Advanced Combat Maneuvers
Advanced Combat Maneuvers (ACM) is the collective name for all kinds maneuvers that you will need to employ to produce a guns opportunity against enemy aircraft – or to escape from a threatening situation. The maneuvers alone are not the definite answer to any and all situation you may find yourself in but may come in handy under very specific circumstances.
The air combat equation is a lot more than turning, diving and rolling – in general, the maneuvers described herein should actually be regarded as last-ditch moves to be employed only when all your other advantages (energy, position, surprise) have eroded or failed to produce results. That said, certain moves will become your ”bread and butter” maneuvers that you will employ time and time again. Practice them all, and find your own fighting style.
The German WWI ace Max Immelman patented the vertical renversement since universally recognized simply as the “Immelman”. It is an easy enough manoeuvre: pull up as in a looping but, instead of completing the circle to your original heading, half-roll to upright at the apex and continue on the level in the opposite direction. Think of it as a half-loop with a half-roll on top.
The Split-S (or Split Arse as it was originally known) is a 180-degree reversal just like the Immelman, but going down instead of up. From a level starting position, half-roll and pull back to enter a dive, relax stick pressure to build up speed and then pull some more to exit the manoeuvre in the opposite direction. Experiment by varying the amplitude of the manoeuvre at various airspeeds, and by executing aileron rolls in the dive to further stymie a pursuer before flattening out on your escape heading. Be advised that airspeed builds up quickly in the dive and that you must have a certain amount of altitude to play with lest you smack head first into the dirt.
The Cuban-8 is a typical airshow manoeuvre that comes useful for strafing and for making repeated attacks on very slow and plodding targets. As the name reveals, the manoeuvre describes an 8-formed shape lying down. Start the manoeuvre by entering a gentle dive (30-45 degrees) towards the target, fire, recover on the level and extend for some 10-15 seconds before making a straight vertical reversal. As you come over the top and start down back towards the target, make a half-roll to upright and continue down for another strafing run. Rinse and repeat. Be advised that the Cuban-8 is an exceptionally predictable manoeuvre that AA gunners and prowling enemy aircraft will not hesitate to take advantage of. It is however a very time- and energy-conserving manoeuvre and offers good SA throughout.
The Hammerhead is also a typical airshow manoeuvre that you will seldom find useful in air-to-air combat, though it may come in handy for ground attack, as it requires a massive energy advantage over the defender and an environment undisturbed by wildcards.
Start the manoeuvre with a power-on dive at a gentle angle (no greater than 30 degrees) towards a real or imaginary target. Immediately following your guns pass, pitch radically up and continue going more or less straight up to the limit of your available energy. Be careful so that you do not black out during your pitch-up though. As your airspeed bleeds off to the impending stall, give full rudder in your engine torque direction to yaw around back toward the target. You will have to correct and stabilize the move with a bit of opposite aileron and a touch of elevators during the critical phase as well, as it is fairly easy to get into an inverted state pointing in the wrong direction. A few seconds into the dive your airspeed builds up again and allows you to further correct your impending shot opportunity.
Because the Hammerhead is rather time-consuming and predictable, and requires you to squeeze out every last ounce of energy, you make a splendid target for anyone who has the smash to draw into guns range during its execution.
The High Yo-Yo is employed in a situation where you have a considerable energy advantage over your opponent and wish to remain in the rear hemisphere of your target for a subsequent guns opportunity. Consider a situation where you come in slightly high and fast against a slower target moving perpendicular to your approach (i.e. a 90-degree deflection situation). In this case you may opt between taking a full-deflection shot with plenty of lead in his future flight path, followed by a vertical reversal of some sort depending on what the enemy chooses to do – or fly well towards his long rear hemisphere without taking a shot, there to pitch up and quarter-roll to keep him in view. As you roll to keep visual on the target, pull down, dive in and roll upright for a clean six o’clock high attack. You have now performed a High Yo-Yo. This same manoeuvre can be executed at any deflection and in any situation where you have at least a slight energy advantage.
