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Air Combat: A How-to

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One of the more interesting things I've seen on these boards is that there seems to be a large divide between those that feel air combat is incredibly difficult, and those that feel it is completely trivial. In the interest of bridging that divide and generating some discussion on air combat itself, I've decided to throw up this post sharing my tactics and how I win at air combat without ever taking damage from alien craft. I'm not saying this is the only way to play or necessarily even the best, just that it works 100% of the time as long as you properly execute it.

Foxtrots are your friends. They render Condors and Corsairs completely obsolete, and as such are the only aircraft I build until Marauders are available. They are also highly cost efficient, and should never be down for repairs unless you screw up. I generally operate with 3 per base. We will also only be using torpedos, as they have more damage and range than sidewinders. Additionally, keeping your explosives upgraded is of paramount importance and probably the most important research in the game. Whenever a new tier is available, always always always research alien power source/reactor/etc immediately followed by the explosives upgrade (or alenium in the early game).

There are really only two tactics we will use, jousting and kiting. Jousting is flying straight at the enemy at minimum speed and just killing them before they enter firing range. Kiting involves having one plane fly away from the enemy at a fast enough speed to not be caught while the other two fire and then disengage. The final element we will use is staggering our fire, which is less a tactic and more a simple mechanical skill.

Staggered fire seems complex, but is actually very simple. Alien craft will always roll a set distance, however they will not roll far enough to leave a Foxtrot's firing arc and their roll will not cooldown fast enough for them to avoid a second, properly timed shot. To properly perform this maneuver versus any alien Fighter, simply drop your speed to minimum, target the fighter, and switch one torpedo to "red" (not firing) status. Then unpause and approach the Fighter until it enters range and the torpedo fires. Feel free to tap the pause key until the missile nears the Fighter and forces it to roll. Wait until the Fighter finishes it's roll, and then fire the second torpedo as soon as it finishes (pause may be useful, especially in groups with multiple fighters). If you engaged a group that includes escorts and a larger ship that you do can not safely kill with your remaining torpedos, retreat (avoiding afterburner use if possible to conserve fuel) and then return with a second wave to kill the main ship.

Jousting is the simplest maneuver to perform, simply reduce your speed and fly directly at the enemy ship. Torpedos have slightly longer range than most UFOs, so you have just enough time to fire and kill the enemy ship before it will be able to fire at you. This maneuver should only be performed against ships you have enough firepower to kill, as it will leave you very exposed to enemy fire should you fail to kill it. Two alenium torpedos will kill a bomber, six plasma torpedos will kill a Cruiser. I do not remember the numbers needed to kill medium UFOs off the top of my head, and will edit them in later.

Lastly, we have kiting. This is best performed after escorts (if any) have been killed off. Simply order your craft to fly in different directions from each other, and see which one the UFO will turn and chase. Have the one being chased maintain enough speed in a safe direction to avoid being fired on while the other two close to firing range and attack, then retreat all three aircraft (being careful to not have the kiting plane leave the combat zone at a time that would cause the UFO to turn around and have a new target in range). This allows you to safely fire four torpedos, which is generally enough to take out most targets in two flights (8 alenium torpedos will kill a cruiser, so you can joust on your second engagement). This takes longer and consumes more fuel than jousting, so it should only be used on targets that can not be killed head-on.

And there you have it, these basic tactics can reliably get you at least until Feb without suffering any aircraft losses if you execute them correctly.

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Additionally, there's "beaming". This further reduces your rate of closure with "jousting". you approach close to the maximum angle at which you can maintain a target lock (this requires further management and pausing to ensure the craft remain within the radar beam). It makes jousting even safer and more effective, and if you do make a mistake, turning to run is a lot easier since you're already partially turned away, reducing the time it takes to put the UFO on your tail.

Also, before the engagement, when possible make sure that you are in a tailing engagement, rather than head-on. This can be done by not immediately engaging a target when you come in contact, but trailing for a minute and then engaging. This forces the alien craft to have to turn around to face you, which gives your fighters that much more time to get a lock and fire their torpedoes. It also makes non-fighter UFOs basically sitting ducks that won't even be able to turn towards you before being shot down.

