It's All a Matter of Your Perspective -
Numerous articles on air combat simulation
viewing systems have been written for sim pilots. All have
the objective of explaining how these systems permit you,
the pilot, to maneuver your aircraft with respect to another
aircraft or ground object. My participation in this discussion
will be to offer a different view of the subject...a new perspective
on these systems. The term "perspective" will define
the way I look at the subject. As a former military pilot,
my "mental" picture of basic fighter maneuvers (BFM)
was formed by the methods used both then and now by military
instructors. I have found that the typical air combat simulation,
while doing a surprisingly good job at replicating certain
aspects of air combat flying, has tended to favor "in
cockpit" presentation techniques in its attempt to provide
the simulation pilot with flight cues and guidance to solve
the three-dimensional BFM problem. As other authors have explained,
these "in cockpit" presentations vary from fixed
views to virtual and padlock schemes. All of these techniques
are cockpit-based...they are seen from the perspective of
being in the cockpit...which at first glance seems only reasonable
for the obvious reason that the cockpit is where the pilot
is sitting!! What I will try to explain in my discussion is
that the military trained pilot takes an entirely different
perspective on the situation. I'll refer to this military
perspective as an "out-of-cockpit" point of view.
I'll present several ways the typical air combat simulation
views a particular BFM problem, and then I'll present the
pros and cons of these presentations with regard to their
effectiveness in providing the simulation pilot with the necessary
guidance to solve that problem.
But first, we need to define the scope
of our discussion. Air combat maneuvering procedures and techniques
cover a very large amount of material, and, as technology
continues to advance into areas such as vectored thrust, stealth,
and helmet-controlled all-aspect weapons, this subject only
grows more complicated and expansive. Therefore, my discussion
will limit the subject by placing the following boundaries
on the discussion:
1. Number of aircraft limited to
a one versus one situation.
2. Weapons capability limited to
3. All maneuvering must result in
a six o'clock gun range position.
With these restrictions in mind, let's
now turn to a quick review of the objective of any BFM maneuver.
I like to think of this as the twin objectives of controlling
closure and fuselage alignment. By "controlling closure",
I mean the task of controlling your velocity relative to your
opponent...controlling closure in the BFM sense does not necessarily
mean controlling airspeed. Instead it means controlling the
rate at which your aircraft close on or separates from the
other aircraft. "Fuselage alignment" means getting
your aircraft pointed in the desired direction relative to
the other aircraft. Another way to think of this is to use
the term "angle off". Our discussion will center
on these two BFM objectives: a closure rate of 50 knots or
less and an angle off of 20 degrees or less. There is one
remaining variable in the BFM solution....that variable is
time. The next section will explain the critical impact time
has in the effective solution to a given BFM problem.
We all understand the concept of time
in the sense of beginning a BFM maneuver either too early
or too late, but that is not what I'm referring to when I
talk about the importance of time in BFM. Instead, I want
to take a broader view of time in BFM in the sense of one
pilot making and implementing BFM decisions more rapidly than
his opponent. In doing so, the pilot always has his opponent
on the defensive...his opponent is always reacting to him
rather than vice versa. This idea was conceived years ago
by a highly regarded USAF fighter pilot and tactician in his
concept of the OODA Loop. OODA stands for "observe, orient,
decide, act" and the term loop in this sense means those
four processes are repeated over and over again. The OODA
loop is the process in which a pilot observes a BFM situation,
orients himself with regard to his adversary and the horizon,
decides upon a plan of action, and finally implements that
plan. Having done so, the pilot then reconsiders the resulting
BFM situation and starts the loop over again. But the significance
of the OODA loop concept does not stop there. Instead, the
author went on to explain how the victorious pilot would invariably
be the one who processed his loop faster than his opponent...he
referred to this as "getting inside your opponent's loop".
By that, he meant keeping the opponent on the defensive. You,
the simulation pilot, want to do the same, but how does this
OODA stuff relate to you? The answer to that question is what
this article is all about.
