This section is intended to detail all sorts of considerations that every Arma pilot must make during flight. Further sections follow that are specifically oriented towards helicopter and plane pilots and the special considerations they must make.
There are a number of things that can be done to limit the threat of anti-aircraft weapon systems. Several methods of tactical prevention are listed below, broken down by whether they're general methods or more specifically oriented towards gun or missile threats. In addition to that, countermeasure systems are discussed, as are evasive maneuvers.
Tactical Risk Prevention
Tactical prevention is simply the art of using proper aircraft employment and maneuver tactics to minimize the threats posed by enemy air defenses.
These guidelines can be used to protect you from any anti-aircraft threats, regardless of type.
- Limit exposure over enemy areas. The less you're around to be shot at, the less shot you'll get.
- Mask with terrain. If they can't see you, they can't hit you.
- Maintain high speeds. If they can't lead you effectively, or you're exposed for short periods of time, they probably can't hit you.
- Use unpredictable flight patterns. If they can't predict where you'll be due to your maneuvers, they probably can't hit you.
- Avoid flying directly at/away from enemy infantry. If you're presenting a target that is moving relative to their perspective, it's much harder for them to hit you.
These guidelines can be used to protect you specifically from anti-aircraft guns
- Fly at altitude. The higher you are, the harder it is to lead you.
These guidelines can be used to protect you specifically from anti-aircraft missile systems.
- Dump flares when going into an attack run if you expect a MANPAD threat on the ground.
- Dump flares when pulling out after an attack run. The enemy will very likely wait for a rear-aspect shot before engaging - putting flares in the air after an attack run will cause them to have difficulty locking you up, and will confuse any missiles already in flight.
Aircraft have two main types of countermeasures - flares and chaff. In Arma 3, both are launched at the same time if an aircraft is equipped with them via using the 'countermeasures' key, though some mods may split them into different features that can be toggled independently.
Flares are burning objects ejected from aircraft to attempt to spoof infrared (heat-seeking) missiles. They typically dispense in a burst that takes a second or two to complete, leaving a dramatic flame and light show behind the aircraft.
- Effective against: Infrared-guided (IR) missiles. The heat of the flares confuses the missile seeker, causing it to chase after a heat source that may not be the aircraft itself. Flares can also prevent the missile from being able to lock onto the aircraft in the first place.
- When to deploy: Whenever you think an IR missile has been launched at you, or when pulling out of an attack run or overflying known enemy positions.
Chaff is a packet of thin metallic strips that spread into a cloud upon release and act to confuse radar systems.
- Effective against: Radar-guided missiles. The metallic strips of chaff give false radar reflections, confusing the missile guidance and frequently causing them to seek out invalid targets.
- When to deploy: Once given a launch warning or when you think one is imminent (such as when 'locked up' and hearing a radar warning indicator)
There are several standard types of evasive maneuvers available to aircraft pilots, regardless of whether they're flying a jet or a helicopter.
- Jinking. This is the act of making sharp, sudden, and unpredictable evasive maneuvers. Jinking makes it difficult to track and lead an aerial target. It is most effective against unguided weapons such as machineguns, cannons, rockets, et cetera.
- Break turn. A break turn is a sudden, sharp turn typically of 90 degrees or more. This is often used to attempt to evade a rocket or missile system, or when a heavy machinegun or anti-aircraft artillery piece has engaged the aircraft.
- Emergency climb/dive. An emergency climb or dive simply consists of the aircraft gaining or losing altitude rapidly in an attempt to evade a threat.
- Defensive roll. Used most frequently by helicopters, a defensive roll involves the helicopter rolling so that the bottom of it is between the threat weapon (typically machineguns) and the helicopter crew. A roll is usually accompanied by pulling the aircraft in the rolled direction, resulting in the aircraft pulling away from the threat.
Classifications of Aircraft Threats
How Threats are Classified
Throughout the course of flying in Arma you will be confronted with a variety of different threat weapons. Each of the main classifications of these threats is described below, via a "Capabilities, Indicators, React" info breakdown. The "CIR" rating is intended to answer the following questions.
- What can the threat weapon do?
- What is unique about it compared to the other threat weapon types?
- What lets you know that one of these weapons is being fired at your aircraft?
- What do you do when you take fire from one of these weapons?
- What are the best evasive maneuvers to use?
Small Arms Fire (SAF)
Small Arms Fire is generally the most common threat to aircraft on the battlefield. While they pose little threat to jet aircraft, they can be a major issue for a helicopter crew that does not exercise proper tactical judgment while flying. Small Arms are anything typically employed by the infantry - light and medium machineguns, rifles, et cetera. Their Capabilities, Indicators, React (CIR) info is as follows.
- Can penetrate unarmored cockpits and passenger compartments
- Limited effective range. Dangerous at under 300 meters, moderately dangerous at 500m, and markedly less effective beyond that unless massed.
- Relatively light and 'weak' bullets
- Not stabilized, difficult to manage recoil to properly engage aircraft
- Difficult to properly lead aircraft moving at speed
- Often massed as 'ambush' fire in order to increase effects
- When sustained or massed, can cause tail rotor failure of fuel leaks
- Muzzle flashes and smoke
- Normal-sized tracers going past the aircraft. Sometimes there will be no tracers at all, just the impact sounds of bullets hitting the aircraft.
- Visible infantry or no visible vehicles
- Sounds of bullets hitting vehicle hull, accompanied by light damage
- Break turn
- Raise altitude or lower to mask with terrain
HMGs & Vehicle CSWs, including AAA
Heavy machineguns, crew-served weapons, and anti-aircraft artillery are a common threat. They are similar to SAF in many respects, but pack a heavier punch and have higher accuracy at range. Their CIR info is as follows.
