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 Vince "Beer Camel" Putze, representing SimHQ.com:
Fuel state of both aircraft is such
that it will not influence the outcome. - The attacking
aircraft does not end the engagement early, and the defender does
not 'die' due to fuel starvation.
Aircraft are of the same 'generation'
in development. - It is not a later Mark Spitfire vs. an early
Aircrew capability is approximately
No additional threats for either
aircraft. - In other words, the cavalry will not ride in to save
The engagement begins at 'medium'
altitudes. The ground is not a factor initially
priorities/objectives - Survival is the most important
objective. This is not always the case in flight simulations;
virtual life is cheap and plentiful.
Both aircrew's primary mission
objective is to survive, secondary is to kill the other. No
complex strategic goals that would influence the 'Tactical'
This is written primarily from the point
of view of the defensive fighter (Spitfire); however some
offensive considerations will be discussed .The first thing is to
identify the individual objectives of each combatant. As a
generalization they are:
Obtain a quick kill, ideally
Maintain tactical and energy advantage
- avoid a sustained turning engagement.
Separate prior to losing the offensive
Avoid the adversary weapon/weapon
Neutralize the positional / energy
advantage of the P38
Transition to the offensive by
converting the engagement to a single circle turning fight.
Please notice that the option to separate
is not included in the Spitfire's list. This is because it is
not an option for him except in very specific circumstances. A
persistent faster fighter will eventually run him down. Also note that
the P-38 can terminate just about any time he wishes to! (Assuming he is
not a total hamburger.remember.. a hamburger in any bun is
still a hamburger!). So what is the Spitfire's best 'battle plan'?
Well. It depends, but the general idea is to negate weapon threats by
denying turning room while whittling away at your opponents energy
advantage. Hopefully, he will make a mistake and allow you to take the
Initially lets assume both pilots see
each other early, at long range. The Spitfire pilot will immediately
realize the huge altitude delta. This is not good, regardless of what
kind of fighter he is about to engage. Remember the 'objectives'.
Survival, for the next few minutes, is relatively assured; So lets work
on neutralizing the energy advantage. If his lateral separation is
enough, the Spitfire pilot should put the bandit on his tail and
accelerate away. He should gain as much energy (speed and altitude) as
he can until the P-38 forces a defensive reaction. What happens next
will also convey the intent of the P-38. If he turns hot on you, he is
looking for a fight. If not, then he either doesn't see you or in not
in the mood to play. This initial move will provide the Spitfire pilot
with more time to assess the situation because the closure of the P-38
will be less in zero aspect geometry. It also gives the P-38 jock an
opportunity to make his first mistake. If he ramps down too early in
order to rapidly reduce range, he will be voluntarily giving up some of
his total energy advantage (Fig.1). The Spitfire pilot should continue
to work on energy but will eventually have to threat react.
Figure 1 The Bandit is
seen early enough, with enough lateral separation, to allow the Spitfire
some energy building room. The P-38, in this case, makes the mistake of
committing too early and sacrifices much of his altitude advantage.
If the P-38's stick actuator does
indeed make the mistake of diving down early, and he is approximately
level with you, the 180 pitch back for a beak-to-beak gunshot is as good
a plan as any (Fig 2). Be aware HE will have a shot on you too; it
depends on how lucky you feel, how good your 'quick draw' shooting
skills are, and how good he is. I guess a good way to sum it up is; the
good news is you get to threaten him; the bad news is you are placing
yourself in the P-38's weapons parameters. Just realize that this turn
must be accomplished soon enough to give you time to turn, stabilize,
aim and shoot. You have also just traded some amount airspeed for nose
position. In this case the P-38 will still have a significant airspeed
advantage (pronounced zoom capability), but he will have pissed away
much of his altitude advantage.
Figure 2 Bandit ramps down
too early and is co-altitude for his initial pass. You are confident
enough in your shooting ability to go beak-to-beak. After the merge,
extend for more energy; you will still have a relative energy deficit in
If you do not care to risk a nose-to-nose
gun shot, and possible collision, then the 'standard' defensive
break should be used. (Discussed in the next section). A word about
energy management is relevant here. When you are extending away to build
energy, your airspeed is probably above 'corner' velocity. When you
decide to turn back, assuming the bandit does not immediately threaten
you, climb to reduce your airspeed to corner (Bank energy.. convert
airspeed to altitude). Do not give it away by pulling the throttle to
idle. When you turn back in, vary your lift vector (Probably Down!) in
order to maintain corner velocity. Obviously, if you mistimed this, and
the P-38 is a threat (not yet to gun range, but getting there fast) you
must put your lift vector directly on the bandit and pull. This leads to
the inevitable 'guns jink' unless you force the P-38 into lag or he
comes off and zooms to maintain energy. More on this later.