Decision Making in the Air Combat
In an actual air combat engagement,
the pilot gets sight of his opponent and begins to maneuver
to reduce angle off (align fuselages) and at the same time
adjusts his throttle and/or nose position to control closure.
He does this by looking outside the cockpit. Inside cockpit
instrumentation is secondary in his decision making or is
ignored completely. If the opponent begins to maneuver counter
to his initial move, the pilot reassesses the situation by
reference to the opponent and the horizon, in that order.
Again, the new assessment is made by looking outside the cockpit.
You may think of the process as if the pilot were saying to
himself, "There he is, here I am, and there is where
I want to go". The pilot builds a mental three-dimensional
picture of the relationship between himself and his opponent.
He then projects in his mind where his opponent's flight path
is headed, and he plans a corresponding maneuver which will
take him in the most efficient manner to a position of kill
relative to that prediction of his opponent's flight path.
I'll take a word or two to discuss
the term "efficient" used in the last sentence.
Efficient BFM is maneuvering to take full advantage of the
available turning room. Efficient BFM takes full advantage
of the effect of gravity as it affects turn radius and turn
rate. Efficient BFM almost always involves split-plane maneuvering.
Split-plane maneuvers are those flown out of the opponent's
plane of motion...i.e. three-dimensional maneuvers. Efficient
BFM is almost always lead or lag pursuit, and seldom is pure
pursuit. Pure pursuit is usually the last stage of maneuver
prior to the trigger squeeze. Many of you are familiar with
the term "lift-vectoring". Efficient BFM is orienting
your lift vector (lift-vectoring) out of the opponent's plane
of motion to use the lead turn, lead pursuit, and the beneficial
effect of gravity to align fuselages and control closure.
The obvious question is "How does the pilot learn how
to do this?".
Military air combat instruction is
accomplished primarily using academic texts and verbal briefings.
The texts are typically illustrated with "ribbon diagrams"
which attempt to show a three-dimensional picture of a maneuver.
Many air combat simulations contain similar diagrams in their
manuals. These diagrams are of limited value. Of more significance
is the verbal briefing where the instructor takes the student
through each step of the maneuver. The instructor tries to
build in the student's mind a three-dimensional picture of
the maneuver. The primary training aid is the model on a stick,
or in lieu of that, the instructor's hands! Sounds primitive,
I know... especially in this high tech age...but it gets the
job done. It is important to understand that the student sees
the models(or hands) representing both himself and his opponent together in one spatial three-dimensional relationship.
I think this is sufficiently important to say again...the
stick models or instructor's hands illustrate the process
of aligning fuselages and controlling closure in a three-dimensional manner and in a way which allows the student to see both aircraft together. The instructor's objective is to create for
the student an out-of-cockpit perspective of the maneuver.
I think we are now ready to move on
to look at the various simulation views. As an introduction
to that discussion, let's review the main points covered so
1. BFM maneuvers are best visualized
using an out-of-cockpit perspective.
2. BFM maneuvers are most efficiently
flown out-of-plane relative to the opponent.
3. Assuming these two dictates are
adhered to, time as described in the OODA loop section becomes
the dominant factor in determining the victor in an aerial
An Assessment of Air Combat Simulation
One way to compare the effectiveness
of a simulation view is to consider how the military teaches
the solution to a BFM problem. The military instructor's objective
is to teach the student two things...how to perform the maneuver
itself, and how to recognize and interpret the opponent's
position and projected flight path. When viewed in isolation,
the BFM maneuver has the appearance of a set-piece maneuver...
in other words, one flown without regard to outside factors.
An example would be two fighters meeting head on...as they
pass each other, one pilot decides to perform an Immelman.
He pulls up into the vertical and finishes the maneuver without
regard to his opponent's position. Only when he completes
the Immelman does he bring the opponent back into his scan.
In BFM, however, there is no such thing as a set-piece maneuver.
Flying a maneuver in this manner is not BFM, it is aerobatics.
