FAQ: The Basics of ACM


"The most important thing is to have a flexible approach…The truth is that no one knows exactly what air fighting will be like in the future. We can't say anything will stay as it is, but we also can't be certain the future will conform to any particular theories, which so often, between the wars, have proved wrong."
-Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF (Ret.)
16 Victories - WW2 & Vietnam

While the combat system in Battlestar Cerberus isn't conducive to three-dimensional environments like real air or (as the case may be) space combat, there are certain aspects of the art that are still very relevant. Its true that one can easily just hop into a Viper and join the combat and go fight. You could drop poses and run through it as fast as possible. Now don't get me wrong.. If you're you're halfway decent and dogfighting the CAG then no.. don't bother with posing. But otherwise you're missing the whole point of MUSHing, aren't you? You'd probably be more comfortable on a MUD if that's the case.

However, if you are more interested in learning about this stuff to help out your poses (or just filling your skull with ACM), read on. It will bring more depth to your poses and the author personally believes that it will give you a better appreciation for what is going on. On this page, the reader will get an overview of air combat and some very basic tactical principals. A lot of what is going to be explained can be found in a book called "Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering" by Robert L. Shaw (the first 200 pages are available to read HERE). This 'textbook' is widely considered to be the Air Combat Bible by every air force and navy aviation group on Earth and goes from basic explanations and on into the mathematical principals behind altitude effects on instantaneous turn radii at a given altitude. Its not an armchair book to kick back with on a rainy night, so don't spend the money on it unless you want a reference manual.

So without much more, lets get into it…

Principles of Gunnery

Before anyone can attempt to understand how to maneuver, the most important question is 'Why.' Why are you turning your super-fast hunk of metal all over damnation, grunting and cursing? The answer is as simple as it is complex:

The main reason a fighter aircraft exists is to destroy other aircraft. The aircraft itself is only a weapons platform designed to bring the cannons to bear onto the target and destroy these other fighters. Technology through the years (and into the future) will vary greatly. But no matter what, a few key things must be satisfied for the cannon to work properly. Meeting your firing requirements, while frustrating those of the enemy, must be the goal of all combat tactics and maneuvering. But the goal is a complicated one because it involves a moving (frustrating and spoiling) target from another moving platform (your own). You can thank your lucky stars that in space, there's no mean air density, gravity, or wind to act against your cannon fire. Thus, gunnery is more or less a straightforward issue. We will ignore the use of missiles in this discussion due to how little they are used.

Leading the Target

The primary concern about placing your rounds into a maneuvering Raider is Time of Flight (TF). TF refers to the amount of time it takes a bullet to leave your cannon and travel a distance… for example to a Raider 100 meters away. Using this example, we'll assume that it takes .25 seconds for your bullet to travel 100m. Now in that TF, the Raider will be turning and attempting to dodge your rounds. What this means is that if you squeeze the trigger when the Raider is 100m away and it is directly in your sights… you will miss unless the Raider isn't even moving. At all. Because by the time the bullet arrives at where you had aimed it, the Raider has moved. Therefore, you must aim where the Raider 'will be.' This concept is referred to as 'Leading the Target.'

Tracers and Leading

Tracers are visible bullets, usually made of an incendiary metal, that are visible to the naked eye. They are not every bullet and are typically loaded as every third or fifth round. However, these rounds offer some peculiar dimensions to air combat. First, as the saying goes in the movies, "tracers work both ways." They do. A non-maneuvering and unaware target will be instantly alerted to your presence if even one of the rounds miss their intended target. However, they offer an excellent advantage that is the same as their disadvantage: High Visibility. During the stress of air combat, tracers offer the shooting platform's pilot (you) the ability to see exactly where your bullets are going (missing or hitting). On a hard-maneuvering target, this can aid greatly in something called 'walking' your rounds into the target. This is done by turning inside (covered later) your target and firing. As the tracers get closer and closer, they appear as little footsteps slowly walking across the sky to the target. This is effectively known as visually leading the target. Firing while under G-Loading (in turns) under these conditions is often referred to as a Snapshot.

