"Never break your
formation into less than two-ship elements. Stay in pairs. A man by himself is a
liability, a two-ship team is an asset. If you are separated, join up immediately with
other friendly airplanes." Major Thomas B. McGuire, USAAF
Two planes are always better than one - but to
maximize their effectiveness, the two-ship flight needs to employ effective wing tactics.
The subject of wing tactics is a lengthy one and beyond the scope of this article; for the
basics, I recommend Shaw's book, Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering,
chapters 5 and 6.
This article assumes you have some knowledge
of wing tactics, and is intended to make a case for use of the "loose deuce"
style of winging together over the more traditional "welded wing" formation.
Fighting Wing Doctrine vs. Double Attack Doctrine
When many people think of a wingman, they are thinking in terms of what Shaw calls the
"fighting wing" doctrine. Fighting wing doctrine, also called "welded
wing", can be summarized as follows. The section consists of a leader and a wingman.
The leader is the primary offensive unit of the section and is the one doing all the
attacking. It is the wingman's job to stay with the leader, and protect him by preventing
bandits from saddling up on him while he's fighting. The leader does almost all of the
fighting, and the wingman simply tries to stays with him.
Fighting wing tactics have been used since World War II, and are still in use today. There
are some obvious benefits to them, not the least of which is that it is easier for a new
pilot to learn by following a leader rather than engaging bandits on his own. However, as
anyone who has tried this in WarBirds can attest, it has some obvious disadvantages too.
And in WarBirds, some of those disadvantages are magnified due to our restricted
In contrast with the fighting wing doctrine is another system, which Shaw calls the
"double attack" doctrine. This is basically a system whereby each of the two
section members provides support to the other, but neither are bound into the
leader/follower paradigm. They are both offensive units, and both are generally free to
maneuver as the circumstances demand, each covering the other. This does not mean that the
section disintegrates upon contact with the enemy - its stays together, but in a looser
fashion than welded wing would dictate, and the role of primary attacker and supporter may
change back and forth, depending upon who has the best shot. This is sometimes called
The Thach Weave, a maneuver developed by Jimmy Thach to allow Wildcats to defeat Zeros,
employs the double attack doctrine. Using the double attack doctrine, tactics such as
splits, brackets, and sandwiches are possible. Instead of an attacker and a wingman, the
bandit is faced with two fighters, both trying to kill him. A single bandit faced with two
attackers who have bracketed him is presented with an almost insurmountable problem.
Loose Deuce In Practice
You can see loose deuce working in the general arenas. When it's not Squad Night and there
are no other Squad members around, we usually think of ourselves as flying alone. But in a
certain real sense, we are not alone at all, we are all flying with wingmen - the other
friendlies in icon range.
Most of us prefer to fly where there are at least a few other friends. If you do the same
thing, then you're using loose deuce wingman tactics right now, whether you know it or
not. You watch others get engaged, and if they get in trouble, you can often help them by
swooping down and nailing the bandit. You can nail bandits which they are dragging. In the
arena, I try to stay aware of the locations of friendlies in case I need to drag to them,
and it works almost every time. Not because they're my wingmen assigned to protect me, but
because if I do it right, I offer them a nice, easy kill. I'm sure you've all had the same
experience - of flying around a crowd that provides mutual support. That's basically what
loose deuce is - only when you are doing it with a dedicated wingman, it is even more
effective than the impromptu wingmen you get in the arena.
Be In A Different Tactical Situation Than Your
What makes loose deuce work well is that your wingman can and should be in a different
tactical situation than the one in which you find yourself.
Say you have a bandit on your six that you
cannot shake, and you need your wingman to clear you. If he's in welded wing formation
with you, he's in exactly the same tactical situation you are in - there's a bandit behind
you both. But, if he is flying loose deuce, and is D20 or more away from you, he's in a
completely different tactical situation. He is not being pursued by your bandit, and since
he's not in the middle of a fight, he probably has more energy. Thus, he can provide
effective assistance, and the bandit now has to deal with two planes in different tactical
Basically, I figure I need to be able to get
to my wingman in about 10-20 seconds, and vice versa. Neither he nor I should get
ourselves into trouble that we can't survive for at least 20 seconds. This allows us to be
separated by a fair distance (not beyond visual range), so that we're in different
Here's an example of this which you see over and over again. Your wingman commits to a
fight, down low. What do you do?
If you follow him down too, you're not doing him any favors. Why? Because now you have
both surrendered your altitude. Instead of maintaining a position from which you can
protect him, you are now in exactly the same tactical situation he's in - low and engaged.
So, what to do? In this situation, I remain high, and try to keep an eye on my partner. I
try to keep him no further than D30, but I don't get as close as D10 unless he's climbing
back out of the fight. Here's why - his biggest danger when he is booming down on a bandit
is not his target, it's someone else charging in from on high that he doesn't see and
can't defend against. That's where I come in - I go after that guy, and make him break off
or kill him. My wingman shouldn't need immediate help with the bandit he's attacking,
since by definition he's in an advantaged situation and can disengage if he wants to
(let's assume your wingman does not attack from a disadvantaged situation). But, even if
he blows his bounce and then gets into trouble, he can always drag and I can clear him. If
he gets the kill or breaks off, I can cover him as he regains altitude. Finally, if he
runs the bandit out of energy without getting that killing shot, I've still got plenty of
energy and position, and I can drop down and finish him off.
I think you need D10-20 of separation - and at times more - in order to be able to see
what's happening, and to be in a different tactical situation than your wingman. This is
made much easier if you fly a loose deuce formation rather than welded wing.
The Best Reason To Fly Loose Deuce
The best reason why loose deuce is a superior formation in WarBirds is not a tactical
reason, but an emotional one.
Let's face it - no one wants to be the wingman in a fighting wing arrangement. You didn't
go up to watch your wing leader get kills and act as a bullet shield from bandits on your
collective six. You want to get some of your own. Loose deuce allows both members of the
section to act offensively and to come home with their fair share of kills - and I can't
think of a better reason for flying loose deuce than that.
*Note: those who are familiar with Shaw's work may point out that
"loose deuce" is actually a subset of the pure double attack doctrine. In pure
double attack, the pilot who initially engaged the bandit is expected to get the kill,
while the wingman covers him from an appropriate distance. Depending upon the
circumstances, the two planes may switch roles during the attack, but basically, only one
plane attacks at a time. Loose deuce is a little different in that the wingman is expected
to attack too, and as often as not it is the wingman that gets the killing shot. The
leader engages the bandit, thus forcing the bandit to go defensive, and while the bandit
is trying to avoid the leader and bleeding his speed off, the wingman will get a shot. I
think loose deuce more properly describes what we're doing in WarBirds most of the time,
and for purposes of this article, I don't make such fine distinctions.