Part of The Complete Beginner’s Guide
General Air Combat
There’s masses of literature already devoted to air combat, both real life and simulated so I won’t spend too much time on Thach Weaves, Immelman Turns, boom and zoom, turn n’ burn, salt n’ shake, Chaka Demus n’ Pliers and the like. War Thunder aims for a degree of realism, albeit very broadly in Arcade matches, so tips and tactics from real life tend to work in the game. Billy Bishop offers some good advice from his flying school, for example, or perhaps slightly more usefully most of Boelcke’s rules from 1916 translate quite well into the game:
- Secure the upper hand before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you. – altitude is almost always an advantage, and War Thunder models sun glare and the consequent reduction in visibility
- Always continue with an attack you have begun – Reasonable advice in the early ranks, especially with biplanes, but not always the best thing to do later on. It’s always tempting to try and keep turning towards an opponent to bring them into your sights, but if they’re in a more manoeuvrable plane then at best you’ll just keep going around in circles (vulnerable to another opponent), at worst they’ll turn the tables and get behind you (much like a Benny Hill and/or Scooby Doo chase sequence…) If you have an energy (i.e. speed and height) advantage, then “boom and zoom” tends to be a more effective technique: dive down and make a quick slashing attack on the target, zooming away at speed back to a higher altitude before they can chase after you.
- Open fire only at close range, and then only when the opponent is squarely in your sights – The lead indicator appears when you’re within about 800m in Arcade mode, but you probably won’t land many hits at that range, so don’t hold the fire button down and waste all your ammo and/or jam the guns; maybe try a burst or two, but try and get closer if you can
- You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses – You can give yourself a helping hand here by locking on to your target (middle mouse button by default), then a helpful red arrow will point in their direction if you lose sight during violent manoeuvres
- In any type of attack, it is essential to assail your opponent from behind – the lead indicator in Arcade mode makes deflection shooting (from the side) easier, but it’s only a guide, it’s better to attack from directly behind if possible. Head-on attacks are a very risky business, you’ve as much chance of having your own pilot or engine knocked out as of scoring a kill, and if you survive the gunfire then there’s still a high probability of a collision
- If your opponent dives on you, do not try to get around his attack, but fly to meet it – if someone is diving on you, chances are they have a speed advantage so trying to run rarely works, turning in to them at least minimises their opportunity for a shot.
- When over the enemy’s lines, always remember your own line of retreat – Not quite so vital here, but if you are damaged and deep in enemy territory you can try and get back to your own airfield, there’ll usually be more friendlies by your own spawn point who may try and cover you
- Tip for Squadrons: In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four or six. Avoid two aircraft attacking the same opponent – if you can find a friend or two to team up with, it can really help to have someone watching your back. Definitely try and avoid attacking an opponent that someone else is attacking, there’s a very high risk of friendly fire or collisions
For more detail there are sections on the official and unofficial wikis with useful articles, there’s plenty on YouTube from people like Bis18marck70 and GrmlZ; if you have a specific questions you can try the Official Forums or the War Thunder subreddit.
One thing fairly specific to Arcade mode in War Thunder is mid-air ammunition resupply; if you fire all your ammunition, there’s a nasty ‘click’, and you’ll see a counter in the top left hand corner showing how long you have before the guns reload. This starts off at about 20 seconds for machine guns, but can be reduced by training the crew. Obviously this is slightly inconvenient if you’re in the middle of a fight, so if you think you’re running low on ammunition and you have a bit of breathing space you can head away from threats and manually reload (press ‘Y’ by default). Machine guns generally have a reasonable amount of ammunition, reloading is more important for some cannon-armed fighters as large calibre weapons (20mm and above) have less ammunition to start with (the Spitfire IIb has only 60 rounds for each cannon), and reloading cannons takes twice as long as machine guns.
Watch out for overheating guns as well. As you fire, a red circle fills around your gunsight; this represents your guns heating up. The longer you fire the greater the chance of a jam, so firing in short bursts is generally a better idea than holding the trigger down, unless you really need to bring something down in a hurry, like an aircraft about to land on your airfield in Domination.
Speaking of really needing to bring an aircraft down, there is a last resort: ramming. Rather a divisive subject, often a cause outbursts of anger in the chat window; deliberate ramming should very much be a last resort, as nobody gets credit for a kill if a plane is destroyed in a collision (you can really annoy somebody on your own side if they critically damage an enemy, then you come along and ram it before it actually crashes), but if your guns are reloading and really need to stop an opponent you don’t have many options. A lot of ‘ramming’ incidents happen during head-on attacks, and if you’re playing a game of chicken then you’re at least as much to blame as the other person if you do crash. If you really like your plane you should take early evasive action in such a situation; if I’m in a shiny new high rank fighter I’ll break off and circle around for another shot rather, if I’m in something of a lower rank that’s suffered some damage, heck, I’ll keep the fire button held down, and if the other guy doesn’t turn that’s his problem… There’s always a risk of accidental collisions and friendly fire too, especially if there are three or four people chasing the same opponent; these things happen, it’s best not to get too worked up about it, but do be careful, even if just to avoid the cash and XP penalty from downing a friendly.