PlanetSide 2

PlanetSide 2

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ESF Top Gun Guide (How to ESF)
By Hader
Do you aspire to be the Maverick or Iceman of Planetside 2? Come here to learn anything and everything you need to know about flying ESFs in Planetside 2, material for beginners looking to be anything from career pilots to those just wanting to hone their skills a bit to not crash and burn every few seconds.

 
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Introduction - What is this guide and who is it for?
Simply put, for those that wish to improve their flying abilities ingame with ESFs. Some concepts will apply to Libs and Gals as well, but I'm focusing solely on ESFs here.

There will be two goals for this guide, or rather, two target audiences. Those wishing to be career, or at least predominantly, ESF pilots; and those wishing to get better at flying ESFs but not have it be their sole focus ingame. Each section will touch on a certain topic and most of the time indirectly show how each type of player should approach it based on these two main archetypes, though it is up to you the reader to take the information here and apply it to what you want to actually go for ingame.

So, let's start with helping you figure that out: Are you here to be a career or pilot main, or just for some help to git gud enuf in the air to not suck all the time?

Perhaps you even lie in between, but for the most part, I will focus on just these two main archetypes that I have seen since the beginning. Through the many questions I and many other career pilots I know have received, these are definitely the two main groups anyways. Figure out where you fall and pay attention to that at the very least, though I will always recommened reading, learning and understanding all material beyond this regardless of your specific goals. At the same time though, this guide is also meant to be the one-stop-shop for all ESF questions, so feel free to look for specific answers anywhere in the guide.

My own small disclaimer: I have a habit of writing a lot. I realize this can be off putting, especially in a guide, and I intend to cut back some parts of this in due time. But for the most part, I go into depth here quite intentionally, because I feel it necessary. Whenever I have helped people to learn anything about ESFs, those that really do want to learn often have many, many questions and it can become a long ordeal. I am fine with that, but I feel going into the depth I do in this guide is justified, much as it can seem I am drolling on and repeating key points. If flying was easy, none of the aces of today would have to put so many hours into getting where they are.

That said, I have divided the guide into the most concise sections I feel appropriate, so please utilize that to navigate to areas you wish to and to skip anything you have no desire to go over. My intent is to have everything here you could possibly want or need to learn to fly, and I will make it as easy as I can for you to find it, but it is still up to you to find that and apply that.
Why should I learn to fly?
A question asked, in one interation or another, time and time again. Why should I bother? Why should it be important to me? What's the point? How can I possibly get better at flying?

The short answer is - and this honestly applies to any aspect of the game really - is that it's fun. There is definitely a certain degree to which you have to want to learn to and be able to fly. If you don't want it, whether to a degree just to kill a planetmans or two and then crash into the mountain or you want to be the next Maverick, then it isn't going to work out in the end.

Now the more in depth answer? Flying ESFs (but to the same degree libs and arguably gals as well) is the highest risk-reward aspect of Planetside 2. The path towards becoming a decent pilot is long and hard, filled with tons of deaths and frustrating moments only sprinkled with moments of your improvement really shining through. Going further than that only yields more of those great moments though, and you can really look back to when and where you started as a pilot and see just what a journey it was. And even as a top tier ace, you still die plenty and always dogfight someone who can do better than you, so you can never truly stop improving.

While this can still be said of any aspect of the game still, it is multiplied tenfold for pilots because it is simply a more complicated, more risky thing to specialize flying ESFs, not to mention expensive in time and certs and patience. You'll realize this is more fun due to the fact that PS2's flight system is...well, unrealistic really, when put in perspective, but that doesn't mean it detracts from the fun at all. In fact, it only amplifies it. I've personally loved planes and flight sims for most all of my life, and despite PS2 being far from realistic physics and flight mechanics it has kept my attention for flying ESFs since launch, and is the only reason I even come back to it after any periods of minor burnout or being too busy to play as much.

Aside from attaining the same level of proficiency in a liberator, nothing will compare to the complex yet rewarding life of a fighter pilot in Planetside 2. But you really have to be in it for the long run, becoming proficient at flying your ESF does not make you an ace, and regardless of how you measure your success or skill with your ESF, it will take a long time. Hundreds of hours in just your plane. You won't git gud any other way. Hell, even hackers have easily been stomped by those that have taken the time and put in the effort to git gud, because no hacks can really teach you how to fly right and well.

So what to take away from this? Want it, committ to it, and prepare for a long, long journey.
About the author
Just some dude who loves flying his Mossie really. But, while I hate tooting my own horn, I guess at least some background is in order to lend some credence to the advice here and not make it seem like mumbo jumbo ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥t from some rando.

I'm Hader, and I fly my Mossie for the TR on Emerald server (formally Waterson server). I was drawn to the game for flying alone really, and stayed for that and eventually the many friends I made through the game.

I'm a faction loyalist and will play TR only forever and fly my Mossie only forever. The only exceptions to this have been air practices with other pilots or matches where I had no control over faction choice (like ServerSmash). While I will have the best advice on Mosquito related things, pretty much everything can still apply to all ESFs pretty equally anyways.

Anyways, I rolled with NUC in the early PS2 days. If you know the tag you probably don't need explanation about them, but the short of it was that NUC was the TR outfit on my server that went above and beyond for competitive eSports/MLG play. I didn't at first care for that but eventually after some time they swallowed up enough pilot friends of mine that they wanted to drag me in as well and we all got to flying together as an unstoppable air force for the TR. Or at least, its very best aces of the TR always flying together. forming the (in)famous Bravo Squad of NUC. While the eSports scene really went nowhere (disappointing how that happened, but still kinda glad for that really), NUC pretty much had the best TR pilots of all time, and I was proud to have played with them in competitions and just casual live play.


After NUC fell through though, I eventually created my own fighter squadron outfit GALM. Props if you get the reference. In any case, I have led and been a part of this small fighter outfit ever since. While I still am a TR loyalist and only fly my Mossie, I have many pilots buds made over time or old NUC contacts/rivalries, so I know most of those good pilots fairly well. Hopefully they won't give me too much crap for this, but it's fine either way, they're all shitters in the end.

As much as I would covet the title, I still wouldn't call myself an ace, but I would call myself a dedicated career pilot and still a diehard TR loyalist. My only claim to fame I will make is that I am the first to get Auraxium medals on all my Mossie weapons in the world. So, that's cool I guess (not really tomcats gave me cancer). Oh, and while their last nerf has me using them a bit less, I do have a thing for hornets...

Outside of PS2 though, I have played many flight sims and in general just loved planes my whole life. I'm actually in the U.S. Air Force as well, and work with F-16s and their pilots regularly, though I don't fly them...yet.
Foreword: PS2 Flight Mechanics
If you have at all by now played around with any of the aircraft ingame, you will have noticed, even without any real prior flight sim or arcade flying game experience, that flying mechanics and physics here are a bit...off. The planes themselves are also a bit unrealistic, especially for fighter planes supposedly in the future, they seem pretty♥♥♥♥♥♥compared to even modern fighter jets.