Gun Employment Considerations

In order to take out another gun system, the shooter (you) must meet certain firing requirements such as range, aiming, and firing-time constraints. As far as range is concerned, 1000m is probably about average for atmospheric engagement zones. In space, as we have seen, the engagement zones have minimum ranges down to dozens of feet. To give an example… a modern gun employment minimum range by two fighter aircraft would be five hundred (500) feet. However this is because an F-16 or MiG-29 can't become a hovering turret platform like the Vipers of BSG can. So what does this mean to you? Firewalling your throttles and gunning through the debris of an exploding Raider may not damage your bird in code but it would most-certainly frak your Viper up. However velocity is relative and floating through an exploding Raider slowly may not hurt you too bad.

"Aerial gunnery is ninety percent instinct and ten percent aim."
-Captain Frederick Libby, RFC
First American Ace of WW1

As 'experienced' aviators in the BSG world, its assumed that you (the shooter) would know how to employ your guns properly. While its true, the Viper would still have a manual aiming device, it is more likely that most pilots would shoot more by instinct than raw calculations. Its not some special feat. Its not a superpower. It is human adaptability. There are the rare people out there who are 'natural shooters' (insanely rare in a cockpit) but anyone can learn to shoot by 'instinct.' The mind is the only limiting factor. If a pilot allows themselves to get good without the social stigmas of failure without sights, then this skill is very easy to pick up. Oddly (or maybe not-so), this principal also applies to modern firearms. Shooting into a target without using your sights is often called 'point-shooting' by Modern Technique fans.

"Go in close, and then when you think you are too close, go in closer."
-Major Thomas McGuire, USAAF
2nd Leading US Ace - WW2 (38 Kills)

While yes, I did just finish talking about range considerations, Major McGuire isn't referring to range considerations with the above quote. What he is talking about are earning excellent shooting positions. He is talking about giving your guns the best chance of hitting their target by filling as much of your windscreen as possible. This may not be the literal 'good idea,' he's on the right track. When positioning for a kill, the shooter wants to have a minimum of angle difference in their flight paths - a concept called 'Deflection.' For example, if a shooter had a zero deflection shot, the Raider would be flying straight and level in front of them. But what does a forty-five (45) degree angle deflection shot look like? Take your left hand (the Raider) and hold it out in front of you, lain flat and parallel to the ground. Then tilt your left hand at the wrist until it is pointed forty-five degrees up (half way to vertical). Now move your right hand (you, the shooter) in behind your left, parallel to the ground, and 'aiming' at the knuckles of your left hand. Lock your hands into those relative positions and move them up and down. Then? Do this while moving your right hand closer and then further away from your left. See how being 'closer' is more advantageous than being 'further' away? This is exactly why lower deflection shots are better, as are closer-range engagements.

Basic Fighter Maneuvers

The bread and butter. The 'sex' that all the pilots like to think they know. The following section will detail, as the title suggest, basic fighter maneuvering. Nothing will be assumed about the shooter's (your own) firing position as these maneuvers will be discussed in abstract. Place yourself in both aircraft through these maneuvers. It may help to use your hands to illustrate these principals to yourself as you may have under the section on Deflection Shooting. Another note and point that is very important to remember: These are basic tactics. Basic. They are adaptable and nothing ever happens like it does in the textbook. Air combat is fluid by virtue of what it is. But before anything else? Before we get into the Turn n Burn there is something that is worth mentioning to you all. And this is especially important in the context of a MUSH.

"Only the spirit of attack, born in a brave heart, will bring success to any fighter aircraft no matter how highly developed it may be."
-Adolf Galland

Dreamy quote, right? It evokes images of the aerial chivalry of World War One where gallantry was abundant and air combat was a gentleman's 'sport.' But Galland was saying something that's not quite apparent at first blush. What's he mean by the 'spirit of attack?' Well I'll tell you: He's talking about being aggressive. Many MUSHers want to write a char that has some darker side. Cool. Maybe they're shy? Fine. But these are social aspects. You want to see a fine example of a fighter pilot? Watch Top Gun and study Val Kilmer's char 'Iceman' - as much as he is a twink. Fighter pilots are, first and foremost, aggressive. In the cockpit, they are killers. They fight to win, not to survive. They don't get hyper-excited on the radio. They're cocky bastards and bitches who are out for blood. I can't impart this enough.. BE AGGRESSIVE!! Because if a fighter pilot isn't, the enemy will walk all over them and then they're dead. Congrats. Your picture is now all over the internet with the phrase 'FAIL!' stamped on it. But having said that? Let's get into it.

