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By the People… Learning mid-air battle strategies

By By Craig Ziemba/Special to The Star
April 18, 2001
Craig Ziemba lives in Meridian and works at Naval Air Station Meridian and Key Field's Air National Guard base. He wrote a cover story for the recent "Profile 2001: By the People" edition. Ziemba has written a book based on his journals, portions of which will be published in The Meridian Star in coming weeks.
It is May 29, 1998. One of the most enjoyable things to teach pilots is air combat maneuvering (ACM), also known as "dogfighting."
In ACM, we teach the basics of how to stay alive, gain control of the fight, kill the bandit, and then run away before his buddies show up.
Much of dogfighting can be described as a race to the wall whoever gets there first loses because he will flush out in front of his opponent and consequently get shot. So, whenever two jets meet at the merge heading roughly the same direction, both begin pulling nose high as hard as they can in an effort to slow down.
A game of chicken ensues. If you can hold your nose up longer and get slower than the bandit without running out of airspeed and stalling, or departing from controlled flight, you will gain an advantage.
If two aircraft cross nose-to-nose at the merge going opposite directions, they begin a high-gee spiraling fight to get behind each other for the shot. We instructors spend about half our hops coaching students from the back seat and the other half flying solo in another jet as the bandit. It's a lot of fun.
Running out of airspeed
Lately while dogfighting, I've seen quite a few guys run out of airspeed and ideas and depart controlled flight. It usually happens when a student is watching my jet over his shoulder while climbing straight up.
Few things in life demand complete intensity of concentration. When you drive a car, you can listen to the radio, talk on a cell phone, and plan your day. Dogfighting, like dive-bombing and landing on the boat, forces you into a different realm of concentration that pushes trivialities aside and gives you a few brief moments of complete awareness.
Mock battles
It is Feb. 15, 1999. I thoroughly enjoy being the bandit in two vs. one dogfights with students. While I'm busy fighting one guy, I have to keep sight of his buddy (called the free fighter) who is trying to maneuver behind me and switch my attention to him before he shoots me in the back.
Yesterday, I switched to the free fighter and called "left to left," stating which side we would pass each other at the merge, and he answered, "left to left."
What I didn't know was that he didn't see me. He was looking at his partner and kept pulling into me. I called him again and got the same answer and just before we met, he pulled right across my nose within 100 feet at 700 knots combined closure and never saw me. Fortunately, the only damage we received was a severe jolt as we flew through each other's jet wash. Losing sight of your opponent is a recipe for disaster.
A little too close
It is Aug. 26, 1999. We've been flying three ACM sorties a day in a big push to finish up our students before the end of the fiscal year.
On my third hop today, Buick called the final "Knock it off," began a spiraling descent to the left and told us we were cleared to join. My student aggressively zoomed to the inside of Buick's turn at about 400 knots.
I said the three all-important words, "I got it," and pulled up and canopy-rolled over top of Buick quite a bit closer than I liked. My student was quiet for a second and then said, "That was really cool, sir!" "I wasn't doing that to be cool," I said hotly, and debriefed him thoroughly when we landed. It reminded me of one of Jamie Champ's old sayings, "Judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
That's what makes instructor duty challenging to me. When something happens while I'm the one flying, I know what I'm going to do about it. But when a student is flying, I have no idea what he is going to do. The only way they can learn is by doing, so you've got to let them try on their own but be ready to take the controls when they get in over their heads.

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