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BFM Skills in Simulated Air Combat.

BY
Leon Badboy Smith

INTRODUCTION
Combat flight simulations often demand a large investment in learning time, and because acquiring the appropriate
knowledge and skills greatly enhances the pleasure we get when we are able to do something well, many people
are willing to make a very substantial investment in time, and for some, that can be as enjoyable as the flying. That
is particularly true of simulations that can be flown against other people, because the competitive spirit is a strong
driving force. Often, becoming good at a new simulation will involve countless hours spent reading strategy guides,
studying real world documents and training manuals, or reading the words of more experienced players on web
boards, not to mention the enormous amount of time spent in flight training within the simulation. Some flight sims
do have amazing longevity, but having made that investment, what happens when the simulation we have been
flying grows old, when the time comes to move onto another simulation, does the entire process begin again, or
can the skills and knowledge we acquired previously be transferred to the new simulation? The answer to that
question isnt as obvious as it may seem!

That question has particular importance to the large groups of virtual pilots who fly in the highly competitive multi
player environments provided by online flight simulations. If you have spent a long time flying one simulation
exclusively, you are sure to have acquired a great deal of skill. You may even be known for those skills, and have a
strong reputation among the other pilots in that online community But what happens when you fly one of the
other online simulations, will you still be an Ace, or will you be relegated to the status of any other new player?
Some examples of that type of change would include the recent demise of Air Warrior, the very first online flight
simulation, resulting in a mass exodus of homeless players to another online simulation known as Aces High.
There are also players who whet their appetites for online action in the very limited mini-multiplayer environments
provided by games like il2, who then go on to try the dedicated massively multiplayer simulations. There is also an
increasing migration of players from the Warbirds simulation, partly because the cost of unlimited flying time is less
in Aces High, while the feature list is longer and growing faster. Regardless of which games are involved, or the
reasons, the question remains Can you move from one flight sim to the next, and retain your Ace status or do
you need to relearn the skills that made you great?

Naturally, there are the obvious teething problems related to software set up and familiarization. However, there
are more important issues involved in adapting to a new simulation, particularly those factors relating to air combat.
There are pilots like myself who have flown online in a single simulation for more than ten years before making the
transition from one simulation to the other. Many others, who are perhaps less deeply rooted, still count their
association with a single game in years. They all carry with them skills learned and reinforced over that significant
period of time, and this relatively sudden switch has resulted in much recent discussion and some interesting
observations in terms of the skills and abilities that are directly transferable from one simulation to another. In this
article I will consider in more detail those aspects that relate directly to maneuvering your aircraft during air combat
and related aircraft performance, in the hope that it will make the transition less difficult for those who read it.

However, there is more than one answer to this question, one of them is the point of this article, and the other is
trivial, so lets get the trivial answer out of the way before we consider the real problems. If you have not spent a
great deal of time on any particular simulation, perhaps you have divided your time among several, then it is
possible that you may not have reached a level of skill that will make the differences between them obvious. For
those pilots who fly more casually, or those who can only devote a small amount of their leisure time to this hobby,
bear with me, you may not even notice the differences as you move from one simulation to another, but I believe
this article will give you an important insight into the differences between various simulations, and reality.

Before we move on, lets just pause to consider the implications of that question. To answer it, we might need to
consider issues related to the weapons, the viewing systems, the flight model, the artificial intelligence, to name but
a few. Now suppose we just consider the weapons involved in a simulation, they might range from various types of
machine guns, canon, missiles, rockets and bombs. Consideration of the weapons would also be strongly
influenced by the types of gun and bomb sights, targeting aids such as radar and warning systems, and even for
the same aircraft using the same weapons or systems the modeling of every aspect of everyone of them from their
employment through to their ballistics might be very different from one simulation to the next. For example, for
anyone who remembers Falcon3, the missiles were modeled so that they followed a pure pursuit trajectory, which
meant that they always flew directly at the target. That meant that pilots could force the missiles to lose energy and
maneuverability by beaming (maintaining a flight path perpendicular to that of the missile) the missile such that
avoiding them by forcing them to overshoot your flight path with a well timed break turn was possible from a
geometric perspective and also well within the reaction time of the average flight sim pilot. The F-16 held its energy
so well, that with the aid of the missile padlock view, good situational awareness and quick reactions, you could
avoid multiple missile launches. That situation changed with different simulations, in Flanker for instance, a similar
technique worked, but the Su-27 lost energy in the turns more rapidly than Falcon3s F-16 so that when multiple
missiles were launched it was a relatively easy matter to avoid the first, much more difficult to avoid the second, by
which time the much slower Flanker would be little more than missile bait. That of course meant that Flanker pilots
needed to use other methods to ensure their survival, for example missiles that were launched from long range
could be avoided by diving away from the missiles in order to escape their maximum range envelope. Of course,
such things are entirely realistic, and as flight simulations evolved, the differences ranged from being dramatic to
subtle.
Beaming a missile that is following a pure pursuit
trajectory would force the missile to maneuver
and deplete its energy. A last ditch maneuver in
the form of a break turn could be used to force the
missile to overshoot your turn circle.
70 Seeker Head
Viewing Cone
The missiles in Falcon3 followed a pure
pursuit trajectory, and the correct timing
for the last ditch maneuver could be
determined by the changing line of sight rate.
Bandit
Missile
Impact Point
Changing line
of sight rate
F-16
Once beyond the limit of the missile's
seeker head, you would be invisible to
the missile so that even if your
expendables expired, you would still
have made a successful spoof.