- Stabilized, high accuracy
- Heavy, damaging bullet. In the case of AAA, this is often an explosive cannon round.
- Large tracers
- Large muzzle flashes and smoke
- Stable stream of fire
- Vehicle at origin of fire (if veh CSW)
- High (HMG) or very high (AAA) damage from hits
- Break turn
- Sharply raise altitude or lower to mask with terrain
A ZSU-39 Tigris opens fire with anti-aircraft cannons
Anti-tank assets are generally used in "target of opportunity" situations against slow & low helicopters. It requires a great deal of skill (or luck) for an AT shooter to take down an aircraft with an unguided rocket, or a great failure on the part of the aircraft crew to allow such a shot to be successful. The CIR info for AT is as follows.
- Very limited range (dangerous at 100-300m, falls off rapidly beyond that)
- Difficult to lead moving aircraft with AT
- Depending on the power of warhead, severe damage or destruction of aircraft is likely
- Backblast dust/smoke
- Linear smoke trail
- No obvious vehicle having launched it (infantry AT) or ATGM-class vehicle (ie: BRDM ATGM) at launch site
- Dump flares. You do not have time to decide whether it's an AT rocket or a guided missile.
- Break turn until you are moving perpendicular to the launch site.
- At this point you should be able to tell that it is a rocket that was fired, and not a missile. Once this has been confirmed, cease flare dispensing.
MANPADs, SAMs, & Anti-Aircraft missiles
Missile systems tend to pose the most serious threats to aircraft. Their guidance systems allow them to track even the fastest jets, while their warheads can wreck an aircraft with a good hit.
- Seeking missile(s)
- Long range
- Difficult to detect (MANPAD)
- Difficult to evade - extremely fast and maneuverable
- Powerful warhead, can result in severe damage or destruction of aircraft
- Oftentimes multiple missiles available
- Backblast dust/smoke
- Visible smoke trail coming from the ground
- Smoke trail is curving/changing direction, indicating a seeking warhead
- Radar warning receiver, IR launch indicator
- Dump countermeasures (chaff, flares, or both - depends on the vehicle)
- Fly perpendicular to missile flight path ('beam' it)
- Put terrain between self and missile
- Continue dispensing countermeasures until missile is no longer a threat and aircraft is out of engagement envelope of the launcher
Smoke trail of an anti-air missile as it launches. By the time you see this, you only have a split-second to react.
An OPFOR anti-aircraft gunner hits a Ghosthawk with a Titan AA
Planes and helicopters share one common damage aspect, while damage types specific to each category will be described in their respective sections.
Oftentimes an aircraft will receive a fuel leak after being hit by a MANPAD missile or taking sustained machinegun fire. The indicator for this is simply that the fuel level begins to drop. If you take a hit that causes a fuel leak, announce it to the appropriate person (ie the FAC or PltCo) and head back to base if possible. If you can't make it back to base, find some place to set down (if a helo) or eject (if a plane). The Arma 3 helicopters realistically do not have ejection capabilities for their crew - if you want to survive, you'll need to master the art of autorotation, described later.
Intro to Helicopters
Rotary wing aircraft - more commonly known as helicopters - are one of the most interesting types of vehicles to employ in Arma. They have a very unique set of flight characteristics compared to planes, in that they are able to fly in any direction or even simply float in one place if they so desire. Their ability to operate so close to the ground forces makes them excellent close air support forces, while their cargo- and troop-carrying abilities give the ground commanders a way to move infantry around the battlefield to attack from unexpected directions, or transport resupply all over the battlefield to where it is most needed.
Helicopters are extremely flexible aircraft that can be employed in a wide variety of creative and interesting fashions. They are the air asset you are most likely to find yourself working with as an infantryman.
Types of Helicopters
Like with most things, there are a variety of classes for rotary-wing aircraft.
Attack helos are defined by the amount of firepower they can deliver, as well as how survivable they are. The AH-9 and OH-58 are the lightest, with the Cobra and Blackfoot being above them in the medium category, and the Apache taking the crown as the heaviest attack helo due to its impressive armament and relatively survivable airframe.
- OH-58 Kiowa Warrior
- UH-1Y Venom (when carrying FFAR pods)
- AH-1Z Viper
- AH-99 Blackfoot
A Blackfoot on the attack at night
Transport helos are defined by the amount of personnel or equipment they can move around the battlefield. Thus, an MH-6 is at the bottom of the ladder as the lightest transport helo, while the massive CH-53 Super Stallion is at the top.
- MH-9 Hummingbird
- UH-1Y Venom
Thanks to an upgraded engine, the MH-9 Hummingbird can carry a pilot, copilot, and six passengers - four on the external benches and two in the rear seats.
- UH-80 Ghosthawk
- CH-46 Sea Knight
The UH-80 Ghosthawk is capable of lifting a full squad
- V-22 Osprey. Note that this aircraft can go from a 'helicopter' mode to a 'fixed wing' mode once it is airborne, increasing its speed considerably.
- CH-53 Super Stallion
Ospreys, courtesy of the All in Arma mod
Helicopter Crew Roles
Most helicopters are multi-crewed. For attack helicopters, this is in the form of a pilot/gunner combination, while transport aircraft typically sport a pilot, copilot, crew-chief, and door gunner. This section will cover the different responsibilities of each of the common helicopter roles.
The helo pilot maneuvers the helo tactically in order to accomplish the assigned mission. The specific responsibilities of a helo pilot differ based on whether they are a transport aircraft or an attack helo, and are as follows.
