This series of entries are focused in attack helicopter tactics at the individual level. Off course, attack helicopters almost never take-off to combat individually. At a later time, I will expand this series to tactics to be used at the platoon level. On the meantime, the tactical principles in this primer will help you to fly as a part of a formation.
This series of entries are based in stuff I gathered on the web. I condensed and adapted most of the stuff found and I encourage you to check those original sources. The sources will be cited at the end of each installment.
Flying to the objective
Compared to fixed wing aircraft, the attack helicopter doesn’t have the luxury of being able to fly very high or fast. It’s almost ironic that these two apparent shortcomings of the attack helicopter are actually its two advantages: being able to both fly extremely slow and at a low altitude that allows it to evade enemy anti-air weapon systems. In addition, the attack helicopter has a very high maneuverability that allows it to change the flight regime in small space and time spans.
Unfortunately, the advances in radar and infrared detection technologies are always a threat for the attack helicopter pilot. The biggest challenge for the attack helicopter pilot is to fly towards the objective avoiding detection. The best way to avoid detection is using terrain as cover.
If you are a virtual pilot of fixed-wing combat aircraft, it’s time for a paradigm shift. You are used to dive majestically from the blue with your wings pregnant of fire and the arrogant attitude of a God that entertains himself dealing death to the poor earth-laden mortals. Those times are gone. You are now like a hero of the ancient Greek mythology, half-god and half-mortal. The earth where the soldier lives and dies is now your life and death. The eternal paradoxes of tactical land combat are now your salvation and perdition. Being pilot and soldier at the same time will require the most from your abilities and intelligence. This is your time of greatest glory.
One way to avoid detection by using terrain as cover is the so-called “nap of the earth” (NoE) flying. In NoE flying, the pilot flies at approximately 6-7 meters above the ground and at a speed of 90 Km/h. The vast majority of modern radar systems cannot detect targets flying at a very low altitude. In addition, Doppler-based radars are designed to ignore returns moving at speeds of less than 100 Km/h in order to avoid detecting civilian traffic. During a NoE flight, the pilot chooses a route that allows the maximum terrain cover. The base of hills, around (not over) elevations and behind crowded terrain is ideal for NoE flying. In mountainous terrain, attack helicopter pilots usually fly at an altitude that is halfway between the base and the top of the mountains.
NoE flying is not problem-free. The slow speed and the low altitude expose the attack helicopter to small-arms fire and un-guided rockets. An alternative to NoE flying is “contour-chasing” (CC) flying, which is done at higher altitudes and speeds. CC flying is used when the presence of enemy anti-aerial or aircraft is less likely. For a CC flight, the pilot maintains an altitude of 12-15 meters and a speed of 150 Km/h. The pilot doesn’t fly around the hills but rather maintains a straight course, keeping a constant altitude above the ground.
Coming up next, “10 Rules to Live by”
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