The important point is that in each case, the skills involved were only loosely transferable, in some cases they were
not transferable at all. For instance, in some later simulations, the missiles used an even more realistic pursuit
trajectory, which meant that the missiles flew a collision course to a point ahead of the target aircraft, which made
techniques such as beaming much less effective. Not to mention that as the speed of the missiles increased, the
reaction times needed to effect successful evasive maneuvers were becoming so tight, that more and more
dependence needed to be placed on spoofing techniques involving electronic counter measures, chaff or flares and
signature reduction. At this point it is easy to see how deep the original question was, and we havent even
considered the full range of weapons. Shortly we will see that even the way the guns are modeled will have a big
impact on the way the aircraft is flown. What we can see already is that the weapon modeling certainly has a
profound influence on the way we fly the aircraft in a simulation. The viewing systems available from one simulation
to another can also have an impact on how one adapts to a new simulation. Many pilots invest a great deal of time
becoming familiar with a particular viewing system, and various padlock implementations, fixed or snap views and
external views can vary so widely or be absent entirely that a good deal of effort, and perhaps some frustration, can
be involved while pilots who may have excelled in a previous simulation, finds themselves somewhat disorientated
as they learn to see the familiar air combat through an unfamiliar window. But are they really seeing the same air
combat? It may perhaps be less obvious to most readers that even the Basic Fighter Maneuvers (BFM) they
struggled so hard to learn, and fly effectively, have also changed as they move from one simulation to the next.
Surely thats a mistake I hear you cry! As one flight sim pilot recently said, ACM is ACM regardless of anything
else, so the air combat should always be the same Not so!!

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
An assumption often made is that a pilot who can fly sound BFM in one simulation should be able to adapt well to
any other simulation because they should all be based on the same physical laws. Further, that adapting should
only be a problem for those pilots who relied on gaming the game or tricks based on particular programming quirks.

Before I move on, I had better qualify that last statement, what exactly do I mean by gaming the game? Take
Falcon3 as one example, that game provided players with a choice between what was called a high fidelity flight
model, a complex flight model, and a simple flight model. If you selected the high fidelity model, it actually shifted
back to the complex flight model at low speed, and that unfortunate feature could be used to good effect during
competitive play. In the more recent IL2, as a more up to date example, early versions had the trim modeled in
such a way that an advantage could be achieved by anyone who configured their controls to accept trim changes
as the primary pitch control instead of simply using the elevator. This was fixed to some extent in a later patch, but
it is still possible to use that device to increase the pitch rate. The point is that almost every game has peculiarities
that can be exploited, the main point of the previous paragraph was that players who make the effort to learn sound
BFM would like to think that they could adapt to new simulations with ease, once again, it aint necessarily so!

Before we discuss the issues effecting air combat, it is important that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet,
so lets clear up some simple, but very important terminology.

WHAT EXACTLY IS BFM?
We know that the BFM acronym stands for, Basic Fighter Maneuvers, but beyond that many virtual pilots just make
up their own definitions and terminology for the things we do as we fly around in our virtual combat environment.
Some actually use the terms devised by the professionals and then bastardize them beyond recognition, so that
ACM and BFM are used interchangeably to mean whatever the person using them wants them to mean at the time.
Often they are used in reference to various aerobatic maneuvers so that a virtual pilot who makes a pattern in the
sky that reminds him of something he saw at an air show or an aerobatics event, thinks hes flying ACM. Even
worse, some of them will come to believe that BFM and ACM represent, or are comprised of a set of maneuvers
that need to be played out in sequence during an engagement. So a pilot may believe that the correct solution to a
particular problem might be an Immelmann, followed by a Yo-Yo and even some inappropriate aerobatic terms like
a chandelle or Cuban 8 believing that those things reflect good BFM.