In the picture below, the high-speed attacker fakes an attack, or aborts an attack that appears to hold little promise, shortly after time 1, allowing the defender to complete his break turn undisturbed (time 2). Meanwhile the attacker spends his overhead of energy in a vertical displacement to remain in the defender's rear hemisphere, and converts to a fresh attack run at time 3. In this manner the attacker can keep his superior energy intact and subject the defender to a series of energy-burning defensive maneuvers.
The Low Yo-Yo is, like the High Yo-Yo, a manoeuvre that displaces your plane of manoeuvre relative to the enemy. Consider a situation where you are locked in a static horizontal turning contest at max rate and where you have at least a few hundred feet of altitude to play with – the more the merrier. If you see that you are not gaining angles simply by honking the stick fully backward, or even losing angles to the better turning enemy, then you must take positive action to get out of the rut.
With your wingline perpendicular to the horizon (i.e. fully banked to 90-degrees), increase your roll yet further into the circle and pull. Use a few degrees of combat flaps in this instance if your stick is already fully in your gut, and/or add a touch of bottom rudder too. As you roll and pull into an oblique dive you are displacing your circle relative to the enemy, and after you bottom out and recover in a nose high attitude, the gravity assist allows you to cut across for a brief snapshot or what is essentially a high yo-yo. Remember to retract flaps as you go “downhill” or you will negate much of the gravity assist and flounder well behind and below your opponent.
The defending fighter will most likely counter your low yo-yo with one of his own, thereby taking the fight first into the oblique and subsequently fully into the vertical. In either way you have caused the fight to become dynamic instead of static, which spells opportunity if you know how to exploit it.
The Flat or Horizontal Scissors is a means to slow your forward progress and force an enemy currently at your six o’clock in front of your wingline. The Scissors is not a purely defensive move but rather a conversion from defence to offense – or, at the very least, a conversion from defence to a safe disengagement.
The reason the Scissors works so well is that you force the enemy to react to your moves, which entails a measure of delay caused by inevitable reaction times and, in the best case, a performance difference in roll rate. While a superior roll rate does improve your chance of success it is nevertheless not critical – a slower rolling aircraft may yet defeat a better rolling aircraft.
Consider the situation where you are running flat out to escape from a bandit at your six. The enemy is faster, so your current strategy of running will meet with rapidly diminishing returns. You must do something, but you do not care to linger in a largely static turning contest for further back are yet more angry men with guns. This is where you employ the Scissors, and you should only use the Flat Scissors if you are already out of altitude.
- Start the manoeuvre shortly before the bandit closes to guns range – if he is already there, so be it – by making a radical yet energy-conserving break turn. Observe the enemy throughout: in the Scissors, you need to be flying backwards with your eyes on the enemy at all times. The bandit will likely match your bank and seek a deflection shot in your future path – very good, that is step one completed!
- Shortly before the bandit opens up with all guns, reverse your bank 180 degrees and pull to haul out of his guns window. The bandit may already be overshooting at this stage so that when you reverse a second time, you will already be climbing onto his back. If he holds his fire and matches your new plane of manoeuvre (aligning his wingline with yours) he will be a tad late in coming onto the new heading. This small delay is all you need.
- When you see the enemy labour to bring his nose around, quickly roll 180 degrees again before he has had time to finish his own roll. You will now be heading diametrically opposite to him for a few fractions of a second, building an angular advantage and forcing him higher up in your upview. Step two completed!
- Keep working with rolling and pulling to counter his heading in this manner and you will soon notice that you are reaching a neutral state, canopy to canopy. Resist the urge to pull into him too soon when in the neutral state but wait until you have him in your 45-degree up view: now is the time to reel him in and gun him down. Careful and well-timed use of combat flaps will help you slow down and win angular advantage sooner.
If you have just a little altitude to work with you will find that an inverted reversal is faster and more effective than a “sunny side up” reversal (i.e. when you reverse with the nose slightly above the horizon), though somewhat more desorienting. Be certain to trim tail heavy (K) aggressively in the scissors as well since your airspeed will be going down into the stall region.