"Aggressiveness was fundamental to success in air-to-air combat and if you ever caught a fighter pilot in a defensive mood
you had him licked before you started shooting."
-Captain David McCampbell, USN
Leading USN Ace, WW2 - 34 Victories (9 in a single mission)


Lateral Separation

'Lateral separation' is the distance between two aircraft on the lateral plane. This means they are at the same 'altitude.' In space, this means nothing. However it is assumed that the Raiders would turn to intercept your Viper - thus placing you both on the same plane of attack. To give a better example, here's a diagram:


Remember when the CAG leads the flight of Vipers into their first engagement with the Cylons in the miniseries? Just as he loses power, Lieutenant Valeri says 'He's going straight in!' Valeri, here, was referring to the fact that the CAG was not creating any lateral separation. He was leading his flight directly into the guns of oncoming Raiders. Well you might ask 'Well Hell, man, didn't you just tell me to be aggressive?!' Yes I did. But being aggressive and being stupid or smart are two very different things. Aggressive and smart? You'll live a long time. Aggressive and stupid? Buy the coffin now. Aggression in the cockpit means you have the desire to win, which means not getting killed. And that means that you have to maneuver to put yourself in the best firing position possible. Lateral separation creates the maneuvering room and deflection angles necessary to frustrate your opponents' shots at you when you merge with the targets. This way you don't get killed within the first four seconds of the engagement.

Pursuit Curves

There are three types: Lead, Pure, and Lag. These will be used more than any other tactic or technique covered anyplace else. When you're engaged with a turning fight and trying to press-home the distance for the kill, these will become VERY important. One could also list these in reference of how aggressive they are with Lead Pursuit being the most aggressive and Lag Pursuit being the least.


They are illustrated above for ease of understanding. Each Pursuit variant will bring the Attacker in behind the Defender, the man difference is how close behind. Lag Pursuit is generally used to close general distance and put the Attacker in a better offensive position when it is going to overshoot due to excess energy (velocity). Pure Pursuit is used to close the most distance when energy (velocity) is very nearly the same for both aircraft. Lead Pursuit, the most aggressive kind, is generally used when the Attacker plans to actively engage the Defender (aka - Fire at him). Lead Pursuit is excellent for the employment of cannons or missiles as it gives the least amount of Deflection for the weapons system. Below, this diagram gives a better explanation of how both Lag and Lead Pursuit can be employed effectively.


These three tactical concepts can be employed in an unlimited number of combinations and ways. The can be mixed with high-G rolls to help bleed speed or hard acceleration to force a better position. However, at the end of the maneuver, the goal is to get closer or destroy the Bandit. One of the two. This is a very aggressive form of air combat maneuvering (ACM) and is closely associated with Yo-Yo's (covered next).


These maneuvers come in two primary types: High-Speed and Low-Speed. However, each one is used differently due to gravitational considerations. In space, there is no gravity so the prime difference is direction and what the tactical situation is. Mass and Velocity still play important roles so utilizing these maneuvers is still suggested as energy management tools.


As shown above, the Low Yo-Yo is used in atmosphere to gain speed during an engagement when the Attacking aircraft is too slow to carry the fight through a turn by the Defender. When used in a Lag Pursuit, this is great for refining a firing position before pressing the attack. Most pilots don't expect an Aggressor to break low during an engagement and will check high for it, thus losing sight of the Attacker.


In the figure above, the High Yo-Yo is shown. In the atmosphere, this maneuver would be used in combination of chopped throttle to bleed energy (velocity) when the Defender turns and the Attacker knows they will overshoot if they try to make the turn. Outside of planetary pulls, this maneuver is generally used in combination of a Pure or Lead Pursuit and is seen as highly aggressive.

Lead Turns

This engagement and merge technique is used quite often in dogfights and begins with a decent amount of lateral separation if utilized at the merge. Once set-up, the trick for the Attacker is to begin turning to engage before the Defender does without turning too early - as turning too early will place the Defender in a sweet position on the Attacker's ass. However, if its performed correctly, this maneuver will bring the Attacker into an advantageous position somewhere in the Defender's six o'clock. However this tactic can also be employed during ACM given any circumstance.