Despite this though, the flight model overall is still fun and more than workable with the rest of the game. You will however have to unlearn anything you thought about flying coming into this game as it may have pertained to realistic or modern flight mechanics or fighter jets or what have you. Many principles that apply to real world flight and physics won't apply here. Some still will, but more so in the concepts and principles of dogfighting, and not in the realm of Newton. So keep that in mind as you progress.
Step 1: Choosing your plane

Actually not even the most necessary thing to do, but you'll start here regardless. Before I settled on the TR and Mosquito, I tried all 3 factions fighters to find which I liked best. Regardless of if you don't already know what you want to do, or you wish to use all 3 of them with no real faction or plane loyalty, figure out where you will start. I know it will sound bias coming from me, but the Mosquito may be the easier one to learn on (in terms of learning basic concepts before you throw yourself into combat), followed closely by the Reaver. The Scythe isn't really bad in this aspect, but its lack of moving thrusters complicates learning hover mode stuff for you nuggets.

The above and side pictures are a bit old now, but still relevant in a way. Take it with a grain of salt though, because while the differences in aircraft profiles is a factor in combat, it also isn't as big a deal as you may think it is. The Scythe for instance may have the slimmer front profile, which does give it a bit of an advantage in duels...but only if the pilot can exploit that, and if his opponent isn't good enough at aiming to overcome that. In any case, if you haven't already decided what you wish to fly primarily, I wouldn't make your decision based on profiles and sizes, once you have flown enough the differences are so minor it barely matters.

Once you have chosen, go to the VR room and spawn an ESF with nothing but fuel tanks and a nosegun for now. We'll go over setups much later, first you must learn to control this beast.
Step 2: Learn and set your Controls
EQUIPMENT

First things first here - Planetside 2 has a weird as hell flight setup. I come from a background of other flight sims and arcade flight games and PS2 is still the most out there in terms of mechanics and controls. I loved using joysticks for flying in other games, but for PS2 mouse+keyboard is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. You may try joysticks or controllers at your leisure but I do not recommend them and honestly you will probably never be the best you can be with those. Sad but true.

Having a gaming mouse with thumb buttons is also highly recommended, though not entirely necessary. We'll go over why soon.

Making sure your audio is also tuned for directional audio is also helpful. Being able to hear what direction a plane is coming from should be an obvious advantage.

CONTROLS

Take a look at the default controls for aircraft ingame and understand what everything does. I'm going to assume you know most of the terminology here and how it applies, except for maybe just one: Analog Throttle. We'll get to that in a sec.

  • 1. If you have a mouse with thumb buttons, make a second bind for two of them to be Pitch Up and Pitch Down. The reason behind this is that while moving your mouse on the mousepad will indeed pitch your aircraft in that direction, that's a lot of hand and wrist movement to achieve what will usually never be FULL speed pitch. And there will be times where you need to turn as fast as possible. Binding these easy to reach buttons to that means you can press them with little effort and achieve maximum pitch speed instantly, and not have to work up to it moving your mouse around a whole lot and making things difficult and awkward. If you don't have thumb buttons, you can still get by with higher mouse sensitivity or some other keyboard binding more easily accessible than Arrow Up/Down, but the thumb buttons on a mouse have undoubtedly been the best for this.

  • 2. Rebind your Eject/Exit Aircraft key from "E" to something farther away. Mine is bound to "U". "E" is quite close to "R" for Reload and "W" for acceleration, and accidently hitting it at the wrong time will make you look stupid. You won't be getting out of your ESF often (unless you're a ♥♥♥♥♥ and bailout a lot >_>) but I have had mine bound to U since the beginning and have had maybe 3 accidental bailouts in my lifetime. It isn't so bad to have it there when you do want to exit, you'll get used to it.

    On a side note, you can also rebind "E" to cockpit freelook, so that if you accidentally hit it nothing happens still (at least nothing bad) but allows you to still use the easily accessible key for something useful.

  • 3. Okay, that Analog Throttle thing. Useful on joysticks mainly, but on keyboard just as useful actually. I suggest binding this to "F", which is my bind, but anything about as easily accessible will do. What this will do now is something very simple and important, the importance of which will get explanation later, but for now know that this key will essentially act as your airbrake to bring you to a stop as quickly as your plane can manage and then help you get into hover mode more asily from there. Again, more detail on that later. For now, just have it bound and remember it exists.

    ADDITIONAL READING ON ANALOG THROTTLE: https://learn2flyesf.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/on-using-the-throttle-analog-key-for-reverse-thrusting/

  • 4. I have activate utility set to "X", which I think is default or at least used to be, but in any case if it was "F" by default and you did analog throttle for that, be sure to have some other easily accessible key like this bound for your utility.

  • 5. You will have to toy around with this to find the right spot for your, but your mouse sensitivity is another important thing to setup here, or at least start figuring out where you want it. Personally, I prefer a pretty low sensitivity and low DPI on my mouse, but I can change my DPI if needed on my mouse with one button (though I almost never need to when flying). Reason for the low sensitivity is it is much easier to make fine aim adjustment on lower settings, and I can use those bound pitch keys for the faster movements needed in combat.

  • 6. A note on Yaw and Roll: I do hear many people complain that they cannot rebind Yaw to their mouse movement and have to use A/D instead. If you feel that is more natural for you...well, my condolences that you cannot rebind that. For myself though, it would feel completely out of place to have Yaw bound to my left/right mouse movement, as it is something I never need to use in most combat situations and is more of a small QoL adjustment than anything else. In any case, I don't think any of the good pilots I know swear by their Yaw abilities, so even if it feels unnatural to you, you really shouldn't come to any major disadvantage because of it.

Those are the only rebinds I have ever made. Make others as you see fit for your setup or handiness, but don't go overboard either. We want everything to be as easily accessible as possible, depending on the importance of that key too of course. Beyond setting this up though, understanding what each key will actually make your plane do is the next important step.

For starters, learn how to just fly your plane around normally. Go into the VR training room and just mess around until you got a grasp of basic control. Learn what each key does on its own, then we'll move on to learning how to combine everything.
Step 3: Basic Maneuvering
First off here, learn the difference between hover mode and flight mode (how they will be referred to here on out as well). When you first spawn your plane, you will be going forward slowly, and if you apply some more thrust will start going forward completely at a regular cruising speed. This is your standard flight mode, and likely most familiar. Now if you hold your decelerate key (S) until you slow down enough, you will notice you don't just stall out and fall to the ground. If on the Mossie or Reaver, you will notice the engines turn down and put you into a vertical thrust mode, and you should start hovering (to a degree). This is hover mode.

The biggest thing to learn now and take home here has to do with the Ascend/Descend keys, Spacebar/Ctrl by default. They sound and feel like they will apply only in hover mode, and the definitely are compliemtary to hover mode. But they are just as useable when going full speed in flight mode. Pitch your nose down a bit and then hold ascend while just flying straight and true and notice the slight speed boost you get. While not always needed, it is a nice boost, but the important implication here is that utilizing ascend/descend while flying forward is a tool you will want when dogfighting or just simply evading. So don't forget about these keys.