AH-99 Blackfoot pilot, rear seat
Pilot Responsibilities (General)
- Senior player in the helo.
- Flys the helo and is responsible for the safety of all embarked on it
- Plans the route the helo will use into/out of the combat zone
- Has the final say on LZ selection and is authorized to change the LZ en route due to evolving threat assessments, to include threats at the LZ itself.
Pilot Responsibilities (Attack Helo)
- Responsible for employing unguided rockets (FFARs) or bombs, if the aircraft has them
- Communicates with the gunner to maintain the gunner's situational awareness. This includes notifying the gunner of locations of friendly forces, upcoming maneuvers, and anything else that might assist him.
- Maintains situational awareness around the aircraft at all times. The gunner is often focusing on a given target, such as when using the gunsight, and thus it is important that the pilot continue to scan.
- Maneuvers in a fashion that allows the gunner to effectively engage the enemy.
- Maneuvers in response to the gunner's requests.
- Gives guidance to the gunner on weapon type to use.
The helo gunner helps to navigate and observe prior to combat, and once in combat, he scans for and engages the enemy while communicating his needs to the pilot. The gunner is also able to take the controls in order to fly the aircraft - this can be done to give the pilot an opportunity to safely mark a new path on his map or otherwise familiarize himself with it, or when the pilot is wounded or killed in the air.
- Junior player in the aircraft.
- Assists in navigation.
- Scans for and engages the enemy.
- Communicates needs to pilot. If the gunner needs the aircraft oriented in a specific direction, or flying at a given height, et cetera, he communicates this to the pilot so that the pilot can fly the aircraft to best accommodate him.
- Communicates with ground forces as required, particularly when the pilot must concentrate on flying and a copilot is not present.
- Takes control and flys the aircraft if the pilot is killed or incapacitated.
Gunner/Pilot Intra-aircraft Coordination
Things that need to be communicated are broken down by whether they're communicated by either crewman, by the pilot, or the gunner.
- Threats. It is important that either crewman communicates anything he discovers about the locations of enemy threats as expeditiously as possible. The more of a threat the particular enemy is to an aircraft is, the more important it is that it is communicated promptly. This also includes any spottings of tracers, missile launches, or suspected missile launches.
- Friendly positions. Whoever sees friendly positions, either on the map or via visual confirmation, should relay it to the other crewman so that situational awareness is enhanced. This is particularly true for the pilot communicating with the gunner.
- Ammo status. Either crewman will have weapon systems available to them in some aircraft. Whatever the distribution, each crewman needs to communicate how much ammunition they have for their weapons, so that they can plan accordingly to fly back for resupply (if available) and also let the supported infantry know how much more support they can provide before they need to return to base.
By the pilot:
- Maneuvers. Particularly when the gunner is employing a turreted cannon, the pilot should talk to him to let him know what significant maneuvers are being employed or are coming up. This helps the gunner to know how much traverse he has left on the turret before running into the limits.
- Fuel status. Knowing how much fuel is available is important, as it allows the gunner to prioritize targets based on how much flight time remains until a trip to a resupply area is necessary.
- Flight worthiness. If the aircraft is damaged by enemy fire, it is the pilot's responsibility to communicate this to the gunner. This includes tail rotor loss, loss of engine power, etc.
By the gunner:
- Gunner activity. The gunner ensures that the pilot knows what he is doing - be it acquiring a target, locking one up, firing, or preparing to fire. This helps the pilot make decisions about how he flys the aircraft.
- Gunner needs. If the gunner requires a certain attack heading, or a specific amount of stability during the employment of a weapon, he must communicate this to the pilot so that the pilot can accommodate his needs.
Gunner/Pilot Brevity Words
- Weapon Employment & Maneuvers
- Steady. Request from the gunner for the pilot to hold a steady bearing. Typically used when firing at hard or distant targets to provide the most stable gun platform.
- Rotate (left, right). Gunner notification to the pilot that the aircraft needs to turn a specific direction to allow him to employ his weapons.
- Popping up/pop up. Command from the pilot or gunner to indicate that the aircraft is going to, or needs to, rise up to clear an obstruction so that a shot can be taken.
- Dropping down/drop down. Command from the pilot or gunner to indicate that the aircraft is going to, or needs to, drop down behind an obstruction. This is typically done after a successful shot has been made.
- Firing/engaging. Gunner is engaging with his weaponry. Typically used when guns are being employed.
- Launched, missile away. Gunner confirmation that he has fired his missile. Lets the pilot know that he is free to maneuver.
- Running in. Pilot notification to the gunner that the aircraft is heading in for an attack run on a known enemy position.
- Breaking left/right/etc. Pilot notification to the gunner that a significant bank/turn is being employed in the specified direction.
- Threats. Note that threat warnings have a direction attached to them when known.
- Missile, missile. Warning call given when a suspected missile has been launched. This allows the pilot to immediately conduct a 'react to missile launch' drill, as well as notifying the gunner that he should be scanning for the launch origin.
- Taking SAF, taking SAF. Used to indicate that the aircraft is being engaged by small-arms fire, typically used to indicate that maneuvers are needed to evade it. Can be shortened to "SAF, SAF".
- Taking heavy, taking heavy. Used to indicate that the aircraft is being engaged by a heavy weapon such as a crew-served machinegun or vehicle cannon, typically used to indicate that maneuvers are needed to evade it. Can be shortened to "Heavy, heavy".
- Visual. Crewman has spotted friendly positions.
- Blind. Crewman cannot spot friendly positions.