Also, remember that with large craft, you can't shoot missiles (in tailing engagements) ASAP. You must wait a few seconds since the larger craft will start farther away and their turn radii are much larger, making the time on target for the missiles too long (they disappear before impact). Needless to say, you want to be at 100% speed (or even with AB) in these scenarios, though fuel management is important since you might need to come back for a second round if your explosives aren't up to the task.

Finally, remember that you can always reengage and the damage from the first engagement is stored. So, RTB, rearm, and go back out if your fuel allows it, or just send in a second wave with additional fighters along with the first to mop up. When I face an escorted carrier, for instance, I usually send a first wave with whatever and a second with my "reserve" craft which are more vulnerable but won't have to deal with the escorts, which the first will destroy.

Edited by DNK
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  • 3 weeks later...

One of the devs recently posted their intent to make it so there is a cooldown timer on firing missile (so that it would be the same as the roll cooldown). I assume that this will simply mean it will take two to three times the number of engagements? It would force you two use two planes to score one hit.


1. Do enemy craft have any kind of ammunition limits, or are they infinite?

2. Is the maximum number of planes in a squadron three? Seems like if you have inferior weapons, the normal tactic would be to increase the number of aircraft.

3. One of the things I realized recently is that you can fire missiles manually with the number keys, something I didn't realize until very recently. I have not yet tried using it yet, but I assume this is key?

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Yes, three is the max. However, you can disengage from the air combat and return with another squadron of planes; any damage you inflicted will still be there.

I actually dunno about enemy ammo limits. I wouldn't think they would have them.

Some tips:

Clicking the missile icon will disable it (otherwise it will autofire when you have a lock), and clicking the icon (or the hotkey) again will launch them. This allows you to time shots; firing one missile out of the squadron to get the enemy to roll, and then firing the rest of the missiles/torpedoes in the squadron to hit the enemy while the roll is cooling down.

Make sure you use the throttle wisely; the bar on the left of the plane icon. You can slow them down and speed them up as needed. Also, the afterburners are useful as well. Generally I use them for evading tailing UFOs, as they use more fuel and thus aren't wise to use all the time.

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This is part of the problem. There's no nice, clear guide to handle all of the air combat at the moment. Some previous bits and pieces are there, but it's not complete. So players spend hours getting frustrated only to find out there are some simple tricks. By that stage the perception of air combat is a bit clouded.

I can't tell you how long it took me to realise I could slow the Foxtrot down. Up until then, I'd been using the afterburners on the condors to compensate.

The thing here is missile lock.

Missile Lock: In order to fire a missile, it must both be in range and have a missile lock acquired. Missile lock is signalled by the number in (brackets) after the weapon name. This starts counting down as soon as the target is in the 90 degree field of fire in front of the interceptor, and once it reaches zero the missile will be ready to fire.

So the missile button has to be green and you have to have missile lock for it to work.

Shortcut keys from a while ago

Spacebar - Pauses / unpauses the air combat.

W,A,S,D - Scrolls the camera in the appropriate direction.

Q - Evasive Roll (Left).

E - Evasive Roll (Right).

F1 - Select interceptor #1.

F2 - Select interceptor #2.

F3 - Select interceptor #3.

F4 - Select all interceptors.

1 - Fire locked missile in weapon slot #1.

2 - Fire locked missile in weapon slot #2.

3 - Fire locked missile in weapon slot #3.

4 - Fire locked missile in weapon slot #4.

5 - Fire all locked missiles.

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in addition to above, a little tip. which aircraft you select in interception (aircraft list), creates combat targeting sequence.

AI (alien ship) tend to target one aircraft;

higher dangerous aircraft, (I noticed this in 19.5 after first foxtrot did first "historical sortie", then AI becomes aware... becomes 'dangerous' priority)

then first sequenced aircraft that you selected in the list.

example; you picked 'second condor' first in the selection, then first alien ship will target that... 2nd pick is paired with 2nd ship, rinse and repeat with 3rd, 4th, etc.

Only thing that is different here, ships will attack any aircraft when it is in their red 'attack' cone. but does not shift the inital target.


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