BFM must be flown with regard to the other aircraft. Therefore
the military instructor will teach the student how to modify
and adjust his flight path with regard to the opponent's position,
aspect, and projected flight path. Particular emphasis is
placed on range estimation, closure, and fuselage alignment.
From these variables, the pilot will recognize the opportunities
for lead turns, the need for additional turning room, the
effect of g upon his maneuvers relative to the opponent, and
the balance between throttle changes and extension/acceleration
maneuvers to control closure.
Let's boil this discussion down to
some simple mandates. A BFM maneuver should be flown with
regard to the opponent. The maneuver should be modified as
necessary to adapt to the opponent's flight path. Visual contact
must be maintained to determine range, closure, fuselage alignment,
and predicted flight path.
A simulation view is only as effective
as its ability to meet these mandates. These are difficult
standards. It is likely that no single simulation will meet
all of the mandates, but some will come closer than others.
Let's take a look at them.
The forward fixed view is the foundation
for all air combat simulation flying. It is the primary reference
for all weapons employment as well as takeoff, landing, and
navigation. The forward view is the easiest reference for
the pilot to keep oriented with, but it quickly loses its
value when the target aircraft flys outside the field of view.
Supplemental fixed views include left, right, and up views
relative to the aircraft's nose. These are best used as a
search tool while the pilot maintains level flight. Attempting
to maneuver using one of these supplemental fixed views can
be very disorienting due to the lack of clues as to the pilot's
nose position. The fixed view can be used to provide range,
closure, fuselage alignment, and opponent flight path information,
but is of little use as a maneuvering view to take advantage
of that information.
Fixed views are sometimes provided
with additional symbology intended to give information on
the position of the opponent when he is not in view. Typically,
these take the form of "pointing x's" or "floating
windows". The "pointing x" symbology is the
most basic, and in effect only tells the pilot that the opponent
went out of the field if view in a particular direction. As
such, the "pointing x" provides relative bearing
information only...nothing regarding closure, aspect, fuselage
alignment, or flight path. To use the "pointing x",
the pilot rolls to put the "x" at the top of the
monitor screen(his lift vector) and pulls for all he's worth
until, hopefully, the opponent comes back into view. All too
often when the opponent does reappear, it is only for a second
or so before he flys once again out of view. If the pilot
has a turn rate advantage and sufficient energy, he may eventually
chase his opponent down, but that is all he has done...chase
the opponent down. This is not effective BFM. This is pure
pursuit, in-plane tail chasing which, even if it does eventually
lead to a firing solution, takes an excessive amount of
time. It does, however, allow the pilot to remain oriented
to his own position and because of this I consider it the
starting point for new pilots. It's like a bicycle with training
wheels...a satisfactory beginning, but not something to stay
A second type of supplemental fixed
view is the "floating window". This concept is a
"picture within a picture"...a small window which
moves around the perimeter of the forward fixed view. The
window usually includes a view of the opponent aircraft and
may include additional information such as airspeed, altitude,
and range. The opponent aircraft will appear in the window
as it would if the pilot was looking directly at it. The window's
position on the perimeter of the monitor will correspond to
the opponent's relative bearing, and will be displayed as
long as the opponent is out of the forward field of view.
The "floating window" is a much more useful technique
than the "pointing x" since it provides range, closure,
and aspect as well as relative bearing. For the new pilot,
the window may be used like a "pointing x". As the
pilot gains proficiency, he can use the window to initiate
out-of-plane maneuvers. The main disadvantage of the "floating
window" is its limited ability to show the "big
picture" and the amount of time needed to assess
the information in the window. While the "floating window"
is a big improvement over the other types of fixed views,
other views meet our mandates more effectively. Using the
bicycle analogy, the "floating window" view is like
taking off the training wheels while still needing someone's
assistance. We'll need a better view before we can go pedaling
off on our own.
Virtual views or "scrollable
views" allow the simulation pilot to slew his screen
from the forward view to either side or up and down. The effect
is as if the pilot has turned his head to look in new direction.