- Tally. Crewman has spotted hostile targets.
- No joy. Crewman cannot spot hostile targets.
- Tracers, (direction). Used to indicate the direction that enemy tracer fire has been spotted.
- Flashes, (direction). Used to indicate the direction that muzzle flashes are being seen at.
- Winchester. Gunner is out of ammo.
- Bingo. Pilot statement to indicate that the aircraft must immediately return to base in order to make it back before fuel runs out.
A crew chief is a member of the helicopter crew that, in Arma terms, acts as a door gunner for the duration of the helicopter's employment. Unlike the 'door gunner' role, the crew chief does not disembark from the helicopter except in the event of an emergency (such as being shot down).
The crew chief is responsible for communicating the proximity of obstacles to the pilot when in close terrain and attempting to land. This is done with simple concise verbal commands to the pilot to tell him which way to move the helo to avoid obstacles, such as "Tree on left, move right 10 meters". The door gunner, if embarked, assists with this process, as described in the "Combined Arms" chapter.
Crew chief watching the terrain during flight, M134 in the forward-facing position
Crew Chief Responsibilities
- Scan for ground threats & communicate them to the pilot. The crew chief must be constantly scanning for hostile threats. He watches for:
Upon spotting any of these, he immediately informs the pilot. The crew chief can use either clock directions or relative directions (front, left, right, etc) when calling these targets or objects out.
- Enemy personnel and vehicles
- Muzzle smoke
- Smoke trails from missiles or rockets
- Trees, large rocks, and other obstacles when descending into an LZ
- Scan for aerial threats, including other friendly aircraft. Particularly when situated on the side of the helicopter opposite of the pilot, the crew chief needs to keep an eye out for any potential path-crossing of friendly aircraft. In the event that a collision seems likely, the crew chief can instruct the pilot to make an evasive maneuver - such as to break up/down/left/right. The pilot will automatically conduct this maneuver without hesitation.
- Be proficient with helo door gunnery. This includes knowing how to correctly lead targets when the helicopter is moving at a variety of airspeeds. As a general guideline, one must lead in the direction that the target is moving relative to the gunner's perspective. If a target is crossing from right to left, he must lead the target by aiming to the left side of the target.
- Stay alert and aware of where friendly forces are, to avoid engaging them by mistake.
- Communicate with ground forces as required, particularly when the pilot must concentrate on flying
The copilot's primary tasks involve observing, navigating, and communicating to help share the workload with the pilot. A copilot can take control of the aircraft from his seat, much like a gunner in an attack helo can do. This is used if the pilot is wounded or killed, or to give the pilot time to spend 'heads down' in his map or similar.
- Navigation. The copilot is in a perfect position to navigate for the pilot.
- Observation & observation pod. Whether equipped specifically with an observation pod or not, the copilot - being in the front of the aircraft - is in a good position to assist with observation. The observation pod obviously amplifies this.
- Communication. Due to not being tied up with actually flying the aircraft, the copilot is able to spend time communicating with other aircraft, ground forces, etc.
- Flying when necessary. By taking the aircraft's controls, the copilot can give the pilot some free time or react to pilot wounds.
Helo Flight Principles
The art of flying a helicopter is one that takes time to master, typically accomplished with a great deal of offline practice. The following sections will help to familiarize you with the basic helo flight principles, as they apply to Arma 3, so that you know what you should be practicing towards.
Getting a helicopter into the air is a pretty simple process. There are a few things to keep in mind, as described below.
Considerations Before Lifting Off
- Ensure that everyone who should be on the helo is loaded up and ready to go. This applies mainly to transport aircraft, of course.
- Look around and above the aircraft to familiarize yourself with what obstacles are nearby. Trees, power lines, light posts - anything that can cause a rotor strike must be noted and avoided.
- Consider other aircraft. If a multiple helo package is taking off, the aircraft must lift off in a predefined order to avoid colliding on takeoff. If working out of an active area where aircraft are coming and going at regular or random intervals, you must be careful to ensure that your takeoff does not run you into another aircraft working in the area at the same time.
- Know where you're going, and have a plan on how to get there. Trying to plot a course while already in the air is not ideal - whenever possible, as time allows, ensure that you've sketched out your route to the landing zone and know what terrain to expect along the way.
Once all of these are considered and checked for, simply apply power to the engines to lift off the deck. You only need to bring the helo a few meters off the deck to "take off" - there is no reason to go higher immediately unless terrain or obstacles force it.
As you move away from the staging area, evaluate the terrain and choose your flight profile accordingly.
There are two primary aspects involved with landing - the basic procedures of the act itself, and the considerations that must be made when making a combat landing. Both are described below.
Basic Landing Principles
- Be careful with your vertical speed. Having a low vertical speed upon landing is very important - the most common way to wreck a helo is to slam it down too hard.
- You can land safely with 30kph of forward speed, as long as your descent rate is very low. You can get up to 40-45kph or so if you are careful. Bear in mind that the higher your speed, the easier it is to wreck the engine with too fast of a descent rate.
- Pick LZs that have fairly level ground and are free of any major obstacles whenever possible, as this simplifies things.
- If landing on a slope, land facing up the slope and be careful that you don't slide. Oftentimes you will be forced to do a hover insertion when slopes are involved.
- Approach the LZ in a fashion that allows you to see all of the obstacles in the LZ area. Coming in via a shallow curving flight path can help facilitate this.
- If landing in a particularly tight LZ, use your door gunner and crew chief to warn you of any obstacles as well as provide guidance on how you should maneuver. If troops are already on the ground, they can act as guides as well.