Once you know what each key does, start applying it, keep it simple though. Fly under some trees and use a little ascend/descend thrust to avoid the ground or branches (though you should learn here that trees always win). Get a feel for how to apply many different controls at once. Fly at full speed and hit your analog throttle key and watch what happens. Realize that you have to reinitiate forward thrust (sometimes I even have to double tap "W" to ensure it) to get out of this induced airbrake hover mode.

Step 4: Intermediate Maneuvering & The Reverse Maneuver
Hopefully you have a decent idea of your basic controls now. Once you are comfortable with that, start practicing a bit more with hover mode. Pick a target in VR, a vehicle or a tower (just a fixed object) and aim at it exclusively. Then try to move around as fast and erratically as possible in hover mode while keeping your reticule on that target. This will help train your aim a little bit but more importantly it helps your tracking ability while also getting used to moving your plane at the same time. Multiasking will be key in the air, especially in any ESF, so start training yourself now to get used to that and not get overwhelmed by it.


Once you have done that a bit, go back and get a new plane, this time with Hover airframe 3 equipped. Fuel tanks still as well, any of them will do.

Reverse Maneuver

Next up, we're learning the reverse maneuver. If you've heard of it before, you may think of it as some super secret almost cheat like move that ESFs can pull off to be super leet MLG! Well...back in the day, that may have been somewhat true, but not so much now. The reverse maneuver was developed early on in PS2 and was successful then because relatively few people utilized it while there was still a huge server population with lots of pilots not utilizing it or even realizing the mechanics of it. It isn't, and wasn't, ever an overpowered maneuver that always put the user on top and guaranteed a win. It simply was the first full iteration of utilizing the full capabilities of these mixed fighter-VTOL aicraft in a world with wonky gravity and physics.

We're learning this now so you can hopefully understand fully how to integrate the fixed flight mode of your plane with it's hover mode abilities. The Reverse Maneuver itself is honestly rarely useful today, but knowing how to do one is an easy way of understanding the full capabilities of your plane in all situations, especially for hover mode.

The concept of the Reverse is simple really, though the name can be a bit misleading. The name comes from the fact that, if done right, your plane will appear to fly in reverse, in such a way where you are facing your nosegun one direction but moving backwards and upwards in relation to that. This is done though because of the hover mode of your aircraft, and for learning this I recommend the Mossie or Reaver still just because you can physically see the engines turn downward when in hover mode to make understanding what to do and when easier.

Start by flying straight and level at full speed in flight mode. Understand your sequence to performing this will be to cut all forward throttle, roll 90* left or right, pitch DOWN into that turn (DOWN, not UP, this is very important), turn until you're 180* from your original flight path, and be completely in hover mode by the time this turn is complete. Once complete, you can then afterburn or just simply hover with ascend/descend help, but for practice use afterbburners right away so you can start getting used to controlling this better as well. Being able to get into hover mode is half of it, but not the end goal of this. You need to understand how to STAY in hover mode; we want you to understand how to manipulate your aircrafts flight mode as you want it and not how your plane wants it to.

This is a concept fairly difficult to just explain in words, so here are some videos with keypress help to demonstrate what you are going for here. Focus on a simple reverse for now, the others are not necessary until you can do a simple one, but will eventually help you practice maneuvering on another level.


Note on videos: Keep in mind this is all with Hover airframe equipped. Try it with Racer if you like, it is still possible but much harder until you get a real handle on your plane.

Practice this until you can do a good reverse. It may take a while, and seem futile, but if you understand how to do it and can do it easily, it makes everything beyond here a whole lot easier.
Step 5: Advanced Maneuvering (And Dueling Etiquette!)
This is honestly best done with a partner, and if you can manage, a partner on a higher skill level than you with ESFs. That will help you learn best from their feedback seeing you as you practice this. If you can't get that sort of friend in a high place though, anyone else willing to practice with you is fine.

The real advanced maneuvering of PS2 comes with dogfighting. The intricacies of it are going to be hard to explain on paper, but hopefully we can give you enough of an idea of what to aim for so you understand how to constantly get better at this part. Whereas your basic and intermediate maneuvering can, arguably, have a fairly achieveable skill ceiling, this more advanced dogfighting stuff is something you will constantly be working at and improving with no limit.

Dogfighting & Dueling Etiquette


The easiest way to start practicing this is to just get your partner and have a practice dogfight. So this is also a great time to learn dueling etiquette! But first, you need to decide whether to do this in VR or on live continents. In VR, you won't get hit markers on your partner, making it a little difficult to gauge how well you are doing. If you go to a live continent however, and both you and your partner pull an ESF, set permissions for it to squad/platoon only, and take each others planes, you will now be able to duel each other with hit markers and plane damage taking full effect without getting grief points and locking your guns. This is possible because you are in your partner's plane, and vice versa, and since you're technically shooting your own plane with their plane, you won't get grief points for it. Unless you blow them up inside the plane...but we won't be doing that quite yet.

Traditional duels start with both pilots in their planes hovering and facing each other, at a distance (usually a medium distance of a few hundred meters or so). Whenever both pilots are ready, they initiate forward thrust and go towards each other, with intent to pass each other (don't ram!). If you're not communicating directly, a wing-waggle may be given to signal you are ready before initiating this pass. Once you are both moving forward towards each other, you pass, and as soon as you have passed each other, the duel has officially begun. After that point, anything goes. Turn and engage immediately (most pilots usually do turn quickly) or go ahead a bit before engaging. All that matters is you know this is where the duel starts. The duel ends when one person takes enough damage to be on fire. Some people duel to the death though. Clarify what you're doing with your partnet beforehand, but I suggest going just to fire, as that will save you time and resources from pulling planes every time someone dies. Also helps to put fire suppression on each plane to help with saving planes too.

Alright, you are ready to duel and start practicing tying all that maneuvering together. How much you practice like this is up to you, depending on what kind of pilot you wish to be, and your time of course. There is really no end point to this stage though, for as I said, it's the stage of constant improvement from here on. Practice and duel enough until you feel comfortable, or just have an itchy trigger finger, then go ahead and go fly on a live and active continent.

Advanced Tricks & Techniques


The Importance of Pitch Down: By now hopefully you have realized how important pitching down is. When you think traditional flying, most aircraft will turn and pitch UP into their turns, due to the ease of the maneuver in comparison to pitching down into a turn mainly due to G forces. We don't have to worry about that in PS2, and in addition, the pitch down turn actually is slightly faster than a pitch up turn. But more importantly than all of that though is the fact that pitching down is the only reliable way to keep yourself in a constant hover mode when still pulling many crazy evaside or dogfighting maneuvers in hover mode. If you've experiementing enough by now you will have noticed that if you don't try to maintain it manually, your plane will easily exit hover mode whenever pointing down towards the ground for a while without other thrust input or of you try to pitch up and turn too much. There are times when you may want to do this, or can compensate for it, but in general you want to not do this simply for keeping control over your aircraft as you want it. Try doing some reverse maneuvers with pitch up turns as opposed to pitch down turns to see the difference. And beyond that, try some lateral reverses and try to maintain them at all without pitch down laced in there. You'll notice it is hardly possible, and highly impractical to not use pitch down correctly here.