Because of the limited information on his own nose position
when his view has been slewed, the virtual view is best used
as a search tool. It is difficult, if not impossible, to use
the scrollable view while maneuvering. The resulting disorientation
makes this view type ineffective as a maneuvering aid.
As I have previously mentioned, this
is the view of the purist. Starting with Falcon 3 and continuing
to the latest simulations, the padlock view has been improved
upon to provide the more experienced pilot a sophisticated
maneuvering tool. Regardless of the specific padlock type,
the view has the common characteristic of a large primary
picture with additional supplementing windows as in Falcon
3 and Su-27 or pilot cues, such as the translucent arrows
in EF2000. This "collage" of information intends
to provide the pilot with the present aspect, range, fuselage
alignment, and flight path of his opponent as well as keeping
him oriented to the horizon and the position of his own nose.
The singular advantage of padlock techniques over the previously
described views is that they allow the pilot to continually
monitor the opponent's flight path and position while maintaining control over his own. This allows the pilot to
make changes to his BFM plan as the maneuver evolves...this
is a major step forward in BFM simulation. Using padlock,
our bicyclist is off to the races!!
Well...not so fast. As with most things
in life, there is good news and bad news in using padlock.
As good as padlock views are, there still remain some shortcomings.
Two are significant...the tendency to use the view to fly
in-plane with the opponent, and the amount of time needed
to interpret the view. When padlock is used to orient the
lift vector at the opponent, the end result is a pure pursuit
course that is nothing more than a sophisticated form of using
the "pointed x". Although sufficient visual information
is available to allow a very proficient pilot to use padlock
to maneuver out of plane with the opponent, I suspect this
is seldom the case. The padlock technique also requires the
pilot to analyze specific parts of the whole view to gain
the "big picture". This reminds me instrument flying
where the pilot has to cross-check a number of individual
instruments to get a complete idea of what the aircraft is
doing. Certainly the cross-check provides the necessary information,
but it does so at the expense of time, and time is
our critical factor. The time factor can be reduced only by
finding a way to provide opponent data in a more "all
at once" sense. Some might refer to this as an "intuitive"
grasp of the BFM situation. In fact, this is an excellent
way to describe this goal, and is exactly what the military
instructor is trying to develop in his student...one look
at the opponent that meets all the mandates which we set out
earlier in the discussion. Doing this in a simulation is going
to be tough, but we have one more trick in our bag...the external
The diversity of external views is
common place in air combat simulations. Unfortunately, the
visual attractiveness of these views is not matched by their
usefulness in flying good BFM. Too often, the typical external
view is little more than "eye candy"...pretty to
look at but that's about it. One type of external view can
be used, however, to meet our BFM mandates. This view is often
referred to as the "player-to-target" view.
The frame of reference of this view
is as if an outside observer was positioned to always have
both aircraft in his field of view with the opponent aircraft
in the background. Typically in this view, the player aircraft
remained centered in the screen and at a fixed range. The
opponent aircraft is shown in the background at an approximate
correct size and fuselage orientation for the distance between
the two aircraft. The overall impact of this view is to replicate,
in effect, how stick models would look if placed into a similar
perspective. This feature is this view's greatest asset...it
provides a "snapshot" look at the three-dimensional
relationship between the two aircraft. Using this out-of-cockpit
perspective, the pilot can easily see his opponent's relative
range, aspect, fuselage alignment, and direction of flight.
The relative movement between the two aircraft provides a
sense of closure even if no other cues are available. The
pilot remains oriented because the horizon, sky, and ground
detail are always in view. Here is the significance if this...