Combat Landing Procedures
- Decide on what kind of landing it will be. Full touchdown, hover, moving, etc.
- Minimize enemy threats via the approach route used. Choose high alt or low alt as necessary, based on expected enemy threats.
- Suppress with door gunners if possible. If the LZ is hot, the door gunner fire can be an effective means of suppressing it long enough to set down and get the troops debarked.
- Come in fast and touch down lightly. A proper combat landing requires a good grasp how to flare a helicopter to rapidly bleed of speed without gaining altitude. Coming in fast is the best counter to enemy small arms fire - it's not easy to lead a moving helo, after all.
- Tell your passengers to debark via "GO GO GO". Once you've touched down safely, or have entered a hover or slow & low state (in the case of a 'hover' or 'moving' insertion), give the "Go, go, go!" command so that the embarked infantry can hear you. They will then begin exiting the aircraft and conduct their mission.
- Listen for confirmation from the senior embarked player that all troops have dismounted. In some aircraft you will be able to look into the passenger compartment to watch the unloading process yourself.
- Once given the all-clear, take off and assume your next assigned task. If feasible, your crew chief can continue suppressing the LZ as you depart.
Flying a helicopter forces the pilot to take calculated risks in order to best accomplish his mission. One of these involves altitude - there is no one-altitude-fits-all solution; depending on the mission, terrain, enemy, et cetera, the risks/rewards of each altitude will vary. It is up to the pilot to be familiar with the tradeoffs involved and be able to make the right decisions when the time comes.
The pros and cons of high and low altitude flight follow.
- Reduces vulnerability to unguided weapons such as SAF, CSW, HMG, AT, etc
- Increased observation capability
- Eliminates dangers of collisions with terrain, trees, power lines, and other obstacles
- Higher chance of autorotating successfully due to altitude available
- Enemy has a harder time keeping track of you when they're also engaged with ground forces, as it forces them to look up a lot. Allows you to drop in and surprise them more easily.
- Facilitates steep diving attacks and strafing runs
- Easier for the enemy to hear the direction you are coming from
- More visible to the enemy
- Can be engaged by more enemy weapon systems at the same time than otherwise
- Easier to be engaged by guided missile systems
- Reduced visibility to the enemy
- Can mask with terrain, trees, and buildings, which further reduces visibility and muffles sound signature, increasing stealth and surprise
- Reduced vulnerability to some types of anti-air missile systems
- Much more vulnerable to SAF, CSW, HMG, AT, etc.
- Reduces visibility of the battlespace
- Introduces the danger of collisions with terrain, trees, power lines, and other obstacles
- Less likely to survive an engine failure due to lack of space to properly autorotate
- Reduces effectiveness of some attack profiles such as diving attacks and strafing runs
Masking with Terrain & Tactical Helicopter Movement
One important aspect of helicopter survivability lies in using the terrain to maximum advantage. Hills, valleys, forests, buildings - there are countless terrain features that can be used to mask a helicopter from enemy fire and observation. Attack helicopter crews will often stay low and fast, moving from one covered position to another to avoid enemy anti-aircraft artillery and MANPAD or SAM units. When it comes time to engage the enemy or scout out areas, the helicopter can pop up briefly, scan the area or employ weapons against the enemy, and then drop back down behind a terrain feature so that enemy gunners have little time to acquire, lock, and fire upon them.
Bear in mind that when masking with terrain, the helo crew must be aware of what's on the 'near' side of the terrain being used for cover. Taking cover behind a ridge that has an enemy platoon sitting on your side doesn't do you a great deal of good.
Also keep in mind that helicopters are highly susceptible to enemy air defense assets, and are by no means to be thought of as invincible flying machines of death and destruction. Keeping a helicopter alive in a hot environment, particularly a player-vs-player one, requires a great deal of skill, patience, and coordination between the crew members. Rambo helicopters will find themselves shot down in short order almost every single time. People who fly helicopters like they're jets will likewise find themselves being quickly shot down. Helo tactics and jet tactics are two entirely different beasts and must be treated as such.
Nap-Of-Earth (NOE) Flight
The altitude a helo can safely fly at will vary depending upon the terrain. Heavily wooded, rolling terrain allows for helos to fly higher due to the amount of terrain and vegetation that interferes with MANPAD systems (very low exposure times, lots of obstacles for firing a clean shot), whereas desert terrain or other fairly flat terrain can force lower flight altitudes.
Regardless of terrain type, nap-of-earth flight is an important technique to use to avoid enemy observation or engagement. NOE simply means that the helicopter is staying low and following the contours of the ground as it flies, as opposed to simply beelining across the sky without consideration for the terrain below.
A few guidelines for NOE flight follow.
Guidelines for NOE Flight
- Be vigilant in scanning for obstacles. The most common obstacles are poles, trees, and powerlines. At night, powerlines in particular become a greater threat due to the 'grain' and reduced clarity of vision brought on by nightvision.
- Know and consider the diameter of your rotor mast. If you need to go between two trees, for example, you must be able to visually determine if your rotors can fit through.
- Only fly as low as you need to. While flying a few meters off the ground is a good display of skill, oftentimes it puts your passengers at an unnecessary risk. Fly at the altitude that is necessary to accomplish the goal that NOE flight facilitates. NOE flight does not have to be "Hey guys, I just picked a flower off the ground!" altitude at all times.
Attack Helo Attack Types
There are several distinct attack types that can be utilized by helicopters. Each has a time and place where it can be used successfully, and being familiar with the different attack types allows for an aircrew to maximize survivability while fighting according to the enemy threat level.