If you achieve a neutral state and pass the bandit very nearly head-on, resist the urge to go for a guns pass but unload stick pressure instead and run. In the interval the enemy must spend another 10-12 seconds in a full 180-degree reversal, sufficient time for you to draw out of guns range and maybe even make good your escape if the enemy is not entirely on the ball.
The Rolling Scissors is related to the Flat variety yet a world apart. As the Flat Scissors, the Rolling kind relies on slowing your forward progress in order to flush the enemy in front of your wingline, though the means to do so is the barrel roll, not a series of reciprocating flat reversals.
- Start the Rolling Scissors no sooner than the bandit at your tail is about to close to guns distance – if you begin it too early the bandit is likely to seek a more comfortable position in your high rear hemisphere and wait for you to dump all your energy, then swoop in and finish you off.
- Enter the manoeuvre just like you do the barrel roll: by quarter-rolling and pulling. Make the barrel nice and slow initially, and only increase the amplitude of your manoeuvre when the bandit is sucked inside guns range and attempting to follow your moves. At that point he will be gunning for a shot solution with plenty of deflection, further increasing the speed differential and causing him to overshoot along your general heading. Roll and pull to slide around his forward vector, and see him move from your high-astern to your high-front view. Soon enough you will see him in your 45-degree up view: now is the time to reel him in and gun his brains out.
The Rolling Scissors is not dependent on a superlative roll rate but on carefully gauging the enemy intent and manoeuvre envelope. In fact, the slower and more pitiful your aircraft, the easier it is to make the Rolling Scissors work.
Lag roll attack
The Lag Roll attack (or Vector Roll) is a variant of the Rolling Scissor, though executed as a single devastating manoeuvre instead of a more time- and space consuming Barrel Roll. Key to make the Lag Roll work is to position the bandit at a good angle off your tail (AOT), to the tune of 45-90 degrees – i.e. the bandit will be approaching from your rear flank or directly to the side instead of from your six o’clock. This makes the bandit exceptionally vulnerable (despite his percieved advantage) to a radical overshoot which you may exploit as an immediate follow-up to the defensive situation.
- If the bandit starts out at your six, make a sustained turn to put him at your flank and level off to gain energy for the upcoming manoeuvre. If he is already boring in from your flank or side, simply lead him up the garden path by playing sitting duck. Meanwhile the bandit will be salivating, drawing deflection and settling down in his zoomed-in gunsight – totally unprepared for what you have in store for him.
- Shortly before he draws into guns range, quarter-roll into him and pitch up out of his guns envelope. If he has half a brain he will unload and extend away just below you as you perform the manoeuvre. Continue the roll so that you are fully inverted as he passes below. Then finish the manoeuvre by hauling down and rolling upright in his rear hemisphere – this is where you get a brief snapshot opportunity. If you are a decent shot you can also manoeuvre for an unloaded inverted shot shortly after the bandit crosses your track: the range will be shorter and the deflection better, meaning that you get a particularly good opportunity to nail his engine and pilot if you are quick about it.
- Be sure to trim tail heavy (K) aggressively in the initial pitch-up and to not draw so many gravity loads as to black out completely. On the top of your manoeuvre, trim nose heavy (I) to stabilize for the upcoming shot.
Should the enemy survive his attack (!) and the subsequent riposte with an intact energy advantage, turn away from him and put him at your other flank in preparation for a second try – do not fall for the sucker trap of entering a lengthy and unproductive tail chase.
Remember the Chandelle? Here is how you put it to use in combat. Consider the situation where you make an abortive high-speed pass at a low bandit and extend away with your massive energy advantage intact. You will want to engage him again, but first you need to render him helpless against your onslaught despite him manoeuvring to meet it – and a long level extension with a vertical reversal will only give him an equal opportunity head-on shot. Go for a Rope-a-Dope instead!
