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Tactics - The Energy State

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  • Tactics - The Energy State

    As a fighter pilot, it is important that you understand some fundamentals about flying. This document discusses the Energy State and how important it can be to both air-air engagements and air-ground. I want to keep this explanation relatively straightforward so not to bog anyone down. I may write a more detailed explanation at a later date. Suffice to say this explanation will endeavour to give the pilot a good, basic understanding of what energy is.


    So what is the energy state? In laymanís terms, energy equals either height or speed (or both). A plane that is slow and low would be considered having a low energy state. A plane flying high and fast has a high energy state. But a plane flying slow and high could be regarded has having a higher energy state than a plane flying low and fast. This is because the slow, high plane can convert height into speed.

    So if you have energy, what bleeds it? Gravity and drag. Well thatís not entirely true because gravity can give you energy (if youíre high) and sap it if youíre low, trying to gain height. Drag on the other hand happens whenever you turn the aircraft. In combat situations, youíll be turning fairly hard and pulling Gís bleeds energy.

    Take two planes flying towards each other. One plane is doing 400 knots; the other is doing 600 knots. Now as they pass they both do a break turn to try and get on the otherís tail. The faster plane doesnít turn as well because itís going faster, and as it pulls hard in the turn, looses the energy it had. The better bet may be to turn that energy into height and to do the turn in the vertical (i.e. a loop). Now you have converted your excess speed into height (meaning your opponent now has to point upwards to get a shot at you, loosing energy) and you actually turn better when you are using gravity to assist your turns.

    In Practice

    This is a substantial theory to learn and as such you would need to read up. Itís not that hard and the more you know, the better a pilot you will be. In air-air engagements having available energy at your disposal whilst whittling down your opponents is a good thing and hereís a war story of my own to highlight this.

    On returning from a bombing mission in my P40-E I noticed Iíd picked up a follower. I noticed him because after Iíd dropped my bombs on the Japanese carrier, his tracer fire shot across my nose, barely missing me. It was a Mitsubishi A6M "ZEKE", otherwise known as a "Zero".

    Now the Zero turns on a six-pence and there was no way that I was going to be dragged into a turning match with this guy. His first mistake was that he engaged me too far away. I already had extension from him and as I knew the P40 was a faster aircraft, I decided that I would leave the area and RTB (another reason for not engaging was that I was close to his airfield and his wingmen may have shown up at anytime).

    However, after about a minute of flying I see a dot in my rear mirror. This guy is following me, obviously hoping to shoot me down as I land. I havenít the fuel to completely loose him, so now Iím forced to engage or take the risk at home plate.

    As I cannot match his turning ability, I decide to gain some height and go for some vertical separation as well. If he follows me up, heíll loose speed. After a while of gaining height I see that he hasnít followed. I have about 1000 feet on him in the vertical so I level off, bring my plane back up to top speed and then execute a hard level right turn back toward him.

    I donít aim for him; instead I keep him off on my 2 oíclock low, still maintaining the same height. The bait has been laid and now itís time to see if the trap will spring. As I was hoping, my pursuer brings his nose up and fires off some shots. I turn into him, still keeping level and he tries to keep his nose pointed at me. I keep turning, all the time keeping my eyes on him over my right shoulder. Heís trying to turn and climb at the same time but he canít and the only thing that can happen, happens Ė he stalls.

    I see his plane go into a spin and it starts dropping. He now has no control over his plane, has lost all of his energy and is at the mercy of gravity. All he can do now is recover the spin, drop the nose and build up airspeed again. This of course takes time and whilst heís doing this, Iíve turned in on him, brought my nose on him and Iím diving towards him. Just as he recovers from the spin, I open up. All eight barrels of my guns slice off a wing and he goes spinning down to the deck. I check the skies around me, see Iím clear and I RTB.
    Now I am by no means the best pilot there is and this is probably my finest air-air victory ever. What this story highlights is my understanding of energy followed up with a good plan and then a victory. Itís interesting to note that had I not hit my opponent on my first dive, I was completely safe. My dive gave me extra speed with which to extend from my barely moving prey and I could set up for another pass.

    In Americaís Army if you go ďlow and slow, youíll get a go!Ē In falcon though, if you go in slow, youíll blow (up). Here we have SAM and AAA threats to worry about. Just because our CAP flight has cleared the area of enemy fighters, it doesnít mean we are safe. For this reason it is important that we start our attack run with energy to spare. Going in fast will give us more options against ground fire than if we go in slow. So make sure you make each pass with as high an energy state as you can.

    One thing to remember though is that too much energy can kill you. If you approach your target at full afterburner doing 800 knots, donít be surprised when you canít pull out of that dive bomb run.

    Energy is something to think about but it isnít necessary to bog yourself down with it. This is a very simplified explanation to give you an idea of what energy is and how important it can be. There are much more detailed documents on the web (try this excellent one over at Sim HQ -, and I am no means a master at this myself. Just try to appreciate your energy when you get into difficult situations and you may find it helps you out one day.



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