Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Las Vegas Nevada
Current Game: Dungeonseige series
Off We Go...
The Snub Fighters
The following is standard to all air forces (There are variations between Air Force and Naval Air forces which will be pointed out as we go), and can be used for any fighter combat you decide to write.
The Largest Formation of aircraft you will see in real life is the Air Force. The United States has one assigned to every place we consider important. It is composed of several Wings of aircraft, and has attached training, and transport aircraft. The largest Air Force during WWII had over 4,000 aircraft assigned to it. It is usually commanded by a Major General (Two Stars). We have seen nothing on this level of organization in the movies, so we will leave it at that.
The next size down is the Wing. A Wing is approximately 72 aircraft, broken into three Squadrons of 24 aircraft each, all of the same type. By type here I mean fighter-bomber, etc. There can be wide variations in what they might have, since as Star Wars A New Hope and Return of the Jedi showed, you can have a variety of aircraft all flying under one command at the same time. In numbers a Wing is approximately 4500 men, half of which are maintenance. Of these, only about a hundred are actual pilots. The bulk of the remainder headquarters, intelligence, armorers, etc. A wing is commanded by a Brigadier General.
The primary difference between an air force unit and a naval unit in this regard is that an Aircraft Carrier has to do all of the jobs that several different wings would be assigned to. Bombing, reconnaissance, cargo transport, protection from submarines, search and rescue etc. Using Combat Fleets of the World you can see that A Nimitz class Carrier carries 90 Aircraft. 48 of them on a carrier are Fighters in four squadrons (As the navy calls 12 aircraft instead of 24) 24 ground attack and antisubmarine aircraft 4 reconnaissance and EW (Electronic Warfare) aircraft, 3 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) and about 11 helicopters. This is by no means standard. Thanks to using F/A 18 Hornets that are designed both as attack and interceptors, those 24 ground attack aircraft can be used for other purposes, or be replaced by other designs. Aboard a ship this is called the Combat Air Wing today. It used to be called the Combat Air Group, which explains the slang for the commander of all those men, the CAG.
A Squadron as mentioned above is 24 aircraft each in an air force, while as I said, a naval unit is 12. Since most of what we got to see in the movies was in a naval context, from here on, I will merely address that aspect. The aircraft would have about 1.25% crews, meaning for every man you need, you have one additional pilot per craft. A Naval Squadron has 12 planes, and 16 pilots. A Commander commands squadrons in the Navy.
Squadrons are broken down on operations into Flights. The US and a number of our allies (Japan, Germany, and Italy) have flights of 4 aircraft, while others have flights of 6. There is a reason for this, and that is because the primary combat unit of a fighter unit is not the larger units above, it is not even the plane by itself.
It is the Element. An element is either two or three fighters, and is composed of a flight lead and his wingman or wingmen. In the units above, you can easily see that both flights break down into two elements.
The one thing about the last battle in A New Hope that bothered me was that except for Vader’s team, no one paid a bit of attention to it. Even though it was proven as far back as WWI that survival in battle depends on it. When you’re coming onto the tail or ‘six’ of an enemy, you’re more interested in killing that plane, and a lot of pilots through the ages have died because while they were trying to kill him, someone else slipped up and killed them. A wingman’s job is to stick as tight to you as he can, and to watch for enemy craft coming up on your six. That leaves you free to take your shot.
The craft we saw in the movies even though called ‘fighter’ were usually none of the kind. The Tie fighter, Tie Interceptor and A Wings were, but the others were actually fighter-bombers. The difference is minor, since all it depends on weapons load out. Proton torpedoes are good against enemy ships, and primary long range attack against fighters. The Y Wing and Tie Bomber are merely bombers that have some utility as fighters themselves. As we saw with the Y wing vs. TIEs, the chances of survival depend on the pilot.
There is no actual ‘snub fighter carrier’ in the movies. Instead they went for what we would call ‘hybrid’ or ‘hermaphrodite’ carriers; warships designed to fight on their own, but carrying fighters as well. This I think is due to the fact that a carrier in battle here can’t get the standoff it needs to protect itself. The smallest ship that we can verify carries fighters is the Nebulon B Frigate, which carries 24. But considering the size of the Corellian Corvette Tantive IV, it would have been able to carry at least a dozen. If you wanted, you could also modify cargo vessels to carry them as Fighter barges. If you have pirates, this is what you would probably have them do. After all, the average commercial starship would surrender if faced with half a dozen or so fighters.
A fighter takes up a lot of cubage because of the expendable ordinance and required maintenance crews. The biggest drawback of such an arrangement is the necessity of fuel and storage for the fighters themselves. The missiles a fighter carries are smaller than shipboard missiles if they are still using them.
There are specific maneuvers used by everyone, and they determine what you can and cannot do. All of the things you see the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds do in their routines are really just basic combat maneuvers with colored smoke. I was bothered in The Phantom Menace with Young Anakin deciding to spin. In real life guys, they have a name for him. They call him a statistic. You will no doubt notice that even though I will try to describe what is happening, it may make little sense. You will notice in movies when a pilot is describing his actions, he will use his hands a lot. This is because he is recreating what he and his enemy did with something you can see. If need be, read the descriptions, and use your hands to go through them.
At least it’s better than the Colonel describing an attack and rearranging your coffee table and tea service.
