October 22, 2001

Discussion Of Boom And Zoom Tactics

by Andy Bush

Lesson One (October 22/01):  Defending Against The Boom and Zoom

You are presented with the following situation:  a typical "angles" fighter, such as a Spitfire, is bounced by a typical "energy" fighter, such as the P-38.  The attacker has the altitude advantage and is using a boom and zoom attack on you.  What should you do?

Response by Jerry 'Hamfist' Brown, representing Target Korea:

I tend to be a fatalist in this type of match up. But, then again, I came by my handle of "HamFist" honestly. Let me briefly "set the table" for my perspective on defensive tactics in this situation.

Way back in November/December 1972 I was a newly winged Ensign RIO (back seater) in the U.S. Navy. While in VF-101 for F4 training my class was sent to Key West for 6 weeks of intensive ACM. I got married one week before deploying so I drug my wife along with me for a unique "honeymoon". Having a woman sharing my room in the Batchelor Officer’s Quarters caught the attention of one of the instructor pilots. Upon learning my status, he and his wife adopted us for our stay. Since I was "under his wing" I flew with him at every opportunity. Being a former F8 "gunfighter" his perspectives on ACM were a bit different than the F4 norm.

My favorite flights were in a hopped-up TA-4, used as an "aggressor" AC. This airframe had a good mix of qualities possessed by the Mig-17 and Mig-21. On our first flight, a student pilot was coupled with an Instructor RIO while I was coupled with my Instructor Pilot friend. On the way to the to our set-up he told me bluntly "There is NO WAY an F4 should EVER lose to this plane." His point was that the F4 (ENERGY fighter) held all cards but one against the ANGLE fighter. That one card was slow speed turn rate. Then he proceeded to "shoot down" the Phantom using a beam roll attack similar to that described below. It was sobering. While most of our tactics were centered on firing parameters for the sidewinder, our adversaries got mostly gun kills.

Let’s go over my main premise again: 1V1, an energy fighter with altitude and airspeed will NEVER lose to a slower angles fighter. Unless, unless the Energy fighter makes a mistake, or you get bagged by a snap shot. As my Key West mentor told me "In a match-up like this, the Phantom Puke can be secure in the fact that he will be sleeping in his own bed tonight". A Mig 17/21 driver had no such comfort zone. His best option would be that he would escape with his life. Let’s also understand that in the real (or Sim) world there is rarely a situation that is truly 1V1.

So, 1V1, how does the angles driver turn the tables? First and foremost, he HAS to make the energy fighter squander his energy advantage. If the energy fighter is dumb enough to do this, then consider it a cleansing of the gene pool. Once an energy fighter drops this advantage, he has a serious problem. At slower speeds, in WWII, Korea and Vietnam era fighters, there is this hidden tactic of "exploiting the power curve". Simply put, an energy fighter from this era has a harder time accelerating out of slow speed situations than an angles fighter. This is especially true between the Spitfire and the P38.

OK, so how do you sucker your e-opponent into giving up the advantage? First, you have to bait him then you have to be able to set the hook if he bites. Situation: High fast E-fighter coming after an angles fighter. Here’s one setup that sometimes works for me:

  • Depending on your airspeed at initial contact, either turn into him or turn way from him. Never give him a beam approach on the first pass. If you are slow, turn away. If you have speed try to set the fight up offensively by forcing the issue.
  • If slow, get your airspeed UP. Level off or even set up a slight descent to get speed quickly. He will be at your high Six and coming down.
  • Never EVER loose sight.
  • Whichever way you go you will eventually wind up dragging. So keep him at your high six. He is bleeding E coming down to get you. And he’s not going to get it back easily
  • Just before he gets to guns range, around 1000 yards back, roll inverted and point it nose low.
  • Watch closely!
  • If he doesn’t follow through, recover close to your original heading through a low-G barrel roll and try a snap shot on the over-shoot and make a mental note that this is probably not a rookie that you are facing.
  • If he counters by immediately going high. Get on the radio and beg someone, anyone to come help, because you are probably going to die.
  • If he follows low, continue through a low-G split S, content in the knowledge that you have now gained an alt advantage on your adversary. You may not kill him, but you have turned the short-term tactical situation into, at least, a draw. The rest is up to you, so now lets concentrate on the "smart one" who didn’t bite.

OK, He didn’t bite, so now what?

Turn away from him again. We are going to try again to get him to make a mistake.

  • Keep retrying this scenario until you have no altitude left to squander. You’re hoping that his impatience overrules his intelligence.
  • If he’s a patient adversary eventually you are going to be too low to keep this up. But, guess what, so is he. He’ll either go home or try something new. Therefore, so will you.
  • The key here is separation. If you have been controlling this fight, you will have at least 1500 yards between you and the target after your last over-shoot/turn-away.
  • Get in the weeds, blow sand, raise a rooster-tail. Get all the speed you can muster
  • Put him on your beam with a low-G turn.
  • Keep him off your wing tip until inside 1000 yards then go UP. Three to five G’s depending on Airspeed. Roll, always keeping the target just above your wingtip.
  • He will NOT be able to follow. If he tries, he’s going to be wallowing behind the power curve shortly and you will have a golden opportunity.
  • If he doesn’t follow, you may have a chance on a passing snap shot, but then you are probably going to die.

Does this always work? Nope. But it’s a plan that will maximize your chances. What can go wrong? Plenty. If he’s a good shot, you stand to die by snap shots. What else can you do to maximize chances? Easy, NEVER PULL MORE G THAN THE OTHER GUY, until you are ready to kill him. It’s exploiting the good old power curve. Most E-fighters will lose more E to induced drag at High AOA than their Angle opponent. Pretend you are the E fighter and force the other guy to come to you.

However, if your opponent is a master in his selected plane his reversals will be polished. A true WWII FW-190 ace can slice-back faster than you can imagine. If you find one and you’re in a Hurricane, or Spit I you might want to check your parachute harness. In Korea a Mig-15, well handled, will come over the top with alacrity. If you are in a Pony, Corsair or Panther you are in deep trouble. But, always resist the tendency to YANK. You are dancing with the opponent, not wrestling with him.


  • Naval Reserves 1966 to 1971: Photographers Mate
  • Naval Aviation Officer's Candidate School, Pensacola, FL; Commissioned October 1971
  • NFO/RIO school: Pensacola FL and Glynco GA
  • F4J Training: VF-101, NAS Oceana
  • F4J Squad: VF-33, NAS Oceana, USS Independence (CV-62)
  • Flight Sims: Warbirds, Target Korea

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