Whats all the fuss about? Surely, clearing up a few definitions cant be that much of a problem? Unfortunately it is
worse than it sounds, because the way that most virtual pilots learn to fly air combat leads to some serious
misconceptions. For example, when virtual pilots string together a series of maneuvers, they represent an idea that
has worked for them, and may even work to some extent, for others. It is just unfortunate that the ideas being
expressed in that way can only lead to a dead end, not necessarily because the ideas are bad, but because the
way they are being expressed leads to a point from which a huge amount of back tracking would be necessary
before a complete understanding could be achieved. Not to mention the fact that anyone who already understands
the terminology, would know that those explanations are technically incorrect.

First things first, lets clear up the terminology, and in doing that I will stick to already well known and accepted (by
real fighter pilots) definitions. But before explaining BFM and ACM I need to introduce some new terminology, and
in the following descriptions I draw heavily from military sources in the public domain. There are in actual fact
several related terms, AHC, BFM, ACM, ACT and DACT are a few of them and modern fighter pilots learn them in
that order. It is important to point out here that the usage varies between the services and air forces that use these
terms, but in this article I have attempted to adhere to USAF usage in which these acronyms are used only as
training terminology where they have specific briefed training outcomes. Now lets consider their meaning.

Before a fighter pilot can employ his aircraft to its optimum use, he must understand his limits within the aircrafts
capabilities and the aircrafts limits within its flight envelope. To develop a sense of aircraft performance and
potential, without constant reference to flight instruments, one needs to fly the aircraft in a series of maneuvers that
explores the aircrafts flight envelope and reinforces the pilots awareness of aircraft performance. Exercises and
maneuvers that expose the pilot to various parts of the aircrafts flight envelope would consist of recovery training,
aerobatics, and other advanced handling maneuvers that reinforce the Aircraft Handling Characteristics or AHC.
Thats as important in a flight simulation as it is in real life, because many flight simulation pilots lose their virtual life
because they push the aircraft close to the edges of the envelope, where a lack of familiarity with the AHC for the
aircraft, results in a departure from controlled flight.

Basic Fighter Maneuvers or BFM is the application of concepts introduced in the aircraft handling characteristics
(AHC) rides. BFM reflects a combination of only three basic actions. An aircraft can roll, turn, or accelerate. BFM is
a blending of these three basic maneuvers to gain an energy advantage, a positional advantage, or (ultimately)
both relative to another aircraft. The primary purpose of BFM is to enable the pilot to maneuver his aircraft into
weapons parameters so he can employ ordnance. Obviously, the weapon to be used will affect how much BFM is
required to achieve the kill and the type of BFM flown. BFM is not an exact series of maneuvers flown to specific
conclusions, but is a complementary combination of those three basic maneuvers that blend into each other. These
combinations are based upon a continual reassessment of the tactical situation. First, the attacker observes where
the bandit is and what he is doing. He assesses the bandit's position, his range, closure, aspect, angle off and
turning room, from this he predicts the Geometry of the fight. He assesses the bandits energy state (maneuvering
potential) as well as his own. From those observations and consideration of the timing involved, he predicts where
the fight will progress, and maneuvers himself into ordnance parameters. The entire process of observation,
prediction, and maneuver, counter maneuver is repeated until either a kill or disengagement has been achieved.




Roll
Turn
Accelerate
F4F-3A Wildcat
The Three
Basic BFM
Maneuvers



You will notice that the entire process begins with the AHC and that a combination of rolls turns and accelerations
with proper consideration for energy geometry and time all blend together into the maneuvers that are eventually
flown as BFM.

PAUSE FOR AN ANALOGY
At this stage it is important to understand that while BFM consists of just three basic maneuvers, rolls turns and
accelerations, the way they end up being strung together doesn't depend on preconceived fixed arrangements that
lead to the complete maneuvers that most sim' pilots often call BFM, they are merely the building blocks. The way
those three maneuvers are stacked together, should not be based on ridged pre set ideas as they often are, they
should be stacked up in a more fluid manner depending only on proper consideration of Geometry Energy and
Time (GET). If I use an analogy from physics, the three basic maneuvers can be compared to the fundamental
particles that BFM is made of, while geometry energy and time are the forces that bond those particles together. To
stretch that analogy even farther, Air combat has a periodic table with only three elements, and three bonding
forces, and every maneuver in air combat can be built from them. Most folk dont consider the way in which the
three basic maneuvers are bonded together, so they build them into ridged unchanging shapes that can't be
molded to suit different situations, or different simulations, and then they give them familiar names and apply them
as set piece maneuvers. Without understanding how each maneuver is influenced by the geometry, energy and
time, they will never really understand the how, why, and when of each roll, turn, and acceleration, they simply
wouldn't see what really changes when things are different.