In any BFM situation, the pilot has
these three considerations:
1. I'm here.
2. My opponent is there.
3. To get behind him, I need to
Of all the view types, the player-to-target
view shows this most effectively. In one look the pilot recognizes
both the need for a maneuver as well as how the maneuver should be flown. For the first time, out-of-plane
maneuvering becomes easy to conceptualize. Decision making time is reduced to a minimum. Follow on maneuvering
requirements are easily recognized, and minimum time is spent
in making the necessary corrections to the pilot's flight
path. As must be obvious by now, the point of emphasis is
time, and as explained earlier in the OODA Loop concept, time
is the ultimate determinant of victory or defeat. Other view
types may allow a pilot to fly good BFM, but none allow him
to do this as quickly as the player-to-target external view.
Referring back to our bicycle analogy, using this view is
like competing in the Tour de France!
I have decided to finish this article
not with a summation or a conclusion, but, instead with a
recommendation. I recommend that you give serious thought
to using the player-to-target external view to learn the basics
of BFM. Now before you tell me that you know these basics,
let me go out on a limb and respectfully suggest that, more
likely than not, the opposite is true. Unless you have benefited
from a formal education in BFM techniques and principles,
there is little likelihood that you have a firm understanding
of these basics. The academics of BFM are rooted in aerodynamics
and physics, and they are not to be taken lightly. I have
not attempted to cover these subjects in my discussion, and
you won't find much in your simulation manual. But let's not
get discouraged...there is a way to learn the essentials of
BFM and as a result have a great time with your flight simulation.
This "way" is a two step process. Step one is for
you to study your simulation manual, or better still, get
a copy of Robert Shaw's book, Fighter Combat, and study the
section on BFM fundamentals. In this step your objective is
to know which BFM maneuver meets the needs of a given BFM
situation. These are maneuvers which solve closure, angle
off, and aspect problems. You must know which is which, when
they are required, and, most of all, how to fly them. Please
do not kid yourself...if you are really serious about BFM,
put in the book time to learn the academics. If you do not,
and you press on ahead anyway, the results may well be disappointing.
Step two is then to practice these
maneuvers using the player-to-target external view. If your
simulation does not offer this view, then get one that does.
When you practice these maneuvers, do not expect for it to
be easy. Initially, you will be disoriented as you attempt
to "fly" from this "outside the cockpit"
perspective. Stick with it - practice, practice, and more
practice will pay tremendous dividends. Fly this view against
the simulation AI (artificial intelligence - the program the
computer uses to fly its maneuvers), or better yet, go on
line with a friend and practice against each other.
If there is anyone who would like
further justification for this learning approach, let me give
you one. I am sure you all think of yourself as "flying"
the simulation when you use padlock or some form of fixed
view in a BFM engagement. Wrong! The simulation AI
is doing the thinking...all you are doing is following the
cues the simulation is providing. The AI is "solving"
the BFM problem and is displaying symbology for you to follow.
On the other hand, when you use the player-to-target view,
there are no cues...no symbology to follow...no easy answers.
Just as in real life, you must assess the situation, determine
what type BFM you are faced with, and then fly the solution
properly. Please trust me on this - learn to fly this external
view and you will enjoy a level of satisfaction unlike anything
you ever felt when flying padlock or anything else for that
Finally, I have not overlooked or
forgotten the fact that certain competitive aspects of flight
simulation BFM mandate use of only padlock views. I have no
problem with that. The point that I want to hammer home is
that you should learn BFM fundamentals using an "outside
the cockpit" perspective, Once you intuitively recognize
the three-dimensional solution to a BFM problem and can properly
fly that solution using the external view, then, by all means,
go back to padlock if that is necessary. You then will be
able to use that view to maneuver out of plane with your opponent
because you already "see" the solution in your mind.
Instead of following symbology to what you hope is a successful
maneuver, you will instead use that symbology to "build"
a mental 3D picture which you will then fly. You are
doing the problem solving, not the AI...you are determining
you flight path, not the AI. You are in control, not
Well, friends and fellow fighter
pilots, thanks for hanging in there. I appreciate having the
opportunity to talk with you on this, my favorite subject.
BFM is not an easy subject, but if you put in the effort to
do your part, you will succeed. Work hard, don't get discouraged,
and ask for help if needed. Good luck and good hunting.
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