Monday, September 22, 2014

Basic Fighter Maneuvers

A post over at Lagniappe’s Lair got me to reminiscing about a friend.  Learned a lot from Ras during flight briefings and debriefings, and in the air.  Some of the most important things I learned from him, I learned in the Bar.  After he PCS’d to Fort Carson for his last assignment as an ALO, I lost touch with him and didn’t reconnect with him until I saw his book “When Thunder Rolled” on Amazon.  Bought it immediately, and started reading.  It was like being in the Bar again; I’d heard most of those stories.  A little later, I was reading a blog post somewhere and noticed a comment made by someone named “Ras”, with a link.  Clicked the link and voila’ back in contact.  Had a lot of internet and email contact, and even attended a reunion with him and his Thud squadron buddies.

But the post really triggered a memory of one flight he and I had together while at Holloman.

Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM) are  exactly what the name implies, at the most basic level how do you maneuver a fighter so as to kill another fighter and/or avoid being killed yourself.  It’s not just pull on the pole as hard as you can.  It’s using your energy wisely, regaining it when you can, using gravity to enhance the effect.  Most of the Lead In Fighter Training program consisted of BFM rides, and throughout the flying portion of my career, a sizeable portion of the rides were BFM also, whether I was in an Air to Air Squadron or an Air to Ground Squadron.  BFM skills are critical and very perishable. 

BFM rides involved two aircraft, a 1 v 1, and typically there were two types of setups.  In the first setup, one jet takes a position 30 to 45 degrees off the tail of the other and 6000-9000’ away.  In a real world fight, this is a very dangerous position for the person in front to be in.  Once participants are ready, the fight is started with a “Fight’s on” call and maneuvering commences.  The fight typically continues until a kill shot is taken by one or the other fighter, a fighter manages to disengage successfully, the desired learning point has been achieved, or a safety factor is encountered.  (Over G, going through minimum altitude, min fuel etc).

The second type of setup is a neutral setup, typically called a “Butterfly”.  The two jets start in tactical formation about 6-9K’ apart and the flight lead calls for a turn away from each other of 45 degrees.  At some point the flight lead calls for the turn in and both aircraft turn back towards each other for a head on pass.  The flight lead will call fight’s on at some point,  typically immediately prior to the pass so that maneuvering can begin.

This now leads to a decision on the part of both fighter pilots.  Do I want a two circle fight or a one circle fight?  There’s an excellent discussion of this here , but basically, if your turn radius is better than the other jets, try for a one circle.
Back in the day, I used to be able to draw a fight diagram much better.  My apologies.

  If your turn rate is better than the other, try for a two circle fight.

I say “try”, because the other guy also gets a vote in the fight. He has to turn in the direction you expect him to otherwise ....  I was about to learn how to make that happen.

So,  There I was………….*  Ras and I were scheduled for a 1 v 1 BFM ride in Beak Charlie, the closest air to air area to Holloman.  Basically Cloudcroft NM was the Western Boundary  Roswell the Eastern and  Ruidoso the Northern.  That proximity meant we’d have maximum gas for fighting.  Typically, when these rides went on the schedule, they were immediately filled by students riding in the back seats, however, this time it was just Ras and I.  (He had told the Duty Officer not to allow any students).

Briefing was short and sweet, here’s the frequencies, joker and bingo fuel levels and a discussion of which BFM setup we were going to use (Butterfly).  We had flown together enough as IPs that not much else was needed.  We step to the jets, crank up, formation takeoff and we’re in the area.  A couple of G awareness turns . (The AT-38B was getting old and we needed to “tune” our bodies to what the mandated G limit was, so that we didn’t overstress the aircraft and reduce its lifespan.  Must have worked, this story occurred about 30 years ago, and the airplanes are still flying.)

Everything’s ready to go, a quick fuel check from Ras and he calls for the turn away.  I check 45 away and rollout, snap my head around so as to keep sight of Ras.  Got him, we continue on heading for a bit and he calls turn in.  I’m pulling right on the g-limit, get pointed at him and unload the aircraft to get some speed back.  We’re about a mile out now and I’m planning for a two circle fight, since I’m a little above him, I plan to slice down to the left leading the turn as much as I can.  At that point, Ras calls fight’s on  and pulls up and takes a head on gun shot. 