Now, back to the main discussion. BFM is often broken down into various types, for example Offensive BFM,
Defensive BFM, Head On BFM, High Aspect BFM or Lag BFM and so on. Because AHC are different for every
aircraft, and for every simulation that models those aircraft, the resulting BFM will never be exactly the same, even
for two aircraft of the same type. But its even worse than that, because it is not only the AHC that has an influence
on the BFM, weapon employment considerations have a profound influence too, meaning that different weapon
modeling between simulations can also effect the way in which BFM is flown. As an example, a simulation that
makes gunnery very easy, due perhaps to a flight model that results in aircraft that are very stable gun platforms,
and a combination of lethal weapons or fragile aircraft, would dictate BFM that encouraged rapid exchange of
energy for position, pure and lead pursuit geometry, and first shot priority, regardless of aspect or angle off. Thats
the sort of BFM that might also be flown by a modern jet aircraft in an all aspect, off bore sight missile scenario
where the first shot equals first kill. However, in a simulation where the modeling results in realistic penalties for
BFM reflects a combination
of three basic actions. An
aircraft can roll, turn, or
accelerate. BFM is a
blending of these three
basic maneuvers to gain an
energy advantage, a
positional advantage, or
(ultimately) both relative to
another aircraft.
rapid energy loss and departures from controlled flight, realistically difficult gunnery and so on, it becomes more
appropriate to conserve energy, fly Lag BFM, and achieve a low aspect low angle off position. What matters now is
not who gets the first shot, but who gets the last shot. Dramatic differences in BFM, that are essentially dictated by
the weapon and flight model.

Ive illustrated this in the diagram below that shows a Spitfire spending all of his energy for a high aspect shot
against an F4U, which may or may not be the right thing to do, depending on the modeling in the simulation you
happen to be flying at the time.






Now, with this in mind lets take a look at the way tactics used in the real world translate into our flight simulations.

THE BEAM DEFENSE
Lt Cdr John S "Jimmy" Thach developed a tactic using fluid two ship elements. He named it the Beam Defense but
it came to be more commonly known as the Thach Weave. The maneuver played an important part in the success
of the less maneuverable US aircraft in the pacific throughout the war. However, the maneuver, as its name implies
is a defensive one, and begins from the position of extreme disadvantage. For example, the way the maneuver is
actually flown can be very different from one simulation to another depending in this example on weapon and
damage modeling. When the maneuver was flown in a simulation like Air Warrior, in which high aspect or head on
shots were rarely effective, in order to make the Thach Weave work the maneuver had to be flown in a way that
gave the wingman a reduced aspect. This was commonly referred to as a canopy shot, and the maneuver is shown
in the diagram below. Notice that in order to allow the wingman to achieve the best shot the attacked pilot needs to
turn less tightly (note his slightly larger radius) while he drags the bandit across his tighter turning wingmans flight
path for the canopy shot. This is the way that Air Warrior pilots flew the maneuver and it worked very well.







Flying Lag BFM, conserves energy,
avoids the risks associated with high
aspect BFM and leads to a low
aspect low angle off position.
Rapid exchange of energy
for position, pure and lead
pursuit geometry, and first
shot priority, regardless of
aspect or angle off.
Position for low
aspect and low
angle off.
The correct thing to do in any
given situation will depend
on the aircraft involved, their
handling characteristics and
the way in which the aircraft
and weapons have been
modelled in the simulation
you are flying.

Attacking Zeke
enters wingman
field of view
Field of view


Zeke stays inside the
target aircraft's circle
Wingman gets a very effective shot, to the
planform of the bandit, often called a Canopy
Shot. The failure to acheive a quick kill places
the attacked aircraft at greater risk. The relative
weapon lethality and aircraft durability are an
important factor here.


F4F lead and
wingman
Cross over turn
The Thach Weave



The catch was, that it placed the attacked pilot in greater danger, because he needed to keep his turn open slightly
in order to allow his wingman inside for the canopy shot. If the attacked pilot and wingman pulled into each other
with equal aggression, the result would have been the much higher aspect shot shown in the diagram below.

F4F lead and
wingman
Field of view


Zeke stays inside the
target aircraft's circle

Attacking Zeke
enters wingman
field of view

Cross over turn

Attacked pilot maneuvers more
agressively and takes less risk
but the Wingman gets a higher
aspect deflection shot, or
a full frontal shot depending on
the flight path of the bandit.
The Thach Weave


That high aspect shot would have been worthless in Air Warrior, because the probability of a kill was too low, but it
is a more desirable way to fly the maneuver because it allows the defending pilot to turn as aggressively as he can
and is therefore certainly closer to the way the maneuver was actually flown because it results in less risk to the
defender. Because the bandit is tracking the defensive pilot, the wingman gets to line up for an uncontested high
aspect or head on shot that in real life, and in Aces High, would result in a much higher probability of a kill.
It's easy to get the impression from these diagrams that in the real world history the Thach Weave may have been
used from an initial bounce, and Ive drawn the diagrams to show the maneuver starting from the moment a bandit
enters the wingman's field of view. However, in online flight simulations the pilots don't have the same visual
restrictions, and discounting sloppy flying, the pure bounce happens far less frequently than in the real world
history. The situation above is far more likely to occur during a dogfight and will happen when one pilot deliberately
drags his opponent across his wingman's flight path.

