Energy fighting is, along with Boom and Zoom and turn-fighting, one of the major fighting styles in aerial combat. Where Turn-fighting relies on speed and angles, and Boom and Zoom relies on speed and altitude, Energy fighting relies on gaining an energy advantage through maneuvers over the opposition. As such, this maneuver aims to drain the opposition of speed and\or altitude and position the target for a well aimed deflection shot. Compared to Boom and Zoom, Energy fighting is more close quarters and relies less on an initial altitude advantage, more on initial acceleration and involves short zoom climbs and short dives to maintain speed.
The first thing to understand is the concept of "Energy" which is a combination of speed and altitude. As such, for optimum result it's recommended to keep your energy up, meaning that you should maintain both speed and altitude. Fortunately, this isn't a difficult thing to do as most energy fighters tend to have good power to weight ratios and as a result of that, good rates of climb; therefore, it's important to use these qualities and gain altitude at the beginning of the match.
The modus operandi of the energy fighter should be as follows:
- Assess target's energy state
- Maneuver against the target
- Drain the target of energy
- Set up the target for the kill
This is arguably the most important step in any situation. As you rely on draining the opponent's energy, it's absolutely vital that you can make a reasonable assessment of the energy state of the opponent. Speed and altitude dictate the amount of energy an opponent has, and the type of aircraft will clue you in to the amount of energy that he can generate. Another good indication of energy states is the rate of closure. Assuming you are at the same altitude as your opponent, low closure rate indicates that your energy levels are closer to each other, whereas a high closure rate (or low closure rate if the target is leaving you behind) means that your energy states are dissimilar. Generally, a level flying opponent below you presents a good target. As his altitude lower then yours, you (most likely) will have a significant energy advantage to work with unless the opponent is flying at a much greater speed. As stated earlier, an energy advantage is generally good; however, given the fact many energy fighters lock up at high speeds, try to keep it smaller then you would in a dedicated boom and zoomer.
Maneuver against the target
After the target's energy level has been determined, it's time to commence the attack. The trick here is to not stick around (do not dogfight), but extend, (gain distance and preferably altitude) and set yourself up for another pass. This way, you drain the target of his speed, while keeping your own up. This kind of approach has 2 advantages. The first being that by making repeated passes, you are forcing the target to evade by either turning or by diving, which causes him to loose altitude, and thus energy. Consistent turning means you can cut into his turning circle for a deflection shot.
It's important to resist the temptation of sitting on his tail, this makes you predictable, and you lose your (hard gained) advantage. If he dives away, you are offered with an opportunity. On one hand, you have won the engagement (he has bugged out). Leaving you high and dry, and for the time being he will not be a threat to you. This means you can pursue higher threat targets, or, if no major threat is in the area, you can reengage him. Depending on his altitude, it may be prudent to waste some energy in order to remain in optimum control of your aircraft.
When you are forced to fly defensively, the same principle of gaining an energy advantage applies. The first step is to maneuver against his attack. This has the dual purpose of making a deflection shot difficult, and secondly you want him to bleed his energy. The exact move you make very much depends on the situation, but generally, a gentle break turn can work. When you detect his dive, begin a simple, gentle, flat horizontal turn. As he comes closer, you gradually sharpen the turn, tempting him to roll and pull his stick, meaning he will (due to his higher speed) increase his G load and therefore start losing speed. The result usually is that he will not be able to make the deflection shot and will have lost energy in his attempt to shoot at you (if he takes the shot and he misses, that's even better). When he zoom climbs away, get back your lost energy by increasing the throttle and maneuvering as little as possible, and if possible, set yourself at an unfavorable angle. This needs to be repeated until parity has been established. It's important to keep in mind that climbing, while leveling the field, is potentially problematic as your speed generally drops, therefore it can render you more vulnerable. When flying defensively, its extremely important you plan ahead and figure out how to turn the tables on your attacker. A successful defense leads to a strong attack.
Draining the Target of energy
When you have maneuvered yourself into an good position, its time to begin the hardest part, which is to drain his energy, and, in doing so, make him slow and predictable. As speed and altitude are vital, a good energy fighter forces his opponent to move in such a way he has to waste both to stay alive. Although this is closely related to what has been said above, there are 2 considerations that are good to keep in mind. The first is that while many options are up to the pilots, the plane imposes certain limits on his actions. As such, it's good to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the plane in question. For instance, an A6M is an outstanding angle fighter at lower speeds, and can quite comfortably hang on at 130km/h and get a shot off, so fighting against one at low speed is generally not advised. On the other hand, fighting at low speed is very effective against, say, a P-47, which is both big and heavy, has a relatively poor P/W ratio, and a high stall speed, meaning you can dance around him if you so desire. However, fighting against a P-47 at high speeds is a bad idea, especially when at high altitude. On the other hand, the A6M performs less than optimally at this kind of fight due to its low breakup speed, poor controls at higher speeds, and high drag at high speed.