Ascend/Descend: In dogfights, spamming these keys is actually a very good evasive technique. Well, perhaps not spamming them, but alternating between using them every couple seconds is helpful because it gives you that little bit of thrust up or down, which can also be used laterally if you're flying inverted or half inverted, and that can help by throwing off an opponents aim just enough to make them have to readjust. By the time they do, you alternate to the opposite thrust, and make them have to do so again. It is a simple evasive technique for hover mode that can go a long way in dogfights, as it really toys with your opponents ability to aim, and aim is probably the worst overall skill of most all pilots in PS2, even some aces (something I will admit I still kinda suck at in comparison to other good pilots).

In a more A2G or disengaging stance though, ascend/descend (especially with hover frame on) is an amazing way to help you hug the terrain, usually mere feet above the ground or against mountainsides. When egressing from any ground attack to avoid locks, or get any acquired locks to smash into the ground, you will need to be pretty close to the ground to be successful in that, and while getting that close isn't hard, maintaining it long enough for the desired goal can be. Having ascend/descend helps you make those tiny adjustments over slight bumps in the terrain or underneath obstacles. You'll have to keep in mind the plane you are flying still, as the frame of each ESF is different and thus is their hitbox. The Scythe usually has the easiest time with dodging and weaving through terrain and structures and obstacles because of its very slim front profile, while the reaver and mossie need to be a little more aware of things they pass under due to their larger engines and uplifted tail wings (respectively).


Step 6: ESF Nosegun Loadouts
This is the most important part of your plane, since you can't leave base without it! Choosing your nosegun may seem like a somewhat daunting task to the uninitiatied, but it really is very simple. We'll break it all down now.

Understand this first though: With the exception of the anti infantry specific noseguns, all of these noseguns are intended for air to air combat primarily, and that is the merit we will discuss them on.

DEFAULT NOSEGUNS (Needler, Mustang, Saron)


These are commonly called simply your default noseguns, because they're just the one that everyone has access to by default. Despite what some may thing of a gun in that default status being kinda ♥♥♥♥♥♥, these noseguns are essentially the best in the game. They all sport a decent middle ground in damage output at range, magazine size, ammo and accuracy, making them very good starter weapons and near godlike in the hands of someone proficient with them. Since this is your default nosegun and you likely don't have a boatload of certs to spend yet, I highly suggest sticking with this for now and putting just a few certs into its ammo capacity early on. It is a cheap yet quality investment in the short and long run.

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ROTARY NOSEGUNS (M18, Vortek, Maelstrom)


Your rotary cannons are your close range noseguns, with a very high rate of fire and damage at close range, but a velocity and ranged damage outclassed by the defaults and even Locust variants. As said, these are close range noseguns, so are best used when either charging an opponent or surprising them from behind. These cannons dump their mag pretty quickly and with a decent spread so they are extremely rewarding when you are close enough for that damage to matter and that shot to be easier to make. While all the A2A noseguns can technically kill an ESF in one mag or less, the rotary can definitely do it fastest.


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LOCUST VARIANT NOSEGUNS (Locust, Kestrel, Antares)


Commonly referred to as just the Locust variants (due to an original iteration of them on test server long ago that was a wing mount of the same name before they were just made separate noseguns entirely), or just by their given name, these noseguns sport one thing above all else: MORE DAKKA! Their magazine capacity is unmatched and is usually enough to kill multiple ESFs in just one mag...not that you will really every practically do that. They also now sport no damage dropoff at range, making them extremely good at range against Galaxies and Liberators. While these stats make them sound great at range against ESFs as well, they are not as easy to aim and have a larger spread than the defaults, making it too hard to hit small targets like ESFs at great range reliably. So they are definitely more of an anti liberator or galaxy weapon than anything, with some use as anti ESF from short to mid range. While good in these ranges against ESFs, most pilots agree they are outclassed by the defaults at mid range and rotaries at close range, though in the right hands it still does well at any range.
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ANTI INFANTRY NOSEGUNS (Banshee, Airhammer, Light PPA)


These noseguns are specifically designed for killing squishy ground peasants and harvesting their sweet and salty tears. Unfortunately, this has also made them the focus of many balance changes over the years, and on top of Thermal optics also not highlighting infantry anymore, using these to full effect is harder than ever. They can still be useful though, and fun, but just remember these are strictly anti infantry noseguns. They do decent damage to armor but their fire rate and velocity are going to make it difficult and often impossible to hit anything beyond short range. You really have to be up in someones face for these to reliably hit for worthwhile damage. They can really do good damage to ESFs too, but again, you gotta be up close to get any damage at all, and if that other guy has a rotary...well, you're probably boned.

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That's the quick and dirty of all the noseguns. I will still recommend starting with just the default noseguns, as they are still arguably the best and probably best to learn on too. I personally prefer my M18 Rotary though, but until you get used to that is not something to use early on. I have used the Needler extensively too, and it is definitely a solid choice, just something that falls outside my personal preference for situations I find myself in.

When certing any nosegun, getting ammo capacity first is usually what you want to do, followed by magazine size upgrades. Reload speed upgrades are decent, but usually not a huge bonus and I find rarely worth it compared to a few more bullets per mag that can make the difference between a kill and having to reload prematurely. Optics are generally pointless on A2A noseguns now, some zoom optics may be okay to get if you want them, but definitely not necessary.
Step 7: ESF Wing Mount Loadouts
We'll have a lot to cover here, so pay attention! Your wing mount choice is always important, as it will always specialize you in one role or another and make you pretty crap at another role. While versatility definitely exists in some loadouts, there is still not perfect loadout for every situation ingame.

EXTERNAL FUEL TANKS (Afterburner Fuel)


These should be your bread and butter from the start and stay with you forever. You get by default one set of fuel tanks, and these ones have a middle ground between afterburner fuel recharge and fuel capacity. Great to learn on and still good in many situations in combat.


Two more recent additions are the Quick Recharge and High Capacity fuel tanks, which do just like they sound like they do. Quick recharge have less capacity, but the afterburner fuel recharges in just a few seconds, whereas the High Capacity ones have enough fuel to afterburn for nearly 15 seconds straight but take a much longer time to full recharge. Both are good and have their uses, though I have found the Quick Recharge ones to be much more friendly to dogfighting and maneuvering.


For the longest time, A2A pilots had only the choice of Tomcats or Fuel Tank as true A2A wing mount options. This gave rise to the stigma behind each and that has somewhat survived until today, though it has less relevance. What is important still though is that the fuel tanks are honestly still the way to go if you want to be a good A2A pilot, because simply put, speed kills. Having an extra weapon mount sounds enticing, but is rarely worth it, and usually less rewarding for most as opposed to being speedy and nosegunning down all your targets. Fuel tanks capitalize on the one advantage the ESF has over everything else in game, and that is speed, so this is just a natural compliment to the A2A abilities of ESFs.

