One Good Turn Deserves Another: the Basics of Learning to Turn as Relates to Air Combat

Topics: Fighter aircraft, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle Pages: 5 (1709 words) Published: November 2, 2008
Learning to turn well in a fighter aircraft is something that’s much easier said than done. This will not be a definitive, doctorate level dissertation on the subject. I’ll go over the basics here and hopefully help get you on the right track. This discussion is geared toward the F-16 Fighting Falcon. However the principles discussed are just as valid for any fighter aircraft.

First we’ll look at Turn Rate & Radius, then corner airspeed and then how to lead turn. Energy Management also plays strongly into turning well. We’ll hit that up at the end of this lesson.

Turn Rate: The rate at which an aircraft can turn or rate it’s nose while turning. In other words if you’re pulling a circle, rate is a definition of how fast you get around that circle. Don’t just think of rate in terms of complete circles though. I give that as an example to help you visualize and understand rate.

Turn Rate is usually expressed in reference to instantaneous and sustained rates and is measured in degrees a second. Instantaneous is exactly what it sounds like…. How much rate you can command from an aircraft immediately as you turn. Sustained is the rate you can sustain through a turn. The F-16 has a 26 degree/sec maximum instantaneous turn rate. I haven't found reliable figures for the Vipers max sustained turn rate. In the Tac Ref in F4 it states 13 degrees/sec. I promise you I can pull significantly better than that, right around 18 deg/sec. Coincidentally several reputable online sources state 18 deg/sec sustained rate.

Of course you’ll need to be at the right airspeed to capture the best rate, both instantaneous and sustained. It’s important to realize that the F-16 is one of the very, very few (in all probability the only operational) aircraft able to pull a sustained 9 G turn. This fact, along with the F-16’s extraordinary sustained turn rate capability, are among the things the Viper is most legendary for. In Falcon 4 we have to deal with the fact that the Viper as modeled cannot perform a sustained 9+ G turn as it can in real life. We’ll work around this as well as the fact that many other aircraft types are actually over modeled. At times throughout this training I’ll point out differences between actual vs. Falcon 4 performance info so that you’ll be knowledgeable on both.

Rate is needed to achieve weapons parameters or defeat attacks. The F-16's turn rate increases very rapidly from slow speed up to 330 KCAS, at which point the rate is the highest. Rate allows the attacker to match or exceed the turn rate of his adversary and establish lead for a gunshot. The attacker needs a turn rate advantage that will allow him to pull his nose onto the bandit to employ the AIM-9 or point to lead pursuit for a gun shot. It is important to note an attacker with a higher sustained turn rate can maintain a positional advantage against a defender with a smaller turn radius but reduced rate (Figure 13).

For example, in order to employ the AIM-9, you must have a turn rate that will allow you to keep your nose within approximately 30° of the bandit for tone acquisition and missile launch. The ability to maintain a high sustained turn rate while the defender sacrifices sustained rate for a tighter turn is another key concept in understanding BFM. In this sense, a turn rate advantage is more tactically significant than a smaller turn radius. Keep in mind an old fighter pilot saying that’s always been very true; “Rate Kills!”

It’s important to note that the F-16 turns better with afterburner (AB). Believe it or not this is not always the “norm” for most combat aircraft. AB in the Viper gives a better turn capability because it allows the pilot to sustain airspeed and thereby sustain a higher turn rate (assuming near corner velocity). In addition, maneuvering at higher AOA’s results in a greater portion of the aircraft's thrust vector to be pointed toward the center of the turn, which also helps the F-16 maintain...
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