Before I developed my deep love of ground attack and close air support, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. When the F-22 Raptor was still a concept plane (i.e. YF-22 Lightning III), it was added to a few sims. It had capabilities that can only be described as “badass.” Some of these turned out to be reality, some less so. It was (and is) an “air supremacy” fighter.

Air Superiority means that when an infantryman looks up and sees an airplane, there is a greater than 50% chance it is friendly. In the early ’90’s the U.S. abandoned trying to obtain air superiority in favor of Air Supremacy. Once accomplished, this means that if a member of the U.S. ground-forces looks up and sees an airplane, it is flown by a pilot on the same team as him. The F-22 was designed to make that happen.

Jane’s ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) had an add-on which added the F-22 to its stock of available AI airplanes. Another patch, let you fly anything that was in the game. I and a wingman, “Valor”, fell in love with the fighter and its 1,100 knot cruising speed. The integral stealth capabilities made the “Lightning III” invisible to enemy forces until you opened the weapon bays. Open – shoot – close, we might as well have been wraiths demolishing enemy planes before they ever knew they were in a fight. The first time I ever saw an enemy airplane run away without being damaged was in Jane’s ATF. His wingman exploded and the MiG-21 turned 180 degrees and pushed his max speed to get away — that didn’t save him.

The first year the F-22 made an appearance at Red Flag, it won a 1-v-6 dogfight against F-15Cs. Apparently, the sixth F-15 pilot managed to get a warning indication before he was shot down. Frankly, I think his five wing-mates being shot down should have been adequate warning of the danger.

Unmatched by anything AI-driven in the sky, Valor and I decided to try a head-to-head fight. We each loaded up an F-22 with our own mix of munitions and took off from separate air bases to meet in the middle.

We both open with an AIM-120 AMRAAMs at 50 miles and 35,000 feet ASL. I close up our weapon bay and break hard popping flares and chaff (I have them set to always launch together so I don’t have to worry about what countermeasure to use). Leaving a vortex of air filled with stuff pretending to be an airplane, we luck out. Valor’s missile misses us.

I pull back around and see he’s launched another. I keep rolling, inverted and drop a few thousand feet of altitude with another cloud of countermeasures where we used to be. We’re too far out, and the missile looks like it’s correcting. I turn us right side up, activate the afterburners and pull straight at the missile. At the last moment, I pull us straight up with another burst of countermeasures. The AIM-120 is nimble but not nimble enough; it can’t turn tight enough to stay on our nearly mach-3 climb.

Valor is moving slower than I’d have expected, but he’s closed the range to about 20 miles. I give him our other AMRAAM and a little surprise. Jane’s included a concept missile that delivered a small electro-magnetic pulse (EMP). It would temporarily shut off all the electronics of an aircraft — with a pop everything would go dark for a few seconds. In the wrong envelope it was fatal — you’d hit the ground before you could recover. It was also good for turning an expensive glass-cockpit fighter into a dumb, unguided target. My hope is that he won’t be able to dodge both.

Instead of a radio, Valor an I are actually on the phone with each other. I use a headset, and he has me on speaker. We’re both very good about keeping our mouths shut with open mics. Through the phone I hear a pop and an electronic whine. The EMP hit him. “What the…” he says, “what was that?”

“EMP missile. Don’t worry it can’t kill your airplane by itself.”

“It shut everything off.”


He’s falling out of the sky, which actually makes lining up on him difficult. We blow past around 2,000 knots closing speed. I yank over hard and bleed a bunch of speed trying to spin us around before he gets control of his plane again. Between his stealth capabilities and the ground, I can’t get a missile lock fast enough to make a difference. We manage to get lined up and just inside 1.5nm — cannon range.

I squeeze the trigger, sending a few hundred rounds his way. He recovers and pulls up. I see a few tracers pass through him, but he has control again. We’re under 5,000ft AGL. Not exactly the place you want to gunfight in an F-22, but we also don’t have a choice. We still have one EMP and two AIM-9x sidewinders on board. We’re too close for the EMP, it will affect us, too. Under 2 miles is the realm of the AIM-9’s heat-seeking warhead. The narrow, vectored thrust nozzle of the F-22 is hot, but it is small, making it a tough lock for the venerable missile.