LOOP. Easy, pull the stick back, complete a circle, and continue on. The idea with a loop is to try to get behind the man pursuing you.
IMMELMAN TURN. An Immelman is a half loop with a change of direction at the end. Begin the loop as before, but when you reach the apex, turn onto a new course. It is used when you are below an enemy and want to get on his tail fast. Or shake some guy following you loose. If you dive instead of climbing, this is called a split S.
THATCH WEAVE. The thatch weave was created as a defensive ploy by fighters. Two aircraft flying, the enemy moves to attack one. His wingman either turns, or if he is flight lead retards his throttle so he drops back, then turns to get on the enemy’s tail. This is now called the sandwich, in that by turning to draw the enemy out, you have created a lethal sandwich of defender, enemy, and attacker. If he tries to break (Explained later) you merely turn the same direction, and the two on your side change jobs as it were.
SPLIT. In a split both aircraft want to reverse course. One way is the inboard turnabout, where you turn toward each other, one circling out farther than the other, and are now facing the enemy. The other is to break in opposite directions, again turning to face the enemy. This can be done in any 3 dimensions such as one climbing while the other staying in level flight, one diving, both breaking up and down at the same time, etc.
BREAK. A sharp turn into the attacker, hoping to cause an overshoot. When you see planes jinking around trying to avoid being hit, that is a break. If the enemy does overshoot, meaning he is now ahead of you, you roll back into him, onto his six, and hunt him. It can also be used to disengage to break off the action.
ROLLING ATTACK, DISENGAGEMENT. If you are attacking and are faster, you roll your aircraft to eat up some of that difference, and hopefully stay on his tail. If they are on your six you do the same to generate an overshoot. If you succeed, again he is in front of you. In the defense, this is called a high G barrel roll.
SCISSORS. An enemy is tangling with you, but neither has an advantage in speed or maneuvering. One way to break this deadlock is to use a scissors. You turn into the enemy, maintaining your line of sight on the enemy. This will cause him to either break away, or break toward you. If he breaks away, follow. If he breaks toward you, you again turn into him. Keep this up until you have gotten behind him.
YOYO. You are behind an enemy, but are travelling too fast. You do the opposite of the above situation, turning away then back sharply. This slows you down, and gives you a chance to again get on his six. If you add a roll to it, it becomes what is known as a rollaway. Merely turn opposite to his turn, roll until you can see him again, and complete your roll and turn on his six.
LUFBERRY CIRCLE. A defensive formation which is little used since the end of WWII because someone finally found a way to break it. In a Lufberry circle the fighters form a circle where every aircraft has a supporting craft behind it. The way to break it is to fly into it from any angle blasting away and trying to break them out of the mutually defending circle. (Addenda 2007: Oddly enough, the circle came back into vogue during the Vietnam War, but for only two reasons; to sucker American fighters, and to kill bombers. In the Mid 1960s, the American Air Force reported that the Vietnamese had begun using what the US called the Wagon Wheel. American pilots were getting slaughtered going against it.
There is a reason this was occuring, and that was tactical doctrine. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, pundits had claimed that since modern fighters were so fast, they would no longer have dogfights. All battles would be at long range with missiles. In fact the French got upset when the Israelis bought the Mirage III, then demanded guns for them. After all, the plane is capable up to mach 2, right?
The Israelis were smarter than the French. When the F4 Phantom first debuted in Vietnam, it carried four sidewinder missiles, and for Sparrows. But to use the sidewinder (What is called a dogfight missile) the rule is;
get on the enemy six, hold position until the missile locks on, fire missile
So a lot of pilots died trying to use those missiles.
Oddly enough, the Israelis, with those guns they would never need, racked up the highest kill ration of any air force during the 1967 war. They killed 50 enemy fighters for every one they lost
The last two are relatively unique in that one requires gravity to work, and the other would work better without it.
HAMMERHEAD STALL. Used by the US Air Force for the first time during the Vietnam War, it is also called the vertical reverse or ballistic reverse. You climb steeply until your aircraft stalls. In a normal situation this is bad. Your plane falls like a leaf from a tree, and until you gain speed, you have as little control as that leaf. However this is what you want to do, because your craft is now a projectile and ballistics is your friend. If you do nothing the plane merely continues over into a dive, and you recover.
When your craft stalls here, you reverse your controls, turning the nose to point downward instead of up. An enemy on your tail now has you coming down like the hammer of the gods in his face.
COBRA. Actually called Rogachev’s Cobra after the Russian pilot who first showed it off at the Paris Air Show back in the 80s. It uses the fact that modern aircraft have what are called AOA or Angle of Attack limiters, stopping you from trying to point your nose too high and thus stalling. What Rogachev did was remove that fixture from his aircraft, retard his throttle to idle, and at the same time, rotated up past 90 degrees. The plane was still flying forward, in the case of when he revealed it at about 500 knots, but the nose was pointed upward at about 75 degrees behind him. It has little utility in real combat, except again to force an enemy to generate an overshoot.
However picture it in snub fighter combat. No gravity, no drag from the air. A TIE fighter on your six. You retard, rotate back 180 degrees instead. Suddenly he is facing your guns, and closing the range.
Talk about ruining his day...
Last edited by machievelli; 08-21-2007 at 10:29 AM.