The basic skillset for air combat
Fighter versus fighter is very simple. All you have to do is join in close formation with the bandit in a position to shoot him. This position is called the weapons employment zone and will vary with the weapon used. Machine guns require a close trail formation and a modern all aspect missile just requires that you be pointing in the general direction. We will concentrate on the skills required for guns.
The enemy does not want you to accomplish the above, so he will be actively trying to prevent this from happening.
Virtual pilots tend to jump right into the fray and do all of their training “on the job”. While this can certainly be effective it is very, very slow and some never make any progress, get frustrated and go fly bombers or join a virtual airline.
A far better method is to develop the basic skills in a controlled environment.
The Air Forces of the world teach formation flying skills because these skills directly transfer to success in air combat.
If you can’t quickly and easily join on a friend who WANTS you to join on him, you will be hopeless against an enemy actively trying to prevent it.
Think about that for awhile and remember, any experienced wing man will be evaluating your potential in combat by evaluating your skills in joining and maintaining formation. If you are clueless about solving the geometry problems presented by flying in a combat spread on your wing man, he will decide you are going to be “man nipples” in a fight. Useless, for decorative purposes only.
The running rendezvous formation join is simple and easy to understand. It is simply using excess speed to close on the target aircraft. This does not mean just point at him. If the target is higher, fix the horizontal separation first. Go level and close up before trying to correct the altitude difference. If you simply point at a climbing target (your Lead, for example), you will never close on him without his assistance. We aren’t here to learn how to ask lead to cut you some slack. We are here to learn how to join in formation on someone who isn’t being particularly helpful.
Other types of Joins
All other types of formation joins involve solving the geometry problem by application of pursuit curves. As an example, to join with your lead from a nose to nose merge, one must know and apply the concepts of creating flight path separation prior to the merge, execution of a lead turn and application of pursuit curves in order to arrive in the desired formation station. All of these skills are directly applicable to combat but they should be learned and practiced with a friendly wing man before you ever try to do them against a hostile bandit.
I really cannot overstress this point. If you can’t join in formation with a straight and level friendly from any angle, quickly and easily, you are NOT ready for air combat. You are a target.