TOMCAT/PHOTON A2A MISSILES


If you haven't heard the crap these have been given over the years, you must be quite a newcomer indeed. Don't worry though, nowadays these are in a much better place, but it took a long time to get there, and they will always live with that dirty past. Tomcats (Photon pods on Scythe) work by letting you lock on to an air target and use that to fire a missile at it. They have been through many interations through the years though.


Currently, these are really only a weapon option if you need to hunt some gals or libs and are unlikely to encounter many ESFs. Reason being is that they now take 5 missiles to kill an ESF and for the lockon time and focus required to achieve that, you are giving someone a heck of a lot of time to shoot you dead in much less time. These do more damage to gals and libs relatively speaking, and are much easier to lockon to those larger targets anyways, so are a great compliment for extra damage when hunting them.

Generally though, I don't recommend you ever fly with these without that specific gal/lib hunting mission in mind. They gimp your speed too much to be worth it when fighting ESFs, or just running from enemy AA guns. They offer too little outside of these specific situations to be worth it this early on in your career, if ever.

COYOTE MISSILE PODS

An A2A option that came late to the game so as to not be as hated as Tomcats, but also be just as underwhelming if not more so that current tomcats. These are like Tomcats in function but very different in practice. Meant as A2A missiles, but heatseeking instead of radar guided. You fire these towards your target, as close as you can, and if you are close enough, they auto lockon to their heat signature and hit. The volley of 6 missiles fires somewhat quickly so all missiles have a good chance of hitting or missing together, though in practice this may not happen as much as you would think.


Currently Coyotes have little reason to be run for a wing mount, simply because their damage output is pretty bad compared to even Tomcats, and definitely compared to fuel tanks and the speed and survivability they give you over slightly more killing power. Definitely not a recommended beginner weapon and only something to pick up for ♥♥♥♥♥ and giggles later in your career.

ROCKETPODS (Hellfire, Breaker, Dual Photon)


These are the simple and average dumbfire rocketpods. Easy to grasp and use for sure, though a lot harder to really master and use to full effect than you may think. They too have gone through many iterations throughout the years, starting at a fairly overpowered state and slowly getting nerfed into near obscurity. While still pretty good at their job, recent nerfs to Thermals are probably the biggest blow they have really ever received.


Each ESF has its own version of these, but despite this their function and practical application is pretty much the same across the board anyways. You can use these differences in fire rate, ammo cap and sounds to tell what ESF is firing them though, a useful tool of situational awareness for any pilot. As far as using them goes though, they're the only true anti infantry wing mount weapon now for ESFs, but can do decent damage to any armor if most rockets hit their target in every salvo.

HORNET MISSILES


My personal favorite wingmount, despite the nerfs it has received lately, is still definitely one of the best wing mounts objectively and I would argue still the most fun and challenging to use well. Hornet missiles fire much like the Engineers AV turret, a wire guided missile that will go where you aim after firing it. Except you have 2 missiles in a mag...and you're in a plane!


These things are almost entirely an anti vehicle weapon now, with now almost no splash damage or real AI capability anymore it isn't something you should go hunting infantry with. Because of how they aim though, they can be a bit tricky to get on target, but once you are used to it you will likely prefer it to the dumbfire rocketpods. I personally love using these in A2A combat, despite not being built for that, because they are so challenging to use in that way and very satisfying when they are used right in A2A. Despite my love of these Hornets though, this isn't something to probably get into using right away, though can easily be purchased and use well more easily than all the other wing mounts. They are a higher risk, high reward weapon though, so keep that in mind when getting used to them.


That's just a brief overview of each wing mount available to you. I won't tell you what to buy with DBC and/or certs, that is really up to you to decide if it is worth it with one currency or the other, but if you are not sure, save your money and certs until you're more confortable in your plane and don't get anything right away. I only purchased Rocketpods and the Rotary when the game first came out, knowing how much I would be flying, and the Rotary is definitely the best purchase I have ever made in that regard, followed closely by Hornets. Tomcats and Coyotes can definitely wait until you have certs to just throw away on something, and are not really worth anything beyond a throwawy investment. Rocketpods are a decent investment if you plan to A2G enough, though you should not count on always being able to use them and should always be ready to use and refine your nosegun skills and work towards those before worrying much about wing mounts.
Step 8: Airframe Choice
Perhaps the most important investment in your ESFs future is your choice of airframe. There are currently 3; Hover, Racer, and Dogfighting. The first two are considered the top tier ones and most used, and most viable, in nearly all situations ESFs will be in. Dogfighting...not so much, despite the name making you think otherwise.

Hover Airframe


Hover airframe is one of the best simply because it really maximizes the potential of the VTOL abilities of your plane. Your vertical thrust is stronger and faster, and your air brake is faster, two very versatile and useful abilities in any dogfight or ground attack scenario. Each plane benefits from it of course, though with some variance. The Mossie I feel gets the most out of it since it already has the fastest base cruising speed, so bringing its hover up to par is a good way of rounding out the plane overall. The Reaver already has strong engines and thus a strong hover, and can only make it much better with Hover frame too, and while it may not round out the plane as much as it would for a Mossie is still a very solid choice (and my preference still). The Scythe has good hover already as well, and a slim profile that makes it harder to hit in most VTOL modes, so it could more easily get away without Hover frame and not suffer as much from it.
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Racer Airframe


Racer airframe is the other strong choice for all ESFs, and what it does is obvious enough and fairly simple. You go faster. Cruising speed and top afterburn speed are increased. Both the Mossie and Reaver benefit from this greatly of course, pushing them to the top of their speed limits, where the Mossie takes the trophy for fastest cruising and the Reaver for fastest afterburn speed. The Scythe is naturally the slower ESF, and thus benefits the most from having Racer frame since it will help it keep up better with the other ESFs. Without it, the Scythe will rarely ever be able to keep up with any Reaver or Mossie also running Racer, but with it the Scythe at least stands a chance at staying within gun range.
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Dogfighting Airframe


Dogfighting airframe claimes to increase turn, roll and agility of your plane...and to be fair, it sort of does. But where the real issue lies is that these are fairly pointless things to increase in the first place. Turn (and by that it means strictly Yaw) speed is not something you will use much, if ever, in dogfights, and while I have heard people swear by Yaw for killing squishies on the ground, I have never relied on Yaw ability to target ground targets and thus found it still a useless trait to worry about increasing. Increasing your roll speed is nice, but also not something utilized in most situations since your ability to manipulate vertical thrust as another way of moving your plane that doesn't involve rolling and turning traditionally almost negates the need for it altogether. Plus, base roll speeds are fairly high to begin with, and the higher speed here is really not saving you much time at all. So overall, you aren't gaining as much with this frame as you are with Hover or Racer, which are much stronger and more versatile for situations ESFs will actually be in.
Step 9: Utility Slot
Another important choice for your overal aircrafy loadout is your utility slot, which has come a long way since launch to give each option a little more competitive edge...but only a bit.

