carefully and only take shots with a high probability of a kill. Learn to use the stadia markings in your sight to range targets, so your first shell is accurate.

Defensively, assume that all buildings, ruins, etc. are concealment only, not cover. Never assume your armor will stop anything, and never rely on it to stop anything. This isn't to say that you shouldn't angle for optimum armor efficiency, but rather that armor is a last line of defense, and a crapshoot. You have too many weak points, and the matrix of gun/round/range combinations that threaten you is too vast to guarantee that armor will work.