It doesn’t take a skilled pilot to appreciate the cool factor of a recent TikTok video showing Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets chasing each other in the desert outside Nellis Air Force Base, Australia. Nevada. The video, shot from the cockpit facing the rear seat of the Eagle, has been viewed more than half a million times on TikTok and shared on the unofficial Air Force subreddit, where readers left more of a hundred comments with questions such as what type of plane is flying and why. does the tail shake so much in the wind?
Like the need for speed, this journalist felt the need for answers. Turns out the video, which was first shared on popular TikTok page Combat_Aviationist, has already made the rounds with Air Force F-15 Eagle pilots, some of whom believe it’s an interesting illustration of how fighter pilots train for air-to-air combat.
“One of the best 3k defensive videos I’ve seen,” said Trevor Aldridge, a former Air Force pilot who flew mostly F-15C Eagles, but also F-16s with the Air Force Thunderbirds. , the branch’s first aerial demonstration team.
By “3k,” Aldridge was referring to one of three combat Air Force pilots learn in basic fighter maneuvers, the AB-Cs of air-to-air combat. “3k” means opposing fighters start the fight 3,000 feet apart, while the other two basic fights, 6k and 9k, start 6,000 and 9,000 feet apart. other.
“Anything beyond truly turns into high aspect [basic flight maneuvers], which we also practice,” Aldridge said. “These are all basics to being ready for any type of fight you find yourself in.”
Basic fighter maneuvers teach more than just maneuvering: they also teach the crew how to feel the plane. As seen in the video, when the adversary is within visual range, fighter crews spend a lot of time staring at the canopy keeping track. It requires a skill set of its own, as pilots need to feel what’s going on with their aircraft without wasting time staring at their instruments.
“I want to maximize the Eagle’s performance through feel and sound without having to look inside the cockpit,” said fellow F-15C pilot Drew Armey. “Not looking inside the gauges is a skill compared to instrument flight, when you have your eyes inside.”
Keeping an eye on your enemy is just the beginning: sometimes to survive a dogfight you almost have to read your opponent’s mind. The TikTok shows an F-15 closing in on the videographer’s tail, close enough for the approaching pilot to use their weapons on the defending plane. But shooting a fast plane from another fast plane is tricky business: if the pilot doesn’t steer the target well enough, he’ll miss it. That fact gives the title driver another set of decisions to make, Armey explained. If the bandit’s nose is pointing directly at the defending jet, it could mean he has no shot, as attacking pilots must lead their targets. However, it could also mean that the bandit wants the defending plane to move out of the way so he can get a head start on his target.
The attacking pilot must make similar calculations: if he approaches the enemy, the pilot has a better chance of hitting the enemy with his weapon, but the pilot will also be more at risk than the defender maneuvering and becoming the attacker.
“There’s a certain game in showing the defender that image where he wants to maneuver his throw and in your line of sight,” Armey said. “It’s the pinnacle of performance.”
Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news, entertainment and gear delivered to your inbox daily.
Making those judgments and decisions is a skill that basic fighter maneuvers like the ones featured in this TikTok are meant to help fighter pilots hone. But the details of what happens in this particular video are a little harder to pin down, especially because the video appears to be of multiple fights put together. The first fight either feels like a basic 6k maneuver engagement that turned into 3k or the start of a 3k, Aldridge said. The Strike Eagle with the camera likely started defensively, with the other aircraft starting on its tail and staying there, he added.
As the chase continues, video shows smoke appearing on the wing of the lead aircraft. These are flares that the Eagle launches to prevent the adversary from launching heat-seeking missiles, Aldridge explained. But flares can’t eject cannons, so the lead plane must wobble and spin to prevent the attacking plane from drawing a pearl.
“The second fight, it looks like he took a turn first before going down,” Aldridge said. “It’s a standard 6k defensive game plan, pause until the bandit proves they can get past you, then change the game plan and in that case go down.”
Tactics change depending on the distance between a pilot and his opponent.
“In a more distant fight, I can keep them too far away, keep them out of gun range,” Armey said. “If a bandit is close to me, my ability to run away is quite weak, but if he is aggressive and makes a mistake, I can cause this closure to make him pass.”
The TikTok shows this closure and overshoot at around 27 seconds, after the first jet has crossed the trajectory of the pursuing jet.
“You see the defender shoot the offender, who walks by, he’s the one causing the closure,” Armey said.
Yet another pilot with 1,400 hours of F-15 flying experience said TikTok is less about teaching tactics and more about looking cool.
“Haha, very funny,” said the pilot, when asked if the video was meant to show defensive maneuvers for the Strike Eagle. The pilot spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.
“Illustrating the defensive maneuvers of a Strike is a bit like illustrating the energy efficiency of an Abrams tank,” the pilot said. “So no. It’s just to look cool. The Strike Eagles are hogs in the visual arena.
By “visual arena”, the pilot means a combat where the crews of the opposing planes can see each other. Air-to-air missiles with active radar guidance systems allow pilots to fire missiles at each other from the horizon. But if the missiles don’t work, or if a pilot has run out of missiles on their jet, then it’s up to their skill with a gun. Basic fighter maneuvers help teach this skill, although the unnamed pilot believed the TikTok airmen were putting on a show rather than a fight.
“The video looks pretty staged,” the pilot said. “The attacker in the video settles into a soft shooting stance for several seconds at a time, which means the defender would have been dead multiple times by the end of the video.”
Armey wasn’t so sure: he couldn’t look closely enough to see if the attacker had the dead defender in his rights. However, he knew for sure that it was a pretty cool video and more accurately depicted air-to-air combat than, say, the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun.”
“I love this movie, but they’re flying too close to each other, it’s basically formation flying,” Armey said. “I understand it from a cinematic perspective, because it’s hard to capture what happens when the fighters are 6,000 feet apart, and even that’s close.”
Part of what sets the TikTok apart is the unusual angle of the camera looking behind the plane as the fight continues. Most debriefings use forward-facing footage of the jet, Armey explained, so this TikTok offers a fresh take on how to break up a gunfight.
“It’s actual footage of how they fight, so it’s much more representative in that sense,” compared to Top Gun, he said.
Another feature of the TikTok that Hollywood might not show is the tail of the lead plane quivering in the wind. The wobbly vertical stabilizer sparked concern from TikTok commenters who feared it might come loose, but it’s normal for a hunter’s tail to wobble like that.
“The vertical stabilizer on both Eagle models vibrates massively at a high angle of attack,” the unnamed pilot said. The angle of attack is difficult to explain, but the key concept is to keep an aircraft’s wings below a certain angle to the wind to ensure that the wings continue to produce lift, without what the plane will stall. The Eagle is shaped in such a way that the fuselage itself generates an enormous amount of lift, the pilot said, resulting in air swirls and turbulence directly above and behind the jet.
“It leads to these vibrations that you see in this video, and it’s also why the Eagle has two tails instead of a central one,” he explained. “The air is just too disturbed and turbulent in the middle, so the tails need to be shifted to the sides to keep them effective.”
Shaking is also normal on other aircraft, even civilian airliners. Armey flew F-16 fighters before switching to F-15s, and he recalled seeing the missiles under his wing “crumble in the wind”. Air resistance is part of the reason fighter jets aren’t built with super-stiff materials, which could break under such force, Armey explained.
As fun as the video is to watch, social media reminds us that it can always be better.
“Waiting for pilot to eject with rocket launcher in hand,” wrote one Reddit user, referencing a legendary video game stunt.
Me too, Reddit user, me too.
What’s new on Task and objective
Want to write for Task & Purpose? Click here. Or check out the latest stories at our homepage.