FLARES


Decoy Flares will remain useful for as long as lockon missiles are a thing, which will probably be forever. They work just as you may imagine them to really, missile is shot at you, you pop flares, missile is gone and you're safe. The flares have a cooldown before they can be used again though, so you can't indefinitely throw out flares to dodge all the missiles. It's a single get out of jail free card, once you use it you should probably disengage to somewhere safer. They're definitely a solid choice for this slot, though a bit expensive to cert out early on and obviously completely useless if you are in a place where there are just no missile locks. The first tier will have a long cooldown time, and further upgrades only reduce that cooldown timer, so you're not getting more powerful flares in any sense, just the ability to use them more often, so due to its full functionality being unlocked from the get go it is a decent starter choice to go for.
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FIRE SUPPRESSION


Fire Suppression took a while to get there, but is arguably the king of utility slots for pilots these days. It's main function is to put out the fire on your aircraft - which is only the fire that occurs when at critically low health - and repair some of that damage to keep you alive. Additionally though, you can pop this thing on even when you are not on fire to just simply repair 25% of your plane over a few seconds, giving it more utility outside of just putting out that fire. Despite this though, it should still be saved for those moments when you are that low on health, when you get more used to flying and what damage the threats you face can do, then you'll more easily be able to gauge when to use it when not on fire. This also happens to be a fairly cheap cert option early on and overall, and is one of the cheapest things on the ESF to cert out entirely. As such I highly recommend you get this early and stick with it. I have sworn by it in all of its iterations since launch and have never stopped using it since. It will require some finesse to be able to use it at the best time for its fullest effect, but over time you'll slowly get better at timing when to use it.
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SCOUT RADAR


Scout Radar is another simple, and passive, utility slot you can take with you. This is really only for ground support purposes or infantry farming purposes however. All it does is light up all enemies on radar within a certain radius for you and your friends. While that sounds cool and useful, infiltrators and scout radar flashes usually do the same and a lot more often, and for you to reliably support your friends on the ground with constant radar requires you to usually stay in constant danger to do so. Relying on radar for killing ground targets though is a surefire way to get tunnel visioned, and thus I don't recommend you use this early on in your career. And by the time I might otherwise suggest you could possibly try using this, you'll likely be a good enough pilot to not need it anyways. So steer clear of this for now.
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EJECTION SEAT


The last, and honestly most useless utility slot for any career pilot, is the Ejection Seat. Also simple in function, all it does is ensure that when you exit your plane, you fall straight down (thus not inheriting your plane's momentum) and that you take no fall damage for it. While this can have its use for squad leads or anyone just trying to get somewhere quickly, its utility in dogfights is diddly squat and its use in pretty much every actual combat situation is diddly squat Most pilots who actually may care to bail out usually just go light assault anyways so they can control their ejection. So if you're just a guy who wants to get from point A to point B quickly and safely and don't care about your plane, this might be fine for you, but as any career pilot or anyone trying to actually get things done with your ESF in combat, don't bother with this.
Step 10: Defense Slot
The final step in setting up your plane is picking your defense slot. While on paper all 3 choices are strong contenders, in practice it is a bit different.

NANITE AUTO REPAIR (NAR)


Nanite Auto Repair used to be a very popular option, and to some extent probably still is. The biggest thing going against it now though is that Engineers have a passive repair while flying ESFs that essentially works just like NAR but a bit slower. So while not as powerful as fully certed NAR, there is rarely any situation where you absolutely need NAR stacking on engi auto repair (and maybe even fire suppression repair on top of that), so why waste the defense slot on something redundant? If you really hate landing to repair at all though, and for whatever reason don't want to fly as an engineer, then this is still an alright choice. But for any career pilot, you really should be flying engineer if your only care is flying your plane, being a bailassault shitter may be tempting to some but I still prefer actual utility of being engineer now over any low chance of bailassault shenanigans being fun. To each his own, but in the end, engineer is defintely the pilots way to go here.
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VEHICLE STEALTH

Vehicle Stealth has always been a decent choice, but ever since all ESFs got engagement radar by default, the usefulness of stealth shot to peak levels. With this equipped, you have to be spotted manually to show up on anyone's radar, and for anyone not paying enough attention to their surroundings or relying too much on their radar for help, this provides a great way to sneak up for the kill. On top of that, the stealth increases the time it takes for lockon missiles to actually lock on to you by a whole second, which seems paltry but is actually extremely useful, as that extra second can easily be used most of the time to duck out of their line of sight and evade and stop the missile from ever being fired in the first place. It definitely takes some getting used to, but Stealth is definitely a strong, if not the strongest choice, for this slot, in both A2A and A2G roles. Many people still unfortunately rely too much on their radar, so if you defeat the radar you'll find yourself finding many unsuspecting targets, and if you have ever flown A2G without stealth you'll most definitely notice the change in lockon time from most ground locks too. I have not taken stealth off my loadout for a long time now.
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COMPOSITE ARMOR


The final option is Composite Armor. It has remained in relative obscurity until recent updates gave it damage resistance to ESF noseguns, and while that is still a very small resistance overall, it does give it a slight competitive edge at least now. It can definitely be the stronger choice when you know for sure you won't be able to sneak up on any pilots (or there is no need to), are fighting someone you know is a good pilot, and otherwise have no need to run the other two defense slot options. Honestly though, those situations are probably few and far between for most people, myself included, and I never have found a reason to consistently run composite armor over stealth. You're already made of paper in an ESF, relative to other vehicles, so the flak/small arms resistance really isn't much to get excited about, especially in A2A builds. The 10% nosegun resistance is nice too, but still only really comes down to a clutch moment to truly stand out. I would suggest passing this up until you have certs to throw around and experiment with it, it won't give a new pilot much to work with or improve on. It will really be best when in predeterminted duels where you know stealth will be useless, in which case you can also make more of a case for NAR, depending on what you're comfortable with.
Step 11a: The SkynightKnight's certpath (career pilots)
It's not always enough to just get all the right stuff. For most people, getting the right stuff may actually seem fairly obvious, but when you're a newer player or just don't have many certs to spend at once, the process of what to buy and in what order can be a hard choice. It's important too, and while it may not always have the largest effect on your overall flying, the right progression in pimping out your ESF can lead to better growth for you as a pilot as well. The process you go through certing your plane for the first time is one hell of a learning experience, so we want to maximize that and try to get rid of any chance of you ragequitting. But you won't ragequit right?

This is where the biggest difference between those wanting to be career pilots and those just wanting to do something a little better in the air comes into play. Your cert priorities and desires will change depending on if you want to focus just on your plane or on plenty of other things too. So this part of the guide will break it down into those specifics for you. Choose wisely!