So the situation shown above, instead of originating from a bounce may result from a neutral merge in which two
less maneuverable fighters (energy fighters) engage a more maneuverable fighter (angles fighter), followed by
maneuvering in which the angles fighter begins to gain a position in the targets deep six. At every stage during that
engagement both the lead and wingman should be trying to engineer the cross over turns in order to give the shot
to the wingman. You will notice that this involves the leader and wingman using repeated turn reversals in a
scissors like maneuver. However, if the kill doesnt come quickly it is always very dangerous to continue against a
much more maneuverable fighter for more than two reversals. If the angles fighter can't be taken out by then, the
attacked aircraft should disengage by diving out and using his superior speed and acceleration to evade. If the
attacker maintains his pursuit in a tail chase, it may even be possible for the wingman to get an easier shot on the
non-maneuvering attacker. It is easy to see from the previous illustrations that the way various aspects of a game
are modeled certainly have an impact on the resulting BFM. However, in this example we were considering the
coordinated maneuvering of a two ship formation against a single bandit, and that brings us to consider what is
probably the most often confused term in air combat ACM.

Air Combat Maneuvers (ACM) involves coordinated maneuvering between two or more fighters employing BFM to
kill, defend or separate from one or more bandits in a visual merge. In the above example we were only
considering the engaged phase, probably as the outcome of an intercept or an undetected bandit entry, and is
normally the part of the engagement most flight sim pilots like to focus on. It is the highest risk phase of an air-to-
air engagement, and because in virtual air combat, life is cheap, it naturally involves the most fun. However, for
ACM to be effective, distinct roles, or an "ACM Contract," must be agreed and established between the two fighters
prior to the flight. That contract defines "engaged" and "supporting" roles. Disciplined execution of those roles is
critical for survivability and lethality. Any break down in the established "ACM Contract" can lead to undesirable and
disastrous outcomes! Anyone who has flown with real people online will confirm that two inexperienced and
uncoordinated bandits can often be no more effective than one. So, ACM is about coordinated maneuvering and
involves four cornerstones to effective employment, communications, formation integrity, flight discipline, and
weapons employment, and each one deserves an article of its own. Basically, if you dont have a wingman, you
wont be flying ACM during an engagement, you will be flying BFM.

So, to recap, BFM is not an exact series of maneuvers flown to specific conclusions, but is a complementary
combination of three different actions to roll, turn, or accelerate. Everything a pilot does with those three actions
evolve in a fluid manner, determined by energy, geometry, and time, (GET) all blended into each other. How you
combine those actions will depend on the Aircraft Handling Characteristics (AHC) and in a simulation that depends
on how the aircraft has been modeled. Because that varies from one simulation to the next, sometimes
dramatically, the BFM will change also. When you view air combat from that perspective, everything you do will
follow naturally from it without the need to reference individual maneuvers.

But whats really wrong with thinking about BFM as a set of maneuvers, or a bag of tricks?

The real problem that arises if you consider BFM as a sequence of aerobatic maneuvers, is that pilots inevitably
end up with a set piece maneuver mind set, where maneuvers are traded sequentially, one to counter another, as
in a game of chess. Unfortunately, it is exactly that perception of BFM that leads so many virtual pilots down a blind
ally. For example, if you believe that BFM consists of a sequence of maneuvers, it would follow naturally that the
solution to a BFM problem that consisted of a sequence of those maneuvers would remain constant and that the
same set of maneuvers would be the solution to all similar problems. Thats the real danger. Because many virtual
pilots attempt the same solution, regardless of the aircraft types, regardless of the flight model or weapons model
they happen to be flying. This is one of the reasons that moving from one simulation to another can sometimes be
such a challenge!

When I have the opportunity to help flight sim pilots with their BFM, I always attempt to break the mold of the
maneuver orientated training that may have been previously acquired, thereby leading pilots away from a "set
piece maneuver" ethos, towards the application of the fundamental principles upon which those maneuvers are
based. The pay off is, potentially, a profound and dramatic improvement in the way that pilots perceive, and
therefore fly BFM. You might think of it as an exchange that involves swapping a bag with some maneuvers in it,
for the ability to create your own. Just like the old saying, If you give a man a fish you feed him for day, if you teach
him how to fish, you feed him for life similarly, if you show a flight sim pilot a new maneuver, you have only helped
him in one situation. On the other hand, if you show him how to use geometry energy and time to build the three
basic BFM maneuevers into the solution of BFM problems involving range, closure, aspect, angle-off and turning
room, it can lead to an ability to apply sound BFM to any variety of tactical situations, the ability to apply sound
BFM to new or unfamiliar situations, the ability to react more quickly and the ability to be creative or innovative.
That all adds up to enhanced tactical vision and situational awareness. Instead of knowing a whole bunch of fancy
maneuvers, a pilot only needs to grasp three fundamental building blocks, Geometry Energy and Time. Yet, once
their synergy is understood, those three factors form the basis of every maneuver ever executed. Once
understood, you dont have to be shown a maneuver, you create them yourself as you solve BFM problems
naturally, the way that real fighter pilots do.