A slashing attack is used when the pilot determines that he can fly over enemy territory without putting himself at unnecessary risk. This is typically when the enemy is known to have no serious anti-air equipment.
A slashing attack is simply a run where the helo flys in, fires ordnance, and then continues in the same direction and passes over or near the target before leaving the area.
Slashing attacks are typically done with FFARs or fixed-forward-firing cannons or guns.
Break-off attacks are used when there is a threat of enemy air defenses beyond or at target.
A break-off attack consists of the pilot lining up for an attack run, firing his ordnance, and then immediately breaking off so that he does not fly over or past the target. The distance at which the helo should break depends on the anticipated threat - bear in mind that the further away you break, the less likely enemy small-arms fire will be able to get you.
Break-off attacks are typically done with rockets.
Breaking to the left after firing a salvo of FFARs at an enemy position
Stand-off attacks are used when there is no significant threat of enemy return fire or anti-air defense and cannons or anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) need to be employed.
For a stand-off attack, the pilot brings the aircraft to a hover (or slow flight) out of effective small-arms range of the enemy. The gunner then proceeds to employ the aircraft cannon or guided missiles to strike enemy targets. During this, the pilot scans the area around the aircraft for any enemy infantry that may be on the ground.
If the threat of enemy anti-air is completely non-existent, the aircraft should hover at least 500 or more meters above the ground to reduce risk of enemy small-arms fire.
The aircraft should remain in a hover only as long as is necessary to employ ordnance. Once complete, the pilot should resume normal flight.
An AH9 engages a target area with miniguns from a stand-off position
A pop-up attack is a variation of the stand-off attack that is used when enemy anti-air threats are expected.
To employ a pop-up attack, the pilot must first move via a concealed or obscured approach to within effective weapon range of the target. He will then instruct the gunner that they are going to pop-up, and that the gunner needs to stand by with a specific weapon system (typically an ATGM). The helo then rises up just enough to clear the terrain feature, at which point the gunner acquires the target, fires his ordnance and tracks it until it impacts the target (if necessary), and then the pilot rapidly drops the helicopter back behind the cover afforded by the terrain.
When done correctly, pop-up attacks are extremely difficult to defend against.
Popping up from behind a ridge, this Blackfoot has just launched a ASRAAM at an enemy anti-aircraft vehicle
Transport Helo Insertion Types
Flying troops to a landing zone is only part of the problem. Once there, getting them safely on the ground can be a challenge all by itself. It is important that every helo pilot is familiar with the landing options available to him, and is able to pick the right one to suit the situation at hand.
A touchdown insertion is the most common type, used whenever possible. All that is required is a helicopter-sized patch of relatively level open ground to set down on. This type of landing is also used when extracting troops, for obvious reasons.
Touchdowns ensure that infantry are able to safely dismount without the injury that is possible when conducting hovering insertions.
Hover insertions have two primary uses. The first is when dropping troops on sloped terrain. In most cases, trying to land on sloped terrain is a recipe for disaster, so dropping your troops off from a hover is a great alternative to crashing and killing everyone.
The other use is any time that enemy return fire is a significant threat. In such a situation you want to minimize the amount of time that you're low, slow, and vulnerable to the enemy. Keeping your skids or wheels off the ground is one great way to accomplish this, as it allows you to more quickly get back into the air if things turn hot.
A safe altitude for dropping troops in a hover is below three meters. Anything more runs the risk of injuring the troops from the fall.
An MH-9 Hummingbird inserting troops onto a hillside by hovering with the fronts of the skids touching the ground
A moving insertion is a variation of the hover insertion that is done while the helo does not come to a complete standstill. This method is even more secure than the hover insertion, as the pilot is at less risk of being hit in the cockpit by enemy ground fire due to his constantly shifting position.
When doing a moving insertion, ensure that the aircraft stays under 30kph and is less than three meters off the deck. These are the thresholds for safe troop drops from a moving helo.
Rooftop insertions can be done either at a hover or by landing on the roof - it's up to the pilot to decide which method suits the situation best.
When doing a rooftop insertion, pay special attention to the rooftops of other nearby structures. If they are occupied, the insertion will likely need to be aborted due to the danger of being shot out of the sky. If the ground around the location is potentially hostile, attempt to land centered on the roof to present the smallest target to those at ground-level. If threats are expected primarily in one direction, land on the side of the roof furthest from that direction.
Bear in mind that the security of a rooftop insertion depends largely upon the surrounding terrain, the surrounding buildings, and the height of the building that is being inserted on relative to both the surround building heights and the surrounding terrain. For instance, trying to drop troops on a low house in hilly terrain that has enemy infantry likely positioned in the hills, or other locations that are higher in elevation than the roof, is a recipe for disaster. On the other hand, dropping a sniper team on a very tall building in relatively flat terrain is much more likely to be successful.
Anyone who has seen Blackhawk Down should be familiar with the concept of fastroping. While this capability does not exist with any of the default Arma 3 vehicles, it has historically been added shortly after release for each Arma game via a community addon.
Fastroping can be useful for inserting troops into an area where the helo cannot easily land - in Arma terms, this typically means thick forests, steep mountainsides, or sharp ridges. While the altitude of the helo makes it more vulnerable to enemy fire, it also allows for the doorgunners to fire without risk of hitting the disembarking troops.
Very careful consideration must be made as to whether a fastrope insertion is necessary. While they look cool, they are quite dangerous to employ due to the time required as well as the vulnerable altitude of the aircraft required.
