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Air battles in the Pacific, June 1942
( diorama by Norman Bel Geddes )
A MiG-17 was shot down by an F-105D on June 3, 1967

A dogfight is to fight enemy aircraft with shooting intent, usually in war . It is usually conducted with specially designed combat aircraft , but for some decades it has only been carried out between combat helicopters .


Development in the First World War

As early as the First World War , the position at the rear of the enemy proved to be the best starting position for a launch with low self-endangerment. While with two-seater machines it was possible to fight the enemy "sticking to the stern" with on-board weapons , albeit less promising than an attack with the mostly stronger, forward-facing attack weapons, the pilot of a single-seater was practically defenseless against an attack from behind. Hence the need arose to get into this superior position ourselves.

With the demands of the military leadership for more powerful and agile machines, the aim was to give their own pilots a general advantage in cornering. These could have flown a more rapidly rising spiral than the enemy, i.e. that is, they would hardly have been targeted by the enemy. More power would also have reduced the risk of a tailspin or a sudden drop. More maneuverable aircraft were able to make the turns tighter and thus better get into a good firing position. The engine, center of gravity and control were checked and optimized for these points. At the end of the war, new machines were developed that were optimized for cornering, such as the Fokker D.VII and Sopwith F-1 .

Flying in a formation or with a wingman also provided an advantage in cornering . In this way you could fight the enemy who attacked the first machine with the safe machine. The aerial combat tactics proved effective. However, there were not always enough machines available for this tactic.

The first aerial combat that ended in a shooting down was dated October 5, 1914. Two French planes managed to shoot down a German machine with two planes that did not survive the crash. It was shot down with a machine gun mounted in front of the cockpit of a Voisin by the pilot Joseph Frantz. The German aviation double-decker crashed near Reims .

Second World War

With the development of powerful engines through to jet propulsion , the advantage of a tighter curve radius became less important. High speed and powerful armament, along with the development of radar to detect enemy aircraft, were key factors in aerial combat in World War II .

The form of aerial combat was shaped by the widespread belief in the interwar period that a war could be waged and won from the air alone. Resource-rich countries such as the USA implemented this by having large fleets of heavily armed long-range bombers built. Countries with few natural resources such as Germany hoped that tactical air fleets would be decisive for the war.

In the course of the Second World War, the Allies also trained tactical air fleets to support the ground troops in North Africa and during the invasion , while the German Air Force tried to wage a strategic air war in the Battle of Britain , for example .

Dogfights took place primarily to:

  1. To achieve air sovereignty, which was considered necessary for the deployment of close air support, and
  2. Intercept bombers that were supposed to be performing strategic or tactical tasks.

The battle for air sovereignty took place between the fighter units of the opposing air forces. Typically, groups of between four and 60 aircraft collided with each other, with one group initially trying to get into a favorable position for a surprise attack. This meant gaining height in relation to the enemy and, if possible, approaching the target with the sun behind you with excessive speed and firing as many projectiles as possible at the enemy aircraft at a distance of between 500 and 30 meters. The more effective the surprise effect, the more effective the attack. In many cases the pilots attacked had no more opportunity to perform defensive maneuvers.

Curve fighting was avoided as far as possible by all parties; in rare cases, for example near the ground or in a hopeless situation, there was still curve fighting, with the aircraft in tight turns being very vulnerable to other, faster attackers. The classic protagonists of these battles were the pilots of the Spitfire , Messerschmitt Bf 109 , Hurricane , Mustang , Jakowlew , Lavochkin and Zero fighter planes.

The fight against the bombers of World War II brought about new techniques and special forms of aerial combat, such as night hunting . The aircraft manufacturers' expectation of being able to build a bomber that was invulnerable to fighter attacks was disappointed. The defensive armament of the heavy four-engine bombers became stronger and stronger, but the armament and armor of the interceptors also became more effective. Nevertheless, it turned out that a classic approach to the rear of the opposing bomber was too risky, especially when groups staggered on top of each other combined their defensive fire and concentrated on a few attackers. Thus, in the further course of the war, heavily armored fighters who needed protection themselves, carried out a frontal attack against the direction of flight of the bomber crowd. This minimized the time the attackers were within range of the bombers' defensive weapons and enabled hits in the vulnerable bow where the pilots were sitting.

A bomber fleet that was dependent on its own on-board weapons had to suffer relatively high losses as a result, so escort fighters were needed in large numbers in order to push away the interceptors before the interception operation or to follow them to their bases after the operation and shoot them there on landing. The main participants in these scenarios were the pilots and gunner of the B-17 and B-24 bombers and the Fw 190 , Bf 110 , Thunderbolt , Lightning and Mustang fighters.