At the time, the safety rules prohibited any gun shots with in 45 degrees either side of head on, so I’d never seen a head on shot.  Also, since the guns on most fighters are boresighted with the aircraft, where the gun is pointed is where the aircraft is pointed. If Ras has taken a gunshot, the gun is pointed at me and so is his aircraft.  Ras passes close aboard.  This has left me somewhat startled and there’s a pause before I start to maneuver.  I roll left and start the pull, expecting Ras to have done the same which should put him somewhere above my tail pointed away.  I can’t see him and call blind (another safety thing, if he calls blind also, we knock it off and get altitude separation).  He calls “continue” .  I’m in big trouble, he sees me!  I’m still frantically searching for him looking over my left (down) shoulder, when something catches the corner of my eye.  I crank around to the right, just in time to see Ras swooping down on the back side of his vertical circle. He's gone for a one circle fight, using the vertical and by virtue of being below me and pulling up for the shot, he's lead turned me.  When he got to the top of his loop, he was slow and inverted, so gravity helped him turn much faster.

Fortunately, he’s not in guns range yet, but he’s closing fast.  I break back right and up, trying to force his nose into lag  (pointed behind me), but I’m running out of airspeed and he’s not.  I see his nose slide out in front of me and I start to make out the intakes on the side of his jet (with my eyesight at the time, that was my indication that he was about 2500’ away, AKA guns range.  With my eyesight now, I think he'd be in my back seat before I saw intakes).  I roll the aircraft till the canopy is about 45 degrees below the horizon and plant the stick in my lap.  I’m jinking…Hard.  Roll the aircraft again,  push the stick forward.  Again,  and Again and Again, but Ras is still back there, he hasn’t called any shots, but I ain’t getting away either.  I’m expecting a knock it off for lesson learned, but no.  I’m jinking for about a month and a half until we get to bingo.  Knock it off and head home.

Back in the debrief,  Ras walks in with a couple of beers, hands one to me and says “Juvat, there are no safety ROE in combat, and there’s no knock it off”.  The he took a couple of sips of beer as he let me ponder that.  He then followed with “Best Jinking I’ve ever seen, I never got a shot.  Let’s talk about how you did that, I want to learn how.”

I miss him.

*What’s the difference between a fairy tale and a war story?  A fairy tale starts with “Once upon a time” and a war story starts with “So there I was”.  


  1. Yeah, I miss him too. And I still chuckle when I remember the e-mail ass-chewing I got from him the time that I fished him for the control inputs and entry speed to roll my then-new (to me) Cessna 172 360 degrees. But for that little dash of common sense, I'd have likely kept trying until there were pieces-parts of Cessna scattered over some Blue Ridge valley.

  2. I'll bet that was entertaining. He had a way with words.

    1. Yeah, he did. Let's just say that he convinced me in a way that few others could have. I got the message, loud and clear.

  3. Yet more insight into what The WSO and Big Time do for a living.

    I recall Big Time explaining some BFM stuff to me with airplanes on sticks (the little ones). The Missus Herself and The WSO were somewhat disconcerted that I found the explanations of 1v1 tactics fascinating. I eat this stuff up!

    Great post Juvat. (Goes with the great jinking no doubt!)

    1. What Chris said, with the exception of having my kids explain BFM stuff to me.

    2. Just for the record, jinking is not fun! and doing it well does not grant bragging rights ("Well, dummass, how'd you let him get into gun range?")

    3. I've always felt that jinking is something you want the other guy to do. That is, he's in your gunsight, not vice versa.

  4. That you find it fascinating is why we need to get together and let me teach you the game, Sarge... ;)

    1. That's in the back of my mind Fringe. (I've been wondering what was in that box.)

      Of course, I relate best to throttle setting, stick and rudder movements to do something in an aircraft. How does the game simulate that? Shoot me an email at oldafsarge AT gmail DOT com.

  5. Heh... Yep, that had to be 'interesting' to put it mildly... I'll bet that would have been fun in Thuds! :-)

    1. Given Ras's story about his solo ride at Nellis and the episode with the Mig, I'd say BFM in a Thud would be (as my DIL says) HIGHLY entertaining!


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