Fast Jet Performance

The Fighter Pilot School of Winning – How You Can Use Aggression to Achieve Success!

What’s wrong with the youth of today? Recently we noticed some young employees doing a project for our civilian partners and when they had finished, and the contract had been signed, they all left the company even rejecting an increased salary offer to stay!

They had the audacity to go and find work with another company having only been with our partners for 18 months!

Speed and agility are key in today’s fast moving workplace and this was what these young employees knew. They were not prepared to risk leaving their future employment chances to someone else and were aggressive in their planning.

I had to admire them – they knew the project they had done would look good on their CVs and now they were off to get more experience from somewhere else.

‘There is no such thing as security. You have to be aware of your options and not be afraid of change or failure. In fact, change is vital.’ – Captain Richard Champion de Crespigny, QF32

It is exactly the same in air combat. At the merge, he who manoeuvres first dictates the fight. What this means is that when two aircraft meet head on, at speeds of up to Mach 1.5, the pilot that makes the first move will have the other pilot reacting to what they have done.

One of the most important attributes of a fighter pilot is aggression and the constant need to take the initiative, in a fight, is an essential skill. Fighter pilots use terms such as ‘lead-turn cue’ and ‘control zone’ when talking about air combat and, as important as they are in the military, they also have great significance in the business world.

‘Lead turn cue’ is a term we use to describe the moment when we see an opportunity for us to manoeuvre our aircraft in order to position it in significant advantage.

An example might be an aspiring journalist who writes an article for free – just to get noticed by the editor, or a session-musician who plays on an album for no fee just to get seen by the recording artist. I know a Tornado Navigator/Weapon’s System Officer (WSO) who, on understanding that the jet was going to go out of service soon, asked to be sent to the Predator drone to ‘re-tool’ his skill-set, ahead of his peers, thus keeping his job.

When Apple revolutionised the portable music industry by bringing out the iPod they ‘lead-turned’ others in that industry.

‘This amazing little device holds a thousand songs and goes right in my pocket.‘ – Steve Jobs, Apple iPod Launch Event, 2001

The ‘control zone’ is a cone shape behind an aircraft where you can have authority over the defender and it becomes difficult for them to shake you off.

In a business context it would be when a start-up manages to grow big enough to make another company not want to compete in their sector. Google did this with internet search and Lego with little bits of plastic that we can build awesome things with!

I recently flew against a student who was having trouble with his Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) and the 1v1 air combat syllabus. He had quite a few problems and I had decided to concentrate on just three for this flight. I would be the bad guy, or hostile aircraft, and we would go up and fly ‘neutral sets’ – 1v1 air combat with no advantage given to either aircraft when they meet.

I was the flight lead and started the exercise from 15,000 ft and 330 kts over the Irish Sea. We both turned away from each other and started descending to accelerate to a fighting speed of 0.7 mach. On my call we turned in from a 5 mile split and rolled-out to point nose to nose at each other with a closing speed of over 1,000 mph.

A pilot must always be thinking about the ‘environmentals’, or surroundings, when flying. My game plan was to take the fight vertical as there was a dark sky above us with low cloud over the sea. If my student stayed low then he’d have a hard time seeing me above him and he would be highlighted in his black aircraft against the white cloud.

Remaining ‘tally’ or, being able to see your opponent in air combat can be exceptionally difficult but is important as ‘you can’t fight what you can’t see!’

I made sure that I was slightly below his aircraft and, as we passed, I feinted an aggressive level turn towards him before quickly rolling wings level and conducting a max-performance climb into the vertical. As I looked over my shoulder, fighting the g-forces that were attempting to steal my consciousness, I could see that he had reacted to my initial action and had started a level turn. Very quickly, however, he too rolled wings level and started his climb.

‘GOOD!’ I called over the radio.

In the Hawk the counter to a vertical fighter is also to go vertical but my initial feint had cost him angles and energy; I had been aggressive and had dictated the fight from the outset – now I had the initiative.

‘INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE, and TEAMWORK are words that MEAN something in Air Fighting’ – Adolph Malan

As I rotated my body to look through the back of the canopy, I could see him climbing up towards me – I hadn’t wasted my energy turning level so I could now establish as the high man at the top of the fight. But he had been clever and, in recognising that he had less energy than me and his turn circle would be smaller, he saw a potential ‘Fox 2’ missile shot.

I knew that the shot would be a high risk fleeting opportunity and that it would most likely be outside of missile parameters.

He took the shot anyway – ‘Jester 2, Fox 2!’

It was a good effort and I told him so but it wouldn’t count this time – we continued.

