To Fly And Fight
“The sky above was a bright crystal blue, and the land below a green-on-green checkerboard divided by a silverblue ribbon. Below was occupied France, beyond the river lay Germany, and it all looked the same, rolling and peaceful and bursting with spring.
Staying alive was no simple thing in the skies over Europe in the spring of 1944. A lot of men couldn’t. It was a bad thing to dwell on if you were a fighter pilot, and so we told ourselves we were dead men and lived for the moment with no thought of the future at all. It wasn’t too difficult. Lots of us had no future and everyone knew it.
We were high over a bomber stream in our P-51B Mustangs, escorting the heavies to the Ludwigshafen-Mannheim area. We had picked up the bombers at 27,000 feet, assumed the right flank, and almost immediately all hell began breaking loose up ahead of us.
They were chattering now, up ahead, and my earphones were crackling with loud, frantic calls: “Bandits, 11 o’clock low! . . . Two o’clock high, pick him up! . . . Blue leader break left!” It sounded as if the Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs were everywhere.
Things happen quickly. We get rid of our drop tanks, slam the power up, and make a sweeping left turn to engage. My flight of four Mustangs is on the outside of the turn, a wingman close behind to my left, my element leader and his wingman behind to my right, all in finger formation. I look over my right shoulder and, sure enough, I see four dots above us, way back, no threat at the moment, but coming hard down the chute. I start to call out… “Four bogeys, five o’clock high!” My element leader, Eddie Simpson, has already seen them. Bogeys are unknowns and bandits are hostile. Quickly, the dots close and take shape. They’re hostile, all right. They’re Messerschmitts. We turn hard to the right, pulling up into a tight string formation, spoiling their angle, and we try to come around and go at them head on. The Me 109s change course, charge past, then continue on down and we wheel and give chase. There are four of them, single-seat fighters, and they pull up, turn hard and we begin turning with them. We are circling now, tighter and tighter, chasing each other’s tails, and I’m sitting there wondering what the hell’s happening. These guys want to hang around. We’re flying tighter circles, gaining a little each turn, our throttles wide open, 30,000 feet up. The Mustang is a wonderful aeroplane, 37 feet wingtip to wingtip, just a little faster than the smaller German fighters, and also just a little more nimble. Suddenly the 109s, sensing things are not going well, roll out and run, turning east, flying level. Then one lifts up his nose and climbs away from the rest. We roll out and go after them. They’re flying full power, the black smoke pouring out of their exhaust stacks I close to within 250 yards of the nearest Messerschmitt – dead astern, 6 o’clock, no maneuvering, no nothing… and squeeze the trigger on the control stick between my knees gently. Bambambambambam! The sound is loud in the cockpit in spite of the wind shriek and engine roar…He slows, and then suddenly rolls over. I pour another burst into him, pieces start flying off, I see flame, and the 109 plummets and falls into a spin, belching smoke. My sixth kill. “ The passage above is an excerpt from the book “To Fly and Fight: Memoirs of a Triple Ace”, written by Colonel C. E. “Bud” Anderson with Joseph P. Hamelin and reproduced here with kind permission from Colonel Anderson.
Air combat simulation
Air combat simulation for many is an exhilarating experience – it’s competitive, unpredictable, challenging, but ultimately rewarding! For me, the extract above, taken from Colonel Anderson’s book, To Fly and Fight, encompasses all of these facets. It also contains useful insights into strategies and tactics that were employed by fighter pilots during WWII. In this, the first instalment in a new series of articles, I will be examining those aerial combat tactics and try to convey the essential requirements needed to succeed in aerial combat. In addition, I will also be looking at the aircraft themselves and how best to employ them in any given situation. At this point however I should stress that these articles will not be an academic and scientific look at aerial combat, but will be my own personal examination of the anatomy of the ‘dogfight’. In this series I also hope to give an insight into the appeal and challenge of this, perhaps, often misunderstood side of flight simulation. In so doing I hope it will appeal to the ‘newbie’ and ‘veteran’ simmer alike. I will also be showing you how real-world strategies and tactics can and are used in the virtual world, and hopefully persuade some of the ‘unconverted’ virtual pilots to come over to the ‘dark side’!
Air Combat Attitude
If you were to ask me what it takes to achieve ‘success’ as a virtual combat pilot I would have to say that much of it has to do with one’s general mental approach to the subject. WWII pilots, unofficially, used to place pilots into two categories – the ‘hunters’ and the ‘hunted’. In essence, the ‘hunter’ was the pilot who had full confidence in both his own capabilities and those of the aircraft he was flying. On the other hand the so-called ‘hunted’ were those who lacked confidence in themselves or their machines. Hence the same principle applies within the virtual world of combat simulation. However, as with most things, confidence as an air combat pilot is acquired and comes from experience, which in turn stems from constant practice in both flying and fighting in your chosen aircraft. So, before you can fight in any given aircraft, you have to first learn how to fly it – almost to a level where reactions become automatic – and have confidence in flying it to the edge of its flight envelope! Echoing the title of Colonel Anderson’s book, you have to learn how to “Fly and to Fight” to succeed as a combat pilot.