From here, the engagement can go anywhere. The Defender might reverse to try and force an overshoot. Or continue the turn. Nothing is written in stone. However there are certain things worth mentioning: First? The Attacker will conserve a fairly good amount of energy (velocity) through this turn. When they come back around on the Defender, they could very well be faced with a much slower opponent. So what do you do? Bleed energy so you don't overshoot.. sometimes. It depends on what the Defender is doing. But why would the Defender be slower? Because the Defender just tried to pull a high-G maneuver in order to try and turn with you at the merge.. which didn't work. The majority of the time, a good counter to this would be for the Defender to reverse his turn and force the attacker (generally faster) into a Scissors (covered later). Or, if this can be spotted early enough, to just never turn into the attacker - instead choosing to bleed energy (velocity) while spoiling the Attacker's shot and then rolling in behind the Attacker as their flight paths cross.

Nose-to-Tail Turns

These are common as well and generally performed by rookie pilots. Or very experienced pilots who know their opponents. As shown in the diagram below, this maneuver is performed and begins with lateral separation between the two aircraft. For the most part, both aircraft will be moving at roughly the same velocity. The two opponents merge and the fight's on from there. Off-hand, this maneuver looks pretty retarded, right? The two aircraft will just be going in circles doing the same thing over and over. Well.. you're kinda right. Kinda not.


You'd be correct because in the same aircraft in space where nobody has wind or gravity effects to use, they'll just keep doing this dance. However, there are two important things to remember: Velocity and turn performance. This merge tactic is employed when the Attacker knows that he can turn just inside and faster than the Defender. This will bring the Attacker's guns to bare on the Defender before the Defender has a chance to escape outside the engagement.

Nose-to-Nose Turns

These are fascinating tactics that require a dedicated pilot to master and are my favorites. I use the plural because there are a complicated set of conditions that lead up to another set of complicated maneuvers. Now to be honest, the textbook has this tactic employed from a merge but that rarely is the case when this can be exploited the best. This set of turns can be employed in a wide range of circumstances but one must be careful to execute it properly in order to avoid getting into a Scissors engagement (covered later).


The set-up for this means that the Attacker is at either a much slower velocity than the Defender (by design or not) or in a far superior aircraft (in terms of turning radius). At the merge, the Defender attempts to turn in a wide arc to bring their aircraft around on the Attacker. What actually takes place is a beautiful ballet and a joy to watch, actually. The Attacker, with their lower velocity, turns their aircraft the same direction as the Defender until the Attacker's nose is on the Defender. Once this happens, the Attacker reverses their turn and pulls another high-G turn (usually a Pure Pursuit) back into the direction the Defender is going. Properly executed, this tactic will give the Attacker a perfect low-deflection shot right on the Defender's six o'clock.

The Scissors

A lot has been made in this article of this 'scenario.' Which really, it is. This isn't something that a pilot should force themselves into without good cause and consideration. It forces both aircraft to become very slow which makes both of you excellent targets for anyone else who wants to do some shooting. If that's the case? At best you can lose your kill. At worst? You can lose your life. But one thing that is important to keep in mind is that almost any engagement can find itself in this circumstance. If its looking like you are too slow or that the Defender is going to get behind you? The best thing you can do is disengage. Wait until the Defender is turning into you, firewall your throttles and attempt to get into a Nose-to-Nose situation (while praying to God and your wingman). Most likely this will confuse the Defender while he attempts to regain sight of you and buy a few precious seconds.


So how does one find oneself in this situation? It begins with both aircraft jockeying to get behind the other by trying to turn inside each other and bleeding velocity to do it…and that's it. The turns continue with quick (and sickening) reversals back and forth. They don't stop until someone successfully gets behind the other and proceeds to kill the other with a very close-range shot.


As said in the beginning, these are some very basic maneuvers. The really complicated things come later. Section and Division tactics are a whole different ballgame but are wonderful to see employed. Are they relevant? Somewhat. About as much as this is. Hopefully you've taken something away from this. Something to maybe help your poses, give you ideas, or maybe you just found it interesting.


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