We were both now slow speed and at the top of our individual ‘loops’. I was higher than him and preserving my potential energy – flying the Hawk at slow speed requires a delicate hand, especially when inverted.

It was then that he made his second mistake.

When you are slow in the Hawk you lose ‘nose-authority’ or ‘the ability to point your nose where you want to’. Knowing this I needed to lure him into a false sense of security. I allowed my nose to drop just a little, feigning that I was looking to dive and run away. He saw my nose drop and, in recognising my intent, committed his nose low and descended in an attempt to do the same thing.

I had the height advantage which meant that the energy I had in hand would allow me to commit my nose lower than his, accelerating my aircraft to the speed that we both required but at a greater rate than he could.

I over-banked and pulled down.

As I reached the aircraft’s best rate speed of 330 kts, I aggressively hauled my nose to the horizon to prevent the aircraft accelerating further and gradually positioned towards his control zone. As I took lead on his aircraft I closed in and, when I saw that he was tiring – I terminated the engagement with a guns kill.

The whole fight had lasted less than 90 seconds and, for the student who had little combat experience, would have been exceptionally draining both physically and mentally.

I was impressed that he had recognised a changing picture; he had seen me climb after my feint and had reacted to it.

But I had a few concerns.

The student had been reactionary at the merge and had failed to action his own game plan – waiting to see what I would do. Coupled with my aggressive climb he had placed himself poorly in the fight – I had taken the initiative which meant he would always be playing catch-up. When we met each other at the top of the fight, what he should have done was drive hard towards the empty area behind my aircraft, always pulling towards my six o’clock, staying level and preserving his potential energy.

For a second time he had allowed me to dictate the fight to him with my ‘nose drop’ ploy.

But it was his lack of ‘fight’, as I closed for guns, that concerned me the most. If he had attempted a defensive manouevre called a ‘guns jink’ I would have let him flush me out front, neutralising the fight or even allowing him advantage. In air combat you MUST keep fighting as your buddy might be only seconds away from reaching the fight and killing your opponent – think Maverick in Top Gun.

Maverick: ‘Maverick’s supersonic, I’ll be there in 30 seconds.’
Iceman: ‘Move your ass, get up here, I’m engaged with five, I repeat five, I’m in deep shit!’ – Top Gun, 1986

As we climbed back up to 15,000 ft I de-briefed the student over the radio and he acknowledged that he was waiting to see what I would do at the merge. After I asked him to describe the weather in the fight area I got him to say what his game plan should have been. He said that next time he would climb because he would be facing the sun and it would be hard for me to see him. ‘Good’ I replied, ‘I’ll stay level for you so you can see what I look like against the cloud layer’. We talked some more about would he would do the next time we met with slow speed and I reminded him that he should never stop fighting.

The next two fights were much better and I made some errors that he capitalised on proving that learning had, indeed, taken place.

The main lesson for the student was about aggression and how he should develop and run his own game plan at the merge. As long as he had considered his surroundings and how they might facilitate his success then his plan would be sound and his victory probable. If he then applied his plan with an aggressive mindset, his chances of winning were even more assured.

In air combat, it is easy for a student to default to an instructor as the instructor is much more experienced. A lot of our time is spent getting students to have confidence in their abilities. Giving them a Typhoon cockpit, one of our country’s strategic assets, is not done lightly and certainly won’t happen if we don’t think they have any self-belief.

But this is also true outside of the cockpit.

It is critical to not allow ourselves to be dictated to by someone else’s agenda. This applies to all areas of our lives and, if we are honest, I’m sure that we can all find an example of where we are allowing our future to be decided by another person.

It might be that your spouse insists you holiday in Spain (again!) but you want to see the Norwegian ffjords or you might just continue working for an uninspiring boss in a job you hate.

It is essential to remember that to get somewhere you’ve never been, you’ll have to do something you’ve never done – and this will take an applied, aggressive mindset.

‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ – Susan Jeffers

Think about how you might be able to ‘lead-turn’ areas of your life – it might be that you put some money into an emergency fund in case you lose your job. Maybe you could build a side-line business with a skill-set you have, look at your hobbies – would somebody pay you for the paintings you do or the advice you might offer about website creation or knitwear patterns.

‘If you do not think about the future, you cannot have one.’ – John Galsworthy

Make a decision to take the driving seat for the journey that is YOUR life. Don’t let someone else run it for you, they really aren’t interested in your success.

You have to take the initiative, be assertive and decide the path that you need to follow in order to get to where you want to be.

Don’t be a slave to others…

Be the master of you.

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