Rolling Scissors

Here is an article on the Rolling Scissors technique, written by "Sensei" Rapier for the Fighter Ace Combat Manual.  Reprinted by permission of the author (Rapier) and Microsoft Corporation, publishers.


The Rolling Scissors, or… How to Play with Sharp Objects

By Rapier, Fighter Ace Content Manager–


You spot the Focke-Wulf about 5000 feet above you, definitely moving into attack position. Take a quick look around and make sure there are no other bogies about that can spoil the fun. Do a quick check of status on your Mustang. The Focke-Wulf lowers its nose, picking up speed rapidly. It’s diving in on your tail. In a moment, the pilot will open fire. What are you going to do, Ace?

I felt the best I could do was present him a difficult shot. As he closed in behind me, I would pull up and then kick the airplane over about the time I thought he was ready to shoot. When I saw the muzzle flashes from his guns I would present him with a 90-degree deflection shot, about the most difficult there is.

Colonel Francis S. Gabreski USAAF,
31 Victories WWII, 6.5 Korea
Highest scoring surviving American fighter pilot

This is one of the toughest places to be in. One thing you have to keep in mind is that there are no magic bullets in air combat, no tactics that will work infallibly 100% of the time. Everything is contextual. You have to be absolutely familiar with your aircraft and know its strengths and the opponent’s weaknesses. If you can sense the right move and execute it flawlessly, then with a little bit of luck, you’re the victor. In every situation you have several maneuvers you can choose to use. Which one depends on the moment, the planes, and the situation.

A move you should definitely have handy is the Rolling Scissors. The Rolling Scissors works particularly well in the Realistic arenas, but it can be used with success in the Arcade arenas as well. It differs from the Flat Scissors mainly in the opening conditions. The Flat Scissors most often occurs when there has been a low-speed, horizontal overshoot of the target. The Rolling Scissors results from the opposite situation — a high-speed overshoot with a vertical component. As the defender in the scenario above, you want to force this overshoot. At this point, the attacker holds the high cards; they have speed and energy advantage. The question is, can you change the opening conditions and seize the advantage over the opponent? The Rolling Scissors is an admittedly risky tactic but one that has the potential to change that balance.

In the opening of the Rolling Scissors, you try to make the attacker’s firing problem as difficult as possible. You roll away from the attack (break turn) and, once that is established, roll wings level and go vertical. From here forward, the idea is to do most of your turning while vertical, that is, by rolling instead of turning. This is of course where it gets complicated, so let’s take a moment to explain this concept.

There are two ways to turn: the hard, energy-intensive way, and the easy, energy-managing way. In the old fashioned hard way, you make the turn horizontally by rolling the plane into a bank and pulling back on the stick to pull the plane around in a circle. The tighter you turn, the more Gs amount (which from the plane’s point of view is the same as making it heavier, with a resultant negative effect on performance and energy). The longer an airplane stays in this state, the more that its energy is depleted. Eventually it will lose speed and altitude, ending up on the deck, low, slow, and out of options.

A different way to turn is to use the airplane’s roll rate. We’ll introduce a very handy term here: lift vector. The aircraft’s lift vector can be represented by a line that goes straight up from the base of the pilot’s seat and through the canopy at a point directly over the pilot’s head. If, when we are going vertically up or down, we roll to put this point on the canopy ahead of the enemy plane, we will be in lead pursuit, even though our plane’s nose is not oriented toward the target. This is because when we pull back on the stick to pull over at the top or bottom of our vertical maneuver, the lift vector points in the direction that we will be going.

So now back to our Rolling Scissors. The attacker has dropped in behind you, and you are trying to complicate his firing solution and turn the tables. You go into a break turn just as your opponent comes into range, and then take your fighter vertically up. You could keep pulling toward their plane, but this would not result in any advantage and would just continue the overshoots, with the opponent staying behind you in potential firing position. By going vertical, you are putting your available energy back into the altitude bank by converting it into potential energy. Secondly, you will be turning more efficiently than they are, since you are going to roll while you are vertical rather than rolling and pulling the old-fashioned way. Your plane will only be fighting one G as it flies vertically, instead of the eight or nine Gs that you can get in an Arcade [Ed. note: i.e, relaxed realism] arena turn. Also, by going vertical, you increase their overshoot, as you are no longer traveling forward at all. Then you just roll to place your lift vector ahead of their flight path. As your speed depletes, pull the stick back to pull over and then point your nose at them to maintain pursuit.

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