FOR THE CAREER PILOT

I'm asssuming you will be putting all, or the vast majority of your certs, into your plane. I'll also assume you buy everything with certs and not DBC, if you do buy anything with DBC that's up to you, though I suggest the Rotaries as the top buy for actual cash, being both one of the cheaper ones and just most useful ones to have. If you want a wing mount to go along with sometimes, Hornets are definitely the best DBC buy you can get. Rocketpods aren't the worst choice, though I feel after thermal optic nerfs, anti vehicle has an edge over anti infantry now so the Hornet have the edge as well by extension. And while I'm bias in saying this...they're just a hell of a lot more fun.


  • 1500 Certs
    I'm going to start this as your first certing step since this is how many you should get on a new character up to BR 15. Your first 1500 should be going into a little bit of everything really, to give your plane a solid foundation. Give yourself a good 4-5 levels of ammunition capacity on your nosegun, default or rotary (though I still recommend default for now). If you want another zoom optic level or two, go for it, but I find it unnecessary to have even that at all, I never need to use zoom for any reason. Night vision or thermals will be more useful, but on a nosegun right now is just as useless for that cert investment.

    Next up, purchase at least the first two levels of Fire Suppression or the first level of Flares. I still recommend Fire Suppression, as the better and cheaper option. Cert Vehicle Stealth to at least level 1 as well. While tempting to maybe get NAR this early on, if you're just starting out remember you'll get some extra certs from landing and repairing manually as an engi instead of letting nanites take all the work away. Getting a few repair ribbons a day is a good way to get a few extra certs.

    Your next, and most important purchase of this stage, is your airframe. I'm going to say to get at a MINIMUM the first two levels of either Racer or Hover, depending on your plane (Hover for Reaver and Mossie, Racer for Scythe). If you have decided on a preferred airframe other than this already, get that if you wish, but whichever you choose for your plane, just get the first two levels at least. If you didn't spend any certs on weapons or are okay with not certing your ammo on noseguns for a while after this, I would suggest going all out here and getting the third level of your airframe now as well. The final level of Hover and Racer are a good deal better than even the second level, and it will be good for you to start getting use to handling your plane when it is at its full airframe potential from the very beginning.

    If you found one of the other two fuel tank options to be your favorite, and didn't go full airframe yet, you may have some certs leftover to get one fuel tank as well. If you really desire to, go for it, though I still suggest going full airframe first and sticking with the default afterburner fuel tanks for a while. They're still a good middle ground and have a good place in A2A combat.

    Any extra certs you have left from your initial 1500 at this point should go into either a little more ammo cap on your nosegun or getting your utility and defense slots maxed out.

  • 3000 certs: Seems like a big step up, but you should realize by now that your later levels of each purchase are getting more expensive.

    Your first priority should be getting your utility maxed out, and I hope that it is fire suppression! This is still the cheaper option, and still IMO the best for you to have anyways, so this should be easy to cert out fully early on. After that, if you didn't max your airframe before, do that ASAP as well. Once airframe and utility are max, your defense slot is next up to be maxed.

    Now with whatever you get up to that 3000 cert mark, you have a little more freedom with. If you want a little more ammo on your nosegun, go for a few more levels, though by this point the cert cost for more levels is pretty high for what will just be one extra mag anyways. You may at this point notice that you either have died a whole lot and never use that much ammo anyways, or rearm well before actually needing to. I've personally almost never run out of ammo on the default noseguns in day to day aerial combat, and only sometimes do I run completely dry on Rotary ammo (but it does have a lot less and empties itself a lot quicker). In any case, you should be in the habit of disengaging and rearming when at ~30% ammo on any weapon anyways, so that extra ammo capacity really loses its appeal around 5-6 levels certed. If anything, put a level or two into Magazine Size on your nosegun instead. This should be cheaper long run than Reload Speed, and honestly I think still the better option, as base reload speeds are generally fast enough anyways. This cert line is still a bit expensive, so don't go all in right away.

    If you bought Hornets or Lolpods before, you may want to put Thermal optics on them. They'll only highlight vehicles now, but it can sometimes be helpful. Beyond that just some extra ammo capacity for each is fine to cert, and is a much better investment than nosegun ammo at this point.

    If you have no wing mount weapons then you can instead spend those certs on new fuel tanks. Quick Recharge I find more useful in most situations, though High Capacity ones are still quite fun to use but less situational.

    To round it all out here, put a few certs into your engineer repair tool, to make those emergency landings or rearm/repair runs a little less tedious. You don't need much though, a few extra levels on the repair tool will go a long way for now.

    Before the final stage of certing, be sure to have your airframe, utility and defense slots maxed out as a minimum to move on.

  • Beyond 3000 Certs: By now you've probably flown enough and gotten pretty used to your setup, so anything we buy now is more Quality of Life than anything else. Go ahead and max out anything you wish as you get enough certs to do so, such as the mag size or ammo on your nosegun, or getting those other fuel tank variants.

Really there isn't much of a path to follow now, unless you wish to pick up new noseguns/wing mounts and begin certing and experimenting with those. The same path for certing them applies as your initial ones though, given that you're buying things as you acquire the certs for them that is.


Step 11b - The SkySquire's certpath (non-career pilots)
FOR THE NON CAREER PILOT: For those of you who just want to have your plane decked out enough to fly every once in a while ant not feel useless and actually kill a few things, this is for you. Now that there is much to it however, as a lot of this is more subjective to you and you do have to decide just how much you're willing to put into certing your plane here.

Just like for career pilots though, I will not assume you bought anything with DBC, but if you do, rotaries and hornets remain some of the best buys for real money available. As a non career pilots though, you may not need or want to try using the rotaries though, as the defaults will be better for you to use and learn on still and of course cheaper. Hornets are a decent buy still though, especially if you want versatility in A2A/A2G possibilities for when you do fly.

  • In any case, your first certs should go into getting level 1 of your airframe, utility, and defense slot, so you at least have something filling each slot. Fire Suppression I still recommend for everyone, but for anyone not that into flying, Flares still remain a decent first level buy and are just easy to use. Stealth is still a good first level buy as well, though if you're lazy or just don't care about being sneaky, NAR is okay to go with as well. Your airframe choice I recommend Hover for every ESF, normally Racer might be nicer on the Scythe but if you don't think you'll be flying much, especially A2A, you won't need it as often, so Hover can be a good alternative.

  • Put a few levels of ammo capacity into your default nosegun, you won't need much but this will keep you well stocked for the majority of your flying time. If you have a wing mount weapon like hornets or lolpods, certing some ammo into them is a good idea now too. If you really have the extra certs, Thermals would be nice too, but are much less competitive now due to not highlighting infanttry anymore, so aren't a necessary buy this early on.

  • This will give you a fairly basic but still useful ESF setup to pull every once in a while and be able to do at least some damage. Keep in mind though that certing the plane is but a small aspect of being a pilot, how much you cert it means little when you do stupid things and go out and die often and don't learn from them.