After 1950

In the Korean War , jet-powered aircraft were used to fight, including the US pilots in the F-86 against the Chinese opponents in the MiG-15, initially only with on-board cannons and unguided rockets. It was only with the development of heat-controlled air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9 and AIM-7 in conjunction with an on- board radar that the enemy could be fought reliably over a longer range, which led the Americans to design fighter aircraft without cannon armament. A fatal mistake that led to unnecessary losses in the Vietnam War .

For example, numerous McDonnell F-4s were initially lost in aerial battles with Vietnamese fighters such as the MiG-19 or the MiG-21 because their heat-controlled air-to-air missiles missed their target due to the tropical sunlight.

In the Falklands War , the main burden of the aerial combat on the English side was with the Hawker Siddeley Harrier , who were actually designed as a slow whiz kid for ground combat and support missions. But due to their maneuverability, their unusual flight maneuvers and superior avionics, they quickly gained air sovereignty over the Argentine Air Force with their more than twice as fast and better armed Mirage fighters.

Modern developments

Disputes between modern fighter planes are determined by the interaction of radar, networked communication systems and on-board computers as well as so-called intelligent weapon systems, which find their target after being shot down without the further involvement of a pilot. The on-board cannon is now part of the standard armament of most combat aircraft again after it was initially dispensed with in developments in the late 1950s (including the McDonnell F-4 ). In air battles between modern combat aircraft, it has been shown that missiles often fail to hit and that the on-board cannon is therefore in demand:

The threat posed by an opponent in the rear of one's own aircraft is many times higher than the risky and therefore less frequent head-on approach to the enemy at high speed. Therefore, even the most modern hunters still have to meet the requirements that make a successful fighter in curve combat: u. a. Maneuverability and relatively high power of the engines. These services can be summarized in the two most important parameters:

Thrust-to-weight ratio
Wing loading .

Modern fighter jets like the Russian Sukhoi Su-27 and MiG-29 , but also western models like the Saab 39 Gripen , General Dynamics F-16 , Lockheed F-22 and the Eurofighter combine all the experiences made over the past ninety years:

  • Pilot and sensors: the pilot sits in an elevated position and therefore has excellent all-round visibility; its ejection seat is angled to better withstand high G-forces and its cockpit is spacious enough for longer missions; it has a powerful onboard radar, an IR - sensor and recently mounted on the helmet, all-optical target sensors, all of which are managed by a central processing unit; the pilot has all the important function keys and the throttle in his hands ( HOTAS = hands on throttle and stick ); all important parameters, the radar and IR sensor data and the current status report are displayed on a head-up display ( HUD ) directly behind the windshield.
  • Plane: it is extremely maneuverable and has postcombustion - engines , is a very high excess thrust, which give more thrust than the combat aircraft weight, and therefore very tight bends without flow separation can be flown; the wings have movable leading edges ( slats ) and control flaps ( flaps ) over their entire length ; the tail units are often duplicated, as are the engines; The tank capacity is large enough for long approach routes, a longer stay in the combat area and for an extended air battle and is supported by external additional tanks and air refueling if necessary .
  • Armament: both for long and medium-range interception (BVR = Beyond Visual Range , beyond the horizon; effective distance 50–10 km) and at close range (CAC = close air combat ; 10–1 km) are missiles on board, for the "dogfight" with distances of less than 1000 m accordingly a permanently installed on-board cannon; as defensive means are ECM (electronic counter measures, electronic countermeasures) for active and Chaffs ( chaff ) for passive disturbance v. a. of radar systems as well as flares ( magnesium flares ) for deflecting heat-seeking rockets in containers mostly on the rear fuselage permanently present.

Due to new materials, sophisticated aerodynamics and the aforementioned powerful engines, new combat tactics such as the Russian cobra maneuver have been developed, in which the person being pursued allows the pursuer to overshoot himself by "emergency braking" at an excessive angle of attack . Some types of aircraft, which were not originally developed for hunting, have proven to be suitable air fighters because of their special design, e.g. B. the F-105 (in the Vietnam War against MiG-17 ) because of its high acceleration and top speed in low flight , the Harrier (in the Falklands War against Mirage III because of its ability to stand still in the air) and the Panavia Tornado (so far only in Exercises against e.g. F-15) because of their swivel wings , while other special fighter designs were assigned a secondary role, e.g. B. the Messerschmitt Bf 110 (Second World War), the F-100 and the F-104 (both Vietnam War).