Let's now assume our adversary is more
proficient. He turns hot, maintains his altitude and speed, and he is
closing on you. This also includes times when you get a late tallyho and
you find an unexpected bandit already high above you. At some point he
will tip in and commit, that's when you have to think fast and react
to him. The exact geometry of this engagement will vary slightly
depending on when the P-38 rolls in, but basically it looks like this:
The P-38 has just rolled in on us .. what
now? The idea of bending it around in order to meet 180 degrees out and
shoot him in the lips is valid, BUT the P-38's energy advantage and
the geometry of his attack have to be considered. If a hard turn around
in order to shoot leaves you nose high, out of airspeed and ideas.. Well
. unless you kill him. you have just converted yourself into an
expensive strafe rag! Realize that this turn is not going to give you
much time to aim, so it is a relatively low PK shot. Conversely, if you
are going to meet 180 out, the P-38 driver has a much longer 'settling'
time in order to refine his aim and shoot! If I were in the P-38
and I saw the Spitfire nose high and slow after attempting this, I would Turn on him as he was in his slow speed (or out of control)
recovery and gun him. At slow speed you are very vulnerable. A more
conservative plan would be to follow our original strategy and deny the
P-38 a shot while equalizing the energy delta.
This is where we are going to use some of
our energy to stay alive. (Remember the old adage that speed is life!)
We have to react to the imminent threat of getting gunned. Our threat
reaction has to begin prior to the P-38 weapon solution, and be a Break turn. Ideally, just before the bandit reaches our turn circle we
place our lift vector on him, pull, and generate as many angles as
possible without sacrificing your entire bag of knots (As close
to corner velocity as possible). The objective is to avoid providing a
shot opportunity to the bandit by causing him too many angles to even
attempt a shot (Fig 3). If the P-38 begins to align for a shot,
transition to an 'out of plane' maneuver, in this case it is almost Always toward the ground. This will be the classic 'guns jink'. As soon as
the threat is negated.. SAVE/GAIN ENERGY! The exact maneuver is
dependant on the geometry of the attack, but the basics are the same.
Figure 3 Defeat the attack
then continue to whittle away at the P-38's energy advantage
We have just survived the first pass. Ok,
now what? Wait until he has begun his zoom, and then continue your
energy gathering. Place him on your tail again and gain as much
separation/altitude as you can (By the way DO NOT GET SLOW!! you need
maneuvering speed to avoid lead poisoning. If you DO get slow.. Trade
altitude for airspeed!).. Continue these 'lines' (acceleration away
for energy) and 'Hooks' (break turns to avoid getting shot) until
you equalize the relative energy states. Most of the time these fights
will be a descending event. This has real life (or multi bogey)
implications. If he stays on you, he risks attracting some of your
friends to the fight, while liquidating his altitude 'bank'. When
you do get to ground level he now has lost the space to maneuver below
you . He also now has the additional threat of the ground.but you do
TOO! Be careful! Ok .. We have worked our way to a fairly equal energy
situation through superior airmanship and cunning..Now what?
If it is our lucky day, and we are
wrapped up with the USDA Grade A hamburger who now decides to turns with
us. Great! Once he gets into our 'phone booth' it is DAMN hard to
separate. Attempt to force a single circle fight, keep pressure on him,
and you should be able to gun him in a few turns, If you do not continue
to threaten him he will have the ability to build some smash and
possibly separate.. be alert for his attempt to do so. It is another
shot opportunity if he buffoons a separation maneuver.
The good P-38 pilot would probably decide
that you are just too hard to kill today and go home. . Or he may be
just extending in order to re-acquire his energy advantage (Remember his objectives!). If he does appear to be leaving, maintain the tallyho and
BUILD AS MUCH energy as you can while not being threatened. If Mr. P-38
does re-attack you will be ready for it.
The next mistake the P-38 is likely to
make is continuing to fight an energy fight without enough energy. This
exact point is excruciatingly hard to accurately determine in most
cases. This where experience pays off. When you determine you are
co-energy , and the geometry is favorable, attempt to reverse on him and
go counter offensive. If you assessed the situation correctly you should
be offensive.if not you have just played your wild card and your bag
of knots. Depending on his energy vs. your energy all you may have is a
fleeting shot as he attempts to separate at tree top level ..be ready to
shoot. A few well-placed hits will cause him to react and quite possible
become anchored in a low altitude, co-energy fight with a superior
turning aircraft. All things being equal he will not / should not
survive that. Another outcome of an early reversal is a scissors. Not a
bad thing in this case since we have the superior turning (most likely
slower flying) airplane.
Figure 4 When the time is
right!.... Reverse and GUN the Freak! This is where you can end up in a
vertical scissors. A race to see who can fly the 'slowest' faster!
Be good at departure recovery!
Well, that is the short version of a very
complicated and dynamic BFM problem. Patience is more than a virtue in
this engagement.. It's required! If you get greedy and try to end this
contest too quickly you will most likely die. Be patient.. it's just
like eating an elephant single-handedly .. take a bite, chew well,
swallow, and repeat process until complete!
View responses to the same
ACM situation from representatives of the following sims:
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