A pinnacle landing is a method by which a helicopter can deploy or pick up troops from terrain that it could not properly land on. This is often seen with large aircraft like CH-47 Chinooks, where the aircraft lowers its ramp and backs up against a slope such that troops can enter or leave it without the helo actually setting fully down. Pinnacle landings require good coordination between the helo's crew chiefs and pilot.
Helicopter Damage Model
Due to the altitude they operate at, helicopters are apt to get shot up. Being familiar with the types of damage that can be sustained can help to prepare a helo crew for what to do when they take heavy fire, allowing them to react appropriately even when the situation is tense and every second counts.
Arma 3 utilizes a damage indication HUD element to convey information about the status of various components of the aircraft. This damage indicator is in the upper-left of the HUD and is broken down into five sections - ATRQ, MROT, ENG, HULL, and INST. They start off white - indicating working systems - and shade from yellow to orange to red to indicate damage and, eventually, destruction. The indicators themselves are as follows.
- ATRQ - Anti-Torque Rotor. Also known as the tail rotor. Red means the tailrotor is completely destroyed, while shades of yellow and orange indicate reduced capacity. Any damage to the tail rotor will cause the aircraft to turn in the direction of the main rotor's rotation.
- MROT - Main Rotor. If this is gone, you should make your peace with whatever higher power you believe in. The main rotor can completely disintegrate if it hits a solid object such as a tree, building, light pole, etc. Once gone, the helicopter simply falls out of the sky.
- ENG - Engine. When the engine is destroyed, the aircraft will lose power, requiring an autorotation procedure to be initiated for a chance at landing.
- HULL - The integrity of the aircraft's structure. When heavily damaged, the aircraft will explode.
- INST - Instruments. Once destroyed, you'll notice that some cockpit instrument panels become shattered, and any electronic HUD element may begin to flicker. Out of all of the damage possibilities, this is typically the least threatening.
Tail Rotor Failure
Bullets impacting the tail rotor, or explosions near it, can damage the tail rotor or outright destroy it. The tail rotor is responsible for counteracting the torque produced by the main rotor in a single-rotor helicopter design - when absent or damaged, the helicopter will rotate in the direction of the main rotor's rotation thanks to this torque effect. Damage or loss of a tail rotor can be a very serious situation for pilots and must be understood in order to survive such an eventuality.
Recovery at Speed
If at high speed and the tail rotor is damaged or destroyed, the helicopter will not visible react. You'll know you're damaged by looking at the damage indicator on the HUD - if you're unsure about the level of damage and are flying with other aircraft, a visual inspection of your tail by another aircraft can be requested. They'll be able to see if the rotor is spinning slowly (damaged) or stopped (destroyed).
At low speed, the helicopter will begin to yaw to one side as the tail rotor blades spin down. There are a few critical moments at the beginning of the process that should be used to get the helo down on the deck as quickly as possible, before the full spin begins. Once the full spin begins, having something like a TrackIR is of great use due to the fact that you'll want to be spending a great amount of concentration on both controlling your flight and scanning the terrain (while spinning heavily) for any safe area that you can set the helo down on.
If using an analog rudder control such as rudder pedals, tail rotor damage can be mitigated somewhat by using opposite rudder relative to the direction of torque. Bear in mind that the torque of the main rotor will reduce when collective is dropped and rise when collective is raised - when you are fully down-collective, the helicopter will no longer spin due to lack of tail rotor, while full up-collective will cause the hardest spinning to occur. Lowering collective prior to touchdown helps to reduce the chances of a fatal spin at low altitude.
Weathervaning & Low-Altitude / Low-Speed Recovery
Alternatively, a helo at low-speed can try to gain speed until the effects of the tail rotor (or lack thereof) are nullified by the higher speed. This is known as the 'weathervane' effect - the aircraft will stabilize into the direction of the airflow, rendering the tail rotor less influential at higher speeds. This will temporarily remove the issue; however, you will still need to set down eventually, and at that point you'll have to fight with the spinning at low speeds. Also bear in mind that a hit that is powerful enough to cause tail rotor failure will also often cause a fuel leak.
In the event that you have tail rotor failure at low speed, the best procedure is to gain altitude to at least 150 meters, then lower collective fully. Lowering the collective reduces the main rotor's torque effect, causing the helicopter to not need anti-torque influence to stay steady - in effect, this makes the damaged or destroyed tail rotor a temporary non-factor. While down collective is held, your aircraft will be descending - as it does, it will stabilize and stop spinning. At this point, pitch forward until you gain enough forward speed to "weathervane". You will end up in controlled forward flight, and the lack of a tail rotor will not affect you until you once again slow down.
Reacting to tail rotor failure is something that needs to be practiced in a non-combat situation many times before it becomes second-nature.
Missing something? This AH-9's tail rotor has been completely torn off
Engine failure & Autorotation
The worst thing that can happen to a helo, aside from outright being destroyed, is for it to have an engine failure. Some mods (realistically) do not allow for the pilot/crew to bail out with a parachute, meaning that the only way to survive an engine failure is to get on the ground as quickly as possible without killing yourself and everyone else in the process.
To accomplish a safe landing in a helo that has lost it's engine requires that you be familiar with the concept of autorotation, and are able to carry out the required actions with split-second notice and timing.
Surviving an Engine Failure via Autorotation
- When the engine fails, an alarm will sound and the rotors will begin to spin down. You cannot let them spin down, else you'll crash and burn hard.
- Immediately press and hold your "Thrust Down" key to keep the blades spinning and begin a descent, bringing your aircraft nose level at the same time. If you take too long, the blades will rapidly come to a halt and you'll be headed for a nasty crash. Keeping the nose more or less level is essential - if you pitch too far down, the helicopter will go out of control and crash.