Success factors

Tactics, strategy and equipment are relevant for assessing the superiority of one side:

Tactics: Individual ability to position one's own aircraft in a suitable position for the attack. This requires mastery of aerial combat maneuvers , as well as a correct assessment of the opponent's forces (situational awareness) and consideration of environmental conditions (such as the position of the sun, clouds). The tactic was especially crucial in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. However, the tactical options depend heavily on the quality of the equipment. The better maneuverability of the Saber plus a more resilient weapon platform gave the American pilots of the Saber a decisive advantage. (Shooting ratio: 1 to 10).

Strategy: Establishing a suitable balance of power, division and organization of combat aircraft formations. Numerical superiority is only an advantage through effective coordination of the forces, otherwise there will be hindrance from the aircraft on your own side. Communication, discipline in formation flight and leadership skills of the commanders are the key elements. However, compared to the technical equipment, they are increasingly taking a back seat.

Equipment: Technical superiority in airborne as well as ground-based devices more than makes up for a numerical disadvantage these days. In the air, superiority refers to the range, number, trackable targets (HARM) and reliability of the missiles. For this, a perfect interaction of high-performance hardware and software inside the rocket is crucial. For the ground-based components, the quality of the communication facilities, the airspace monitoring and the early warning systems are important.

Aerial victory

In aerial warfare, an aerial victory is the shooting down of an enemy in the air. It does not matter whether the enemy shot down is a fighter, bomber, transporter or z. B. a balloon or zeppelin ( First World War ) or about V1 missiles ( Second World War ).

When aces are called pilots , able to record at least five victories for itself, with the Second World War Launches quarter were tallied in the USA and Halbe. In some cases, film cameras were linked to the aircraft's machine guns in order to collect evidence of aerial victories. While it was relatively easy to check the details of kills during World War I, during World War II the respective gang or relay leaders were interviewed to confirm the kills.

See also: Erich Hartmann ; Max Immelmann ; Oswald Boelcke ; Adolphe Pégoud ; Manfred von Richthofen

Little is known that the Allied fighters of the German Air Force won over 500 aerial victories in the course of the Western campaign (May and June 1940) (if the campaign were to last for a longer period of time, a situation of wear and tear would have arisen to the disadvantage of the Air Force). Due to the rapid ground offensive, this did not have an open effect. The euphoria of victory and the Nazi propaganda distracted from the fact that the recovery phase of the Air Force up to the " Battle of Britain " was short.

Curve fight (dogfight)

As Dogfight the curve battle is in an air battle between two colloquially aircraft designated. This term probably comes from observations made by British and American soldiers during World War I. In fact, two aircraft, each trying to get behind the tail of the enemy, give the impression of two dogs sniffing and watching each other in a trial of strength before a fight. These animals always go in circles to prevent the opposing animal comes in a superior combat or Beißposition, the term "Dogfight" was (Engl .: Hundekampf used).


In the future, unmanned aircraft could conduct aerial battles independently or remotely. They can fly more radical flight maneuvers than manned aircraft because pilots from a certain strength of forces acting on them (see also: anti-g-suit ) cannot see for a short time (visual impairments: tunnel vision, grayout , blackout ) or become completely unconscious . Existing armed drones are designed as fighter-bombers.

One of the first cinematic processing was the documentary silent film aerial combat. A day with a hunting squadron in the west (1917).


  • Walter Schuck: Shooting. From the Me 109 to the Me 262, Helios-Verlag, Aachen 2008, 2nd edition, ISBN 978-3-938208-44-1 .
  • Robert L. Shaw: Fighter Combat - tactics and maneuvering. Naval Inst. Press, Annapolis 2005, ISBN 0-87021-059-9 .
  • Norman LR Franks: Aircraft versus aircraft - the illustrated story of fighter pilot combat from 1914 to the present day. Grub Street, London 1998, ISBN 1-902304-04-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Luftkampf  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Karl Josef Scheible, Peter Hans Scheible: World War 1914–1918 . Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC 2004, ISBN 1-4120-2048-4 , pp. 13 (504 p., Limited preview in Google Book search).
  2. ^ Ian Frederick William Beckett: The Great War, 1914-1918 (=  Modern wars in perspective ). Pearson Education, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4058-1252-8 , pp. 256 (English, 813 pages, limited preview in Google Book Search).
  3. ^ Arnold D. Harvey: Collision of Empires: Britain in Three World Wars, 1793-1945 . A&C Black, 1992, ISBN 1-85285-078-7 , pp. 410 (English, 784 pp., Limited preview in Google book search).
  4. ^ The European Powers in the First World War: An Encyclopedia (= Spencer Tucker, Laura Matysek Wood, Justin D. Murphy [eds.]: Military History of the United States Series . Volume 1483 ). Taylor & Francis, 1999, ISBN 0-8153-3351-X , pp. 20 (English, 783 pages, limited preview in Google Book Search).