Backstabbing Assassins, Not Knights of the Air
There is little finesse in air combat. Many civilians and those who have never looked through the gun sight…at an enemy aircraft have a romantic perception, no doubt influenced by books and movies about World War I, that pilots are knights of the air, chivalrous men who salute their opponents before engaging in a fight that always is fair. They believe that elaborate rules of aerial courtesy prevail and that battle in the clear pure upper regions somehow is different, more glorified and rarefied, than battle in the mud. This is arrant nonsense. Aerial combat, according to those who have participated, is a basic and primitive form of battle that happens to take place in the air. Fighter pilots—that is, the ones who survive air combat—are not gentlemen; they are backstabbing assassins. They come out of the sun and attack an enemy when he is blind. They sneak up behind or underneath or “bounce” the enemy from above or flop into position on his tail—his six-o’clock position—and “tap” him before he knows they are there. That is why fighter pilots jink and weave and dart about like water bugs in a mason jar. They never hold a heading or a position longer than six or eight seconds. Aerial combat is brutally unforgiving. To come in second place is to die, usually in a rather spectacular manner. Most casualties never know they are targets until they are riddled with bullets, covered with flames, and on the way to creating a big hole in the ground. Those who want to engage in the romanticized World War I pirouette of a fair fight will have a short career. Thus, aerial combat favors the bold, those who are not afraid to use the airplane for its true purpose: a gun platform. There is nothing sophisticated about sneaking up on someone and killing him. Aerial combat is a blood sport, a knife in the dark. Winners live and losers die….