There used to be an old saying, if you ask ten Russian fighter pilots how they would solve a BFM problem, you
would get exactly the same answer ten times. If you ask ten American fighter pilots how to solve the same BFM
problem, you will get sixteen different answers. Now you know why! Regardless of how true that saying was, it
illustrated the fact that poorly trained fighter pilots have a set piece mind set, while well trained fighter pilots have
the tools to think for themselves. How exactly you do that is the subject of the follow up article to this one,
Geometry Energy & Time, The Synergy of Air Combat and it demonstrates how all of the maneuvers you are
familiar with have evolved from those three simple concepts, think of it as BFM from first principles. More
importantly, as the characteristics of the aircraft involved change, or as the flight model changes your BFM will
change and evolve with it.

Before we leave this topic, there is still one important point to be considered, that is the way aircraft performance is
modeled from one simulation to another. There have been many flight simulations that feature the same aircraft,
and yet none of these aircraft have ever been modeled in exactly the same way in any two of them. Certain popular
jet fighters, and aircraft that are big favorites from WWII have often been modeled in many different simulations,
while even aircraft that one might assume would be of less interest, such as the Shturmovik IL2 have been
modeled in at least three different simulations. It would be amazing if there were no difference in the performance
of these aircraft, because each developer does their own private research and will be working from different source
documents and data. Despite the fact that each of these developers invest a great deal of time and money in the
quality of their research and sources, it is still true that sometimes the performance of these aircraft varies
dramatically! That difference in performance has an equally dramatic influence on the nature of the resulting air
combat, and in order to illustrate that, we need to look at some specific examples. Firstly, we need to quantify the
performance differences that Ive mentioned and the best way to do that is to use the Energy Maneuverability (EM)
diagram. Some of you will be familiar with these diagrams since they are being used more often now to explain
Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT). That is because the EM diagram for an aircraft defines its performance
envelope in terms of its instantaneous and sustained turning ability and includes all of the important information
required to analyze the air combat. The diagram below shows an overlay of the performance envelope for the P-51
as modeled in Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator (MSCFS) and Aces High (AH). This diagram is an accurate and
true representation of the aircraft as they have been modeled in those two simulations. Before I explain how you
should interpret this diagram, it is worth reminding ourselves that the curves shown represent the performance of
exactly the same historic aircraft, as it has been modeled in two different simulations. Which one is closer to reality,
or is a more faithful reproduction of the performance of the real aircraft may be a good subject for another article,
but we will not concern ourselves with it here, we are only interested in the influence that the differences in
performance may have on the resulting air combat. With that in mind, lets review the information that can be
obtained from the diagram.
Energy Maneuverability Diagram
0.0
5.0
10.0
15.0
20.0
25.0
30.0
35.0
40.0
45.0
75 100 125 150 175 200 225 250 275 300 325 350 375 400
mph
dps
MSCFS P-51
AH P-51
Copyright Leon "Badboy" Smith 2002
2g
3g
4g
5g
6g
900ft
800ft
600ft
700ft
500ft
400ft
0 ft ASL - Mil Power - 25% fuel
Max turn rates
(Instantaneous)
Max Sustained turn rates
Max Sustained Load Factor (g)