- As you extend away from your initial unproductive pass with the bandit recovering after his guns defence in your long six o’clock, begin a gentle climbing turn (the Chandelle) and steepen it to a zoom climb of about 45 degrees as you place the pursuing bandit low off your wingline. Turn gently while climbing to place the bandit just forward of your wingline – keep him there and maximise your climb almost to the point of stalling. The bandit has now swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker, and is cutting across your climbing circle in an attempt to bring his guns to bear. This is his undoing.
- Shortly before the bandit stalls out he will most likely attempt a vain shot. It is important that you keep moving at this stage and not suffer a stall yourself. You will see his fire arc ineffectually behind and below as you swing lazily around his shot envelope. Now give bottom rudder, roll and haul into him, just as he reaches the apex of his zoom – at this instant he is utterly helpless. If you do not have sufficient separation at this point, do not dive down for a shot you cannot land but keep your altitude and improve yet further on your position while the bandit stalls and recovers well below and behind.
The Defensive spiral is employed in the vertical plane of manoeuvre, either going up or going down. The objective, as in most defensive manoeuvres, is to force an overshoot that you can exploit in a deft riposte – thus the spiral is not purely defensive in character but actually extremely aggressive.
The up-spiral can be employed at any level though you will likely use it mostly on the deck when you cannot outrun an opponent. First you must gain visual contact on the bandit so that you can time the move correctly – you will want to initiate the spiral just as the bandit draws into guns range, not sooner and most definitely not later (although if you hear fire slamming into your crate, any radical evasive manoeuvre is better than none at all).
- With the bandit coming in hot on your five or seven o’clock – high, low or level makes no difference – quarter-roll and haul around decisively while aggressively trimming tail heavy (K). This action generates maximum rate through the enemy guns solution, forcing him to draw an increasing amount of lead and thus burn energy at an alarming rate – and if the enemy closure is substantial, he will black out before you do.
- Keep climbing in an oblique spiral as the enemy tries to draw a bead. He will very soon have to abandon his attempt and relax stick pressure, flushing him out and up in your high forward quarter. Continue the spiral until you have climbed onto his back – if he did not abandon his run you will have him there and then with a nice and high 45-degree angle off tail shot opportunity. If he unloaded and extended you will only get the briefest of snapshots. Take it and then immediately disengage, level or in a slight dive at a diverging heading to the bandit.
The defensive down-spiral can only be attempted with a substantial altitude allowance. Consider the situation where you are being outrun by a bandit at altitude (10,000 ft/3 km is a good lowest starting altitude): you cannot keep running on the level and you do not feel like engaging in a turning fight on account of yet more angry men in the distance.
- Your first objective is to level the energy situation and sucker the enemy into following you rather than allow him to stand off at altitude and waiting for a better opportunity. Enter a gentle dive and jink somewhat to get a good visual on the bandit. As he closes the distance, start a gentle downward turn and increase the rate of turn when the enemy draws into guns range. Shortly before he draws into guns range you must however chop throttle and deploy a few notches of flaps while steepening your dive to increase the rate at which you move through his shot window. Adding a smidgeon of down rudder helps to mess up his shot as well.
- If you time it right the enemy will not catch wind of your sudden speed reduction and immediately be flushed out into your low cold six, and as you complete the circle, in front of your wingline. Take advantage, open up the throttle again and open up a world of pain. Remember to retract flaps.
The Hartmann Escape
If you perchance find yourself with a bandit on your tail and cannot think of anything else to do to save your hide, try the [Erich] Hartmann Escape: stick fully forward into a corner and full opposite rudder. You will red out by the sudden bunt, and so will the perplexed attacker should he have the wherewithal to reciprocate your manoeuvre. This manoeuvre is extremely tricky to get right and you must experiment heavily to survive the experience. You will most likely enter a flat spin as a result, or at the very least suffer a severe flop that requires a measure of stick-and-rudder coordination to get out of, followed by substantial loss of altitude, energy and situational awareness. Still, it is better than getting creamed outright.
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