2 min read

Lessons From Fighter Tactics

I recently came across this manual on USAF dogfighting tactics, originally written in the 1950s. Though probably outdated today it's still an interesting read and (surprisingly) contains some advice applicable beyond mere dogfighting.[1]

On aggressiveness

The greatest reward and the basis for all that is to follow [...] is the self-confidence the pilot feels in himself. As this confidence grows, so does his enthusiasm. Enthusiasm increases interest, which in turn pays dividends in overall accomplishment. All of these qualities together add up to the one thing a training program must produce if the graduate pilots are to be successful in combat—aggressiveness. It is this pilot aggressiveness which we seek. Without it, all training is useless, for the individual pilot must have the desire to put into effect that which he has been taught. Amazing results have been achieved in combat through aggressiveness alone, but it has been proven time and again that all the training in the world is insufficient when the individual does not have it in his heart to engage the enemy or destroy the target. Certainly then, the goal which we seek, or should be seeking, in the training of any pilot is to produce a pilot who is aggressive and well trained. I should like to feel that the methods described herein will contribute to his training and help him to acquire this golden quality of aggressiveness.

On personnel selection

[Selection of leaders] is actually more important to the average squadron in combat than the type Tactics they decide to use. Our personal opinion on the selection of Flight and Element Leaders is this: Whena a man's life depends on the brand of leadership displayed in the combat area, he has a right to expect his Commander to furnish him with the best leaders available in the organization. As a Commander, unless you are extremely fortunate, you can't do this and still have all your personnel lined up by date of rank.


Another thing along this line that is worthy of mention. You may as well face the fact that all your people will not be as aggressive as you would like. You can count on about three, if you are fortunate, of your pilots in the Squadron to possess those things necessary to be exceptional leaders and produce more than an occasional kill or two. There will be a secondary group, both wingmen and element leaders, that want to do the job but don't have the experience yet to do it.

You will be blessed with a third group, relatively few in numbers, that will not do the job regardless of the instruction offered them. These, unfortunately, are frequently highly experienced personnel and have the capacity to poison your young pilots just beginning their tour of combat. These "pseduo leaders" are the people you must weed out. To "tide" these along is the greatest mistake a Commander can make. They must be dealt with just like any other individual doing a below average job back home. Warn them, remove them, and get a man who wants to do the job. You owe that much to your people who are willing to fight.

  1. Quick story. A while ago I was telling a friend about this dogfighting manual and offhandedly said something like, "dogfighting must be a peak experience" fairly loudly. This drew disgusted looks from several nearby people who only heard that part of our conversation. ↩︎