Those readers familiar with EM diagrams, will immediately notice that the difference between these aircraft is
dramatic. Firstly, the things that most flight sim pilots are quick to spot is the difference between obvious and better
performance characteristics, such as the top speed and stall speed. From this diagram we notice that the MSCFS
P-51 has a 1g stall speed, and a top speed, some 20mph lower than the AH model. Nothing too dramatic there, but
the important things that most flight sim pilots find more difficult to define, such as turn radius, turn rate, and
specific excess power often just get described in terms of the aircrafts feel. Well, these two P-51Ds would certainly
feel different! One of them has the ability to hold almost ten times its own weight in a turn, while the other models a
pilot physiological limit (black out) that restricts the usefulness of additional load to six times the aircrafts weight in
a turn. That difference results in the MSCFS P-51 being capable of a maximum turn rate of 45dps (degrees per
second) at its corner velocity. The AH P-51 has a maximum turn rate of 29dps, a difference of some 16dps! The
minimum turn radius for these aircraft can also be seen in the diagram to be close to 500ft and 750ft respectively.
The maximum sustained turn rates are also very important and you can see from this diagram that the MSCFS P-
51 has a 10dps sustained turn rate advantage. The significance of that may be appreciated in view of the fact that
anything more than a 2dps sustained turn rate advantage would generally be considered as decisive. Notice also
that the MSCFS P-51 can sustain turns over 4g in a level turn, while the AH P-51 can sustain 3g in a level turn
without losing speed. Thats a difference in lift equal to the aircrafts own weight a big difference! The higher
sustained turn rate of the MSCFS P-51 also implies an ability to climb or accelerate better under load. These are
attributes that might not appear obvious during free flight, but would be as obvious as a slap in the face if these two
aircraft were to meet in combat. This example was admittedly extreme, and I deliberately chose those two
simulations because I knew there was a big disparity between their respective P-51 flight models. The real question
however, is what effect would these differences mean to someone who had been flying the MSCFS P-51 online,
and who then attempted to convert to the Aces High P-51 online? Bear with me, Im getting there.

Im fairly confident that almost every flight sim pilot would notice flight model differences as dramatic as these if
they had the two different games running simultaneously side by side. However there is one other factor that
serves to mask these differences when each simulation is flown separately. In order to explain that, I would like to
make one further comparison between two massively multiplayer online flight simulations, because they both
modeled a large number of different aircraft that the player could fly. For this purpose I will use Aces High again,
and compare its Spitfire Mk IX with the same model Spitfire from Air Warrior. Yes, I know that Air Warrior no longer
exists as an online game, but Ive chosen that comparison deliberately because there was recently a large number
of former Air Warrior pilots converting to Aces High who may either benefit from, or verify the conclusions Im
leading you to. Lets take a look at the envelopes for the two Spitfires then, the EM diagram is shown below.
Energy Maneuverability Diagram
0.0
5.0
10.0
15.0
20.0
25.0
30.0
35.0
40.0
45.0
50 75 100 125 150 175 200 225 250 275 300 325 350 375 400
mph
dps
AH Spitfire MkIX
AW Spitfire MkIX
Copyright Leon "Badboy" Smith 2002
2g
3g
4g
5g
6g
900ft
800ft
400ft
700ft
500ft
600ft
0 ft ASL - Mil Power - 25% fuel

Here you notice that the disparity in the two Spitfire flight models is not as dramatic as the P-51 models previously
considered. They both model the pilot physiological limit that would cause blackouts to occur at 6g and the stall
speeds are very similar, resulting in similar turn radii, similar corner speeds, and similar maximum instantaneous
turn rates. So far so good, but apart from the fact that the Air Warrior Spitfire was slightly faster, the most significant
difference is the difference in sustained turn rates. Notice that the Aces High Spitfire can sustain just over 3g, while
the Air Warrior Spitfire was able to sustain over 4g. Remember, I mentioned previously that there were factors at
play that served to mask these differences, and for a simulation that modeled around forty different player flyable
aircraft, those differences would be much less obvious if the models for all the other aircraft varied by the same
amount relative to each other, so that historical differences were still maintained. For example, if you expected the
Spitfire to have only a very slight sustained turn rate advantage over an Me109, that might be true in both
simulations, and so both simulations would agree with the expectations of players familiar with the real world
history. What matters from an historical point of view is that the aircraft are correct relative to each other. The fact
that all of the aircraft in one simulation, perform slightly better than those in another, doesnt make much difference
until you decide to convert from one to the other, which brings us right back to the original question How would
this effect the air combat?

If we take another look at the EM diagram showing the Spitfire comparison above, we notice that the Air Warrior
Spitfire had a sustained turn rate some 5dps higher than its Aces High counterpart. During combat that would be
most noticeable in the fact that the Air Warrior Spitfire would lose energy less quickly than the one modeled in Aces
High, when it does lose energy, it would not end up as slow, and once it was slow it would be able to accelerate
back to a higher energy level more quickly. That would mean that although both of these aircraft would have the
correct numerical differences in performance relative to the other aircraft in the game, the Air Warrior Spitfire would
suffer less of an energy penalty for becoming involved in a dogfight. It would be able to sustain its corner speed for
longer, and thus get the kill more quickly. That might not be obvious, because you might at first think that if both
aircraft had the same instantaneous turn rate advantage over an opponent they should gain angles at the same
rate. That overlooks the fact that the aircraft with the higher sustained turn rate, will also be able to maintain its
instantaneous advantage for longer, or it will need to lose less altitude while doing so. In effect, it may have the
same advantage, but it can hold that advantage for longer. That translates to quicker kills! In more evenly matched
fights, or similar aircraft engagements, it would still become less vulnerable, less quickly. Once it reached its
sustained turn rate, it would still be maneuverable enough make itself a difficult target with significant evasive
potential, after all it is much easier to hit a target that can only pull 3g than one that can pull 4g. Once in a difficult
position, the Air Warrior Spitfire was also able to use its better acceleration, and better sustained turn rate, to
recover more quickly. How does all of that translate into what happens in a crowded arena filled with large numbers
of friendly and hostile aircraft?