At this juncture I should point out that this series will primarily focus on WWII combat, but we may ‘stray’ into the modern-jet era in the future. The main ‘tool’ we will be using throughout this series to study this period is Oleg Maddox’s IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946. If you own earlier versions of this simulation, they can also be used. I chose this simulation because it represents the pinnacle of WWII air combat simulation currently available – in terms of flight dynamics, damage modelling, visual representation, artificial intelligence and the online multiplayer experience. It also has the largest number of flyable combat aircraft currently available in its inventory. Finally, it also contains a recording facility (a virtual gun camera), which should be used constantly to review your performance after each engagement. As mentioned earlier, in order to become proficient at your ‘trade’ you must first become proficient at handling your aircraft. Each one varies in performance and manoeuvrability, and therefore will have to be flown differently to maximise its full potential. At the same time, you will be trying to negate or minimise the advantages of your opponent’s aircraft over your own. So, not only will you have to be aware of the capabilities of your own aircraft, but at the same time, those of your opponent’s. Furthermore, you will also find that performance and manoeuvrability are relative. For example, an aircraft may be fast when compared with one aircraft, but may be relatively slow when compared to another. This means you have to be constantly reassessing how you fly and fight in your chosen mount. So, to that end we will initially be focusing our attention on a selection of aircraft which we will be using to explore the many facets of aerial combat. The aircraft we will initially be using in this series will be the: Spitfire Mk IXe, Hawker Tempest, P-51D Mustang, Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6, Focke Wulf Fw190 A-8 and Messerschmitt Me 262.
Whichever aircraft you choose, I would strongly recommend that you try to stick with that one aircraft, rather than constantly changing from one aircraft to another. Adopting this approach guarantees that your skill and level of confidence in handling a particular aircraft are greater than they would be otherwise.
Aerial combat is a complex and multi-faceted subject. Fortunately, it can be deconstructed into specific components, which, when combined with each other, can be used to overcome an opponent. However, I should stress at this point that aerial combat should not be viewed as a series of moves and predefined counter-moves. It is a fluid, dynamic and ever-changing experience, so you have to be flexible in your thinking and approach and constantly reassess a given situation and act accordingly, because priorities are constantly changing! During an engagement a combat pilot has to think about many factors at the same time – many of which are inter-related – while trying to bring his guns to bear. Here are just some of the things you should be thinking about as a combat pilot, all of which we will be covering in future issues:
• Situational awareness
• Energy management
• Tactical positioning
• Using altitude
• Pursuit flight paths
• Aerial gunnery (including deflection shooting)
• Offensive tactics
• Defensive tactics
• ‘Angles’ and ‘Energy’ fights and fighters
• Relative aircraft performance
• One versus one tactics
• One versus two tactics
• Using your wingman
We will also be using first-hand contemporary combat reports to illustrate each of the topics listed above.
In carrying out my research for this series, one thing soon became apparent – in reality and contrary to popular belief, dogfights were seldom long drawn-out affairs (although this did occur). More often than not encounters were short, sharp and fleeting encounters, consisting of a series of high-speed ‘slashing’ hit and run attacks – lasting no more than a few seconds or a few minutes at the most. Furthermore, fighter pilots often broke off engagements if they found themselves in an unfavourable position, or even declined from engaging – opting to live to fight another day! Whenever possible, fighter pilots, before executing an attack, preferred to gain an initial tactical advantage, preferably from above their intended target, and then use the element of surprise and speed to down their opponent. It is a well-known fact that the majority of the pilots that were shot down in WWII, and lived to tell the tale, never saw the one that got them! So, when it comes to aerial combat, one piece of advice I would offer is that your primary concern should not be to shoot down as many aircraft as possible, at the detriment of your own ‘virtual’ wellbeing, but to survive every encounter. Adopting such an approach will dramatically change the way you fly and fight. Ultimately, it will augment the sense of realism and immersion. So, the next time you fly, instead of relentlessly sticking to the tail of your prey, with total disregard for your own safety, (knowing that you can always hit the ‘restart’ button), keep a vigilant eye on your own tail and break off your attack if you find yourself in potential danger. This approach will stand you in good stead and increase your chance of survival when flying offline, and particularly when you ultimately fly online – a subject we will also be covering in this series. In the long-term you will find that adopting such an approach will indeed lead to an increase in your virtual ‘kill’ tally.
Essential ingredients I find to be very important to my better understanding of the whole subject of aerial combat are books – particularly those written by veteran combat pilots. Our combat ‘experience’ may be within a virtual world, but there is much we can learn from the real one. That is why I find books such as “To Fly and Fight” by Col. Clarence Anderson, mentioned previously, indispensable for not only gaining useful hints and tips about combat, but perhaps more importantly for getting a ‘flavour’ of what dogfighting was really like. If you want to take your combat flight simulation to a higher level, then I would strongly recommend reading up on the subject. In fact I find that combining the background reading with my combat sim experience gives me a more rounded understanding of that historical period. For our part we will be recommending a selection of books for further reading in each instalment of this series. In addition, we also hope to include interviews with some of those WWII pilots to obtain some of their own personal combat experiences. Another source of reference material is aviation videos and DVDs. These cover many aspects of combat aviation, however, the ones I tend to focus upon are those which specifically feature individual historical aircraft and their handling qualities. For example, there are documentaries on aircraft such as the Supermarine Spitfire, Focke Wulf Fw190, Hawker Tempest, Messerschmitt 109, to name but a few.
A good source for such reference material can be found at our very own Key Publishing website –shop. keypublishing.com/
Next Time – In our next instalment of ‘air combat simulation’ I will be offering hints and tips on optimising IL-2 Sturmovik – which will enable you to fly and fight more efficiently – and I’ll also begin examining the pros and cons of some of the classic aircraft that we will be using in this series. So until then… keep checking your ‘Six’!