- Scan your immediate area for a safe place to land - due to the lack of warning beforehand, you may be faced with some pretty tough landing spots.
- Identify the best landing spot and head for it while keeping your "Thrust Down" key depressed. You can use slight pitch adjustments to manage your speed - you'll want to slow down to <50kph for landing.
- When 30-50 meters above the ground, level your aircraft and press the "Thrust Up" key. If done right, the last bits of energy stored in the spinning rotors will reduce your downward velocity to something survivable. If timed wrong, you'll stall out too high off the ground and then crash and burn.
Like everything else concerning helos, autorotation is a skill that must be practiced extensively in advance.
Note that due to current flight model limitations, you will be unable to attempt an autorotation if the helicopter is moving at a very high forward speed at the time of engine failure. In such a case, the helo will nose down, become unresponsive, and spread bits and pieces of your body all over the terrain at the site of the crash. At most speeds below the aircraft's maximum, autorotation should be an achievable goal.
Types of Fixed-Wing Aircraft
Fixed-wing aircraft can be broken into several main groups for the purposes of Arma, though some of them have little relevance to the game and will not be seen with any frequency. The main groups are CAS, Air Superiority, Bomber, and Transport.
Close Air Support
These are the most relevant to the Arma experience. CAS aircraft are specialized at ground attack and are designed to provide excellent close support to infantry.
The F-35 is a multi-role aircraft capable of acting either in the close air support or air superiority role, part of the All in Arma mod
You will see these less frequently than pure CAS aircraft. Air superiority fighters can be multi-role, able to hit either ground targets or air targets with effectiveness. They tend to be faster than other aircraft.
The VTOL (Vertical Take-Off/Landing) F-35 doing a vertical landing post-mission, part of the All in Arma mod
Very rare in the Arma series, though they do show up at some points. Bombers can obliterate large swaths of ground with massive payloads. They fly in, drop their bombs, potentially kill a huge number of the enemy, and are gone. These will rarely be able to provide effective CAS in the way that a dedicated attack aircraft can. However, if you'd like to flatten a small village, they will come in handy!
Transport aircraft like the C-130 generally show up when employing paratrooper units. They are unarmed and vulnerable but can deliver a large number of airborne soldiers into the action in short order.
A C-192 Samson cargo plane
Fixed-Wing Aircraft Crew Roles
The fixed-wing pilot is the standard in most of the jet aircraft we will see in Arma. He does everything in his aircraft - navigates, communicates and coordinates with ground forces, employs his weapons in support of ground forces, and so on and so forth.
An F-35 pilot scans the ground as he orbits, part of the All in Arma mod
The copilot/gunner of a fixed-wing aircraft deals primarily with weapons employment, navigation, and communication with ground elements. These are fairly rare - only the Su-34 in Arma 2 even had one by default. Basically, he allows the pilot to concentrate fully on flying the craft without interruption.
Attack Aircraft Attack Types
Fixed-Wing attack types share some similarities with their rotary-wing counterparts, but due to the speed at which the aircraft moves and the differences of FW flight compared to RW flight, they are distinctly different attack types that must be mastered separately.
A fixed-wing break-off attack is used to avoid flying over a danger area. Because of the speed at which a plane moves, break-off attacks typically are used when firing air-to-ground (AGM) missiles. The aircraft can fire the missile from extended ranges and break well before coming into effective range of the enemy air defenses.
A diving attack is the preferred method for delivering rockets, laser-guided bombs, cannon fire, and 'dumb' bombs/munitions. This is because the "long axis" of the ordnance delivery becomes shortened when coming in at a dive, and thus ordnance tends to land closer together and human error (ie: timing of a bomb drop) is minimized.
When conducting a dive attack, two methods can be used during the approach. The first is a high-altitude run-in, followed by a dive onto the target and ordnance delivery.
The second method is a low-altitude approach, using terrain to mask the aircraft, before pulling up into a steep climb followed by a dive and ordnance delivery on target. This is known as a "Pop-Up" attack.
Note that when it comes to dive attacks, the steeper the dive is, the more accurate the ordnance delivery will be - to an extent. The reverse of that is that the steeper the dive is, the faster you are likely to close on the target, and the harder it will be to acquire/align/fire/pull out. Finding a good balance between dive angle, aircraft speed, and other delivery considerations is key to mastering the dive attack.
Note also that the higher that laser-guided bombs can be dropped, the more time they will have to adjust their flight and zero in on the laser designation. With cannon fire, the further away it is initiated, the more 'spread' there will be to the impact area, and the more damaging it will likely become.
The most basic fixed-wing attack run is a slashing attack or strafing run. In this attack, the aircraft flies in, fires cannons, FFARs, or other munitions and then flies over and past the target.
Slashing attacks typically are done at a shallow dive or during level flight (depending on the target being attacked, the terrain it is on, etc). The pilot should maneuver his aircraft in an evasive fashion up until the last possible moment, as this gives the enemy less time to settle their sights on his aircraft. Direct attacks against anti-aircraft artillery such as Shilkas are done in an undulating pattern where the attacking aircraft pitches up and down, firing each time his weapons are aligned with the target, with the rest of the time acting to throw the Shilka's aim off.
An F-35 making a cannon run on enemy infantry positions, part of the All in Arma mod
Fixed Wing Aircraft Damage Model
Exploding into flames
There really isn't much to say about the damage model for fixed-wing aircraft. Aside from fuel leaks, there's not much that happens - typically you're either ok, or you're dead. You may have a small window in which to eject from the aircraft in some situations, though.
Chute deploying after bailing from an F-35, part of the All in Arma mod