Former F-16 pilot Nate “Buster” Jaros shows us how Angle of Attack (AOA) is extremely important in basic fighter manuevers and how optimizing it can help kill the enemy.

Angle of attack (AOA) is an important tool for the combat fighter pilot. Understanding how it works and what it provides is key to predicting and optimizing aircraft performance. This is something extremely vital when in a turning air-to-air combat engagement as well as the pilot faced with landing on the deck of a carrier or any critical landing environment actually.

I remember my first HABFM (High Aspect Basic Fighter Maneuvers) training sortie clearly. It was 1998 at Luke AFB Arizona and my instructor pilot (IP) and I launched out to the Gladden/Bagdad MOAs (Military Operating Areas) west of Luke and Phoenix. The objective of HABFM is for each fighter to approach in a neutrally advantageous position, and then begin the fight. This is done with a head-on pass.

At the pass a “fight’s on” is declared and the objective is to maneuver to an advantageous position behind the other fighter to be able to employ weapons. But remember, the other fighter is turning too. It quickly becomes a contest of who can ‘out turn’ the other guy, and exact better turning performance from their aircraft. The winner is the pilot that can maneuver his or her aircraft faster and more efficiently. We do HABFM with what’s called either a one-circle or two-circle fight, and the pilot who can turn the most resourcefully will win.

I didn’t know this.