We were moving way too fast to catch him in that dive. We level out and start a turn at around 500 AGL. By pulling up out of his dive, Valor has performed a loop and we’re aimed nose to nose at 3 miles. We both pop an AIM-9. I also send the second one.

His loses us in the ground clutter; it flies wide and impacts a tree to our right. Our first one detonates on one of the 2.6 million flares he dropped. The second one whizzes by his exhaust but fails to proximity detonate.

I close up the weapon bays and stay low. Assuming he loaded to the gills, he’s still got 3 missiles left. We still have an EMP, but the kill is going to have to be with the gun.

He doesn’t turn in right away. He’s trying to open up the fight to use an AIM-120 or something. We turn and follow. I keep us low to gain speed. He realizes this and turns left as tight as he can. I raise the nose and try to send a burst of cannon rounds through his big profile. His nose comes around just enough and a missile launches. I drop our nose, taking the gun off target, as his AIM-9 screams past the canopy and hits the ground behind us.

200 AGL, I reverse the turn to get nose on again, and he pops an AIM-120 at us. It’s almost dead on, but the good news is we’re too close. The AMRAAM locks but doesn’t turn tight enough to hit us. It does, however do an almost complete U-Turn. You see it in movies a lot, but real missiles only get one pass — many have “oops I missed, guess I’ll explode now and get him with some shrapnel” detonators. Its U-Turn is only almost complete because it hits a convenient hill top.

The F-22 really isn’t intended to use attack helicopter tactics. The time to die in a plane doing twice the speed of sound under a thousand feet AGL in a mountain range is negative three seconds. If something goes bad, you’ll have died three seconds before you realize you need to make a correction. That’s not to say being aware that rocks disrupt radar and work great as shields against missiles isn’t a good thing to know.

I bring us around the mountain and see Valor heading for the roof. If he gets range and altitude on us, his remaining AMRAAM is going to be a lot deadlier. I firewall the throttles, kick in the afterburners, and try to close the gap. Around 50,000 feet, I squeeze off another cannon burst. None of it hits. He breaks right. We overshoot. Rather than follow into a death spiral, I pull us left.

Still climbing, the pair of F-22’s draw a giant figure eight. We get nose-to-nose and squeeze off some cannon rounds. The circle gets big enough, we launch our EMP, and he launches his last AIM-120. I empty our countermeasures pod. Amazingly, the AMRAAM misses, and I hear the pop of his electronics over the phone.

“Damn it! How many of those things do you have?”

Unfortunately, he was climbing through 75,000 feet when he lost control this time, so he keeps climbing. I manage to line us up and empty the cannon at him, but it’s too high, too fast, and too wobbly. I don’t know how bad off he is, but we’re empty.

I know he’s out of missiles. So are we. Our cannon is empty. He hasn’t fired his — at all. We come up on 89,000 feet ASL. To win, he’s going to have to come in close and straight on. I develop an insane plan. He regains control of his plane, and I turn us straight at him. Nose-to-nose from five miles away, I line up straight on. He won’t get a better cannon shot, perfectly straight, level, and directly in front of him.

3 miles … 2 miles … 1 mile. He hasn’t fired yet. It’s gotta be 3,500 knots closing speed, so I don’t wait for the number to get smaller. I hit [Ctrl] + [e] … .75 miles … [Ctrl] + [e] … Valor’s canopy pops off and he is launched from his F-22 on his rocket-powered ejection seat. I hit [Ctrl] + [e] a third time and am shot out of our airplane as well.

The F-22s collide under us and explode. Our parachutes open around 90,000 feet. Valor bursts into laughter on the phone. Our two pilot avatars are about 500 yards apart, quietly parachuting down from the dull edge of space. This was simulated 15 years before Felix Baumgartner actually parachuted from that altitude. Neither of us exits the mission, just watching and giggling at how evenly we are matched. Turns out he never fired his cannon because we damaged it with our first shot.

“If I’m still conscious when we get to 30,000 feet, I’m drawing my sidearm.”

“That’s fine. I’m going to wait until 20,000 and use the carbine in my survival kit.”

“Doesn’t that have to be assembled first?”

We just passed through 68,000. I have time.

Sim: Jane’s ATF
Region: Latvia
Base: Something fictional
Aircraft: a wildly over capable F-22 Lightning III