Well, in Aces High the penalty for getting slow is more severe, because the Aces High aircraft get slower more
quickly, are able to pull less g once they are slow and so are easier targets. They also accelerate less quickly so
they remain easy targets for longer. Add to that higher numbers of players, and resulting increased threat density
and the outcome on the air combat is obvious. Getting involved in a dogfight is less likely to be productive and less
likely to be survivable, and so players are far less willing to commit to an engagement without a significant speed or
altitude advantage. Maintaining airspeed and waiting for others to get slow first then becomes a far more rewarding
strategy in terms of achieving kills and living long enough to land them. It can be less rewarding for those players
who enjoy a dogfight, because dogfights take longer, and the winner of a 1v1 engagement also remains vulnerable
for longer, which gives other aircraft more time to enter the fray and take advantage of combatants that have
become slower, lower, and short of ammunition and fuel, and possibly even suffered some damage. Realistic? I
believe so! The point Im making is that differences in the flight model have resulted in differences in the way that
the air combat is being flown. Add to that the effect of differences in the BFM we have already discussed and you
begin to realize that converting from one simulation to another, is certainly going to require significant changes in
the way that a pilot flies almost every aspect of air combat. But it gets worse!

When you have been flying a simulation for a long time, you gain an insight into these things as a whole, something
best described as Situational Awareness (SA). For example, in any of the simulations we have mentioned, pilots
soon acquire a feel for the timing involved. Consider this situation you have what looks like a vulnerable bandit
within visual range, you have identified the aircraft type, you know its performance capabilities, you can see its
range and altitude and therefore believe that you have enough of an advantage to make the kill. That bandit has
spotted you and is beginning his defensive maneuver. However, another two hostile aircraft are 3 sectors away on
radar, you need to make a sound decision. You must judge if you have the time to engage and get the kill before
other hostile aircraft arrive or if you need to refuse combat until the situation becomes more favorable. With good
SA pilots are able to judge these things, weighing a huge number of factors with very little conscious effort, very
quickly and with surprising accuracy. Thats largely a matter of experience. However, change from one simulation
to another, and the map scales, the radar range, the size of the map sectors, and the performance of the enemy
aircraft are all different! Suddenly you will be making the wrong decisions because you wont be making judgments
based on the information you have, but on the information you think you have, based on experience that no longer
applies. You will find yourself getting into difficult situations that you were previously able to avoid, and you might
not even be sure why. When we were previously discussing issues that affected the air combat there was always a
concrete explanation, it was one of many possible aspects relating to the flight or weapons modeling, and their
influence on our maneuvers was relatively easy to predict. Unfortunately, SA is much more complex, because it
encompasses everything that has already been mentioned, and also includes many more far less tangible issues.
A proper treatment of Situational Awareness deserves an article of its own, but even with this admittedly brief
consideration, it is easy to see that for anyone who has spent a great deal of time with a single simulation, there is
almost sure to be a certain amount of anguish as old habits are broken, and players adapt to the differences in the
air combat.

Naturally, some will adapt more quickly than others, but it is probably safe to generalize that changing from one
simulation to another, is almost like starting again from square one. If players have so much experience with a
previous simulation that factors affecting their situational awareness have become engrained, so that they need to
consciously unlearn things that have become almost automatic responses, it can be much worse. Instead of
starting again at the bottom, it is more like having to climb out of a deep hole before you even get to square one.
The good news is that although the skills and knowledge carried forward from a previous simulation may not all be
directly applicable, in as much as they wont allow you to avoid starting from square one again, they will make the
learning curve far less steep. A level of competence that may have taken months or even years to reach previously
should now be re-acquired far more quickly. Simply put, if you were good before, you can be again, and it wont
take as long the second time around!


CONCLUSION
As we move from one simulation to the next, we all carry with us skills learned and reinforced over a significant
period of time. If, due to the nature of the weapons or flight model, those skills are really only applicable to a single
simulation, it might happen that a useful skill in one simulation, may become a bad habit in another. In this article I
have attempted to present some of my own observations and highlight some of the differences in the air combat
resulting from them. With that done, you are well equipped to judge which of your skills and abilities may or may
not be transferable from the simulation you are flying now, to the one you may wish to install tomorrow.

Good luck, and happy hunting!

Leon "Badboy" Smith

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