If you wish to cert your plane beyond this basic setup, the rest is really just up to your discretion, depending on how much you wish to invest and over how much time. If you do spend more on your plane, just slowly upgrade things level by level as it fits your budget. Getting your airframe maxed out first though should be your priority though, as this will be the best increase to your plane's abilities that can really help you out in the long run. Follow that up with Utility and Defense slot upgrades as you get enough to invest in them, and your plane will be about as ready as it can cert wise, and something even an experienced ace can take and utilize with little complaint.

This will get your plane to a useable and decent level to do damage and feel like it can get shit done regularly. Even so though, it's the person flying it that matters more than how pimped out it is, so even if you're not a career pilot, do your best to practice and constantly improve as a pilot, or else this setup isn't going to get you anywhere.
Step 12: Training your Situational Awareness
Something I have always harped on relentlessly as the most important skill any pilot can have is situational awareness. While the phrase is by no means hard to understand, I don't think many people actually realize everything that encompasses when flying in PS2. Most especially when it comes to the part about being smart and not dying a whole lot.

I have in the past made two full series focusing on just this aspect of piloting skill, and my more recent one you will see linked below. They are longer videos, but every bit of info in them is important, especially to a newer pilot. I could ramble on and on about situational awareness, and I have before, but I made these videos for a reason so I'll spare you too much rambling here. Watch all of them in full and you'll definitely be better off for it.


On Audio and recognizing Sounds (part 1 & 2)

These first two videos are a bit long and feel tedious, but contain some essential knowledge you need to get familiar with if you are not already. Knowing what everything sounds like seems trivial and even easy but in my experience only the most seasoned pilots would actually be able to identify everything in these videos by sound only.


On Solo flying, interceptor & attacker/multi-role(parts 3 & 4)

These videos are for giving you a fresh and live gameplay experience with the most context possible. You can watch and see how I react in these situations as well as follow the annotations to understand how and why I do everything that I do, especially the very subtle things that you may not have noticed without annotations or being a seasoned pilot already. It will help show how everything comes together when you're actually flying around on live continents on your own.


On flying with wingmen & in a squadron (part 5)

If you ever fly with anyone, from just one wingman to a whole squadron, you'll need to pay attention to the concepts this video covers. Being a good team player in the air comes down more to map knowledge, clear communications and self discipline as much as if not more than your individual piloting skills do. Failure in these three fields of teamplay in the air means even a good solo pilot can defeat you, so take notes!


Now assuming you have watched all or at least most of these videos, let me just end this section by saying your situational awareness is not something you can train outside of just playing the game. Even if you go in having above average situational awareness already, there are many quirks and small things related to flying in this game that you will just have to pick up over time. Many of it becomes second nature, to the point where I don't think I could even remember every little tidbit and useful tip about flying that could ever be relevant now. Things like map knowledge, sounds recognition, gauging AA density, recognizing specific tags or names, etc. - all come with time and just exposure to them. Usually at first in your piloting career, this will end in many, many deaths and a lot of frustration. Even if you do well you will still meet much of this. It's up to you to power through it all and continue on if you want to get better. Despite all the complaining throughout the years for PS2 against pilots or planes or anything related to the air game, the only ones who have actually gitted gud have been the ones who perservere regardless of everything. You can give criticism, even get mad once in a while, but if you just stagnate as a shitter because of it then it's your own damn fault!
Step 13: Solo Flying
Flying solo is something of a pasttime within the pilots community in PS2, though it can be hard to say how much of that is by choice and how much of it is a circumstance of how few dedicated pilots are still around. Regardless, you'll likely find yourself flying solo at some point if you fly long enough. It is definitely one of the most difficult things to do as a pilot but perhaps the most rewarding in terms of fun and skill development.

The one thing you need to keep in mind when flying solo is (beyond your typical situational awareness at least) that you have to be a hell of a lot more careful. You will have to disengage from many fights you may not want to in order to survive, and not even engage at all for many others. On the other hand though, when you've become comfortable flying solo more often, you'll probably find yourself getting a little ballsy and going into those bad situations anyways just to see what happens...well, at least I am guilty with that. If it is fun for you or you just want the challenge, go for it, but always remember you're in almost no place to complain about anything when flying solo and making such decisions in a game about scale like PS2 is.

Flying solo now doesn't necessarily mean you are always alone, just that you don't have a designated wingman or anyone you're intentionally flying with. Don't shy away from friendly AA zones for support or from supporting friendly air forces in your area. Chances are you are going to have to rely on their help and them on you for anyone to stand a chance at surviving long enough to do anything.
Step 14: Wingman/Squadron/Group Flying
The video in the situational awareness section for wingman/squad tactics is basically this section, just more in depth.

A lot of people may think that in order to be a good wingman, you have to be a solid and skilled pilot on your own accord to begin with. In reality though, you don't. Any group that works together has a lot going for them just on that basis alone, regardless of their individual skill. Yes, 2 skilled and experienced pilots working together as wingman are very likely to defeat 2 less seasoned pilots working together, but those same 2 against 3 or 4 may fair a lot worse. Safety in numbers is a thing for sure, and becomes a bigger deal in smaller numbers in the air than it does on the ground. Infantry fights may have hundreds in one battle, and 10-20 + fighting over 1 room, but 3-4 planes in one small area of airspace is the equivilent of that, if not a higher stakes large fight outright.

Simply put though, two guns are better than one, and two sets of eyes scanning around are also better than one. Not hard to see why, but it multiplies seemingly exponentially when in the air in terms of usefulness. I'll much sooner attack an airspace full of 5+ enemy fighters if I see they are not likely working together and I have only one wingman myself. Likewise the same amount I see working together, I'm probably going to want to find my own group of near equal size before even attempting to attack them.

Your individual skills as a pilot will help you with the small things when it comes to larger engagements or flying with multiple wingmen, but it isn't going to cover everything. Like I said, two guns is better than one, and that means targets are likely to die twice as fast, and these paper thin ESFs die quickly enough as is. When you start getting even into 3 wingmen flying together, things can really start snowballing in your favor in a way where individual pilot skills become less and less important to have. If two equally skilled groups of these sizes then find themselves against each other, individual skills may be what is needed to tip the balance one way or the other, but in the end it will also only snowball from there because of numbers.

So while you should focus on your individual skills on your own and whenever you can, you must keep in mind these principles when flying with one or more wingmen, as well as when fighting against multiple enemies as well (whether or not they are obviously working directly together or just happen to be flying in the same airspace).
  • 1. Map Knowledge - Map knowledge is really key, especially in communcations with your wingmen. Remember that aerial combat can take place over multiple hexes and bases, but specific locations still matter even in such a large area. It helps identify to others where to look and where to head to. If you're on Esamir and say "towards tech plant", that can be useable as there is only one tech plant, but you have to know that there is only one tech planty for that to instantly register and be of use. Say the same thing on Amerish though while between Heyoka and Tumas, and you're then going to be creating some confusion, even if the ground fight has some well defined front lines. Knowing all base names, even the small ones, or at least the majority of them, will be key when it comes to communicating useful information to allies.

  • 2. Clear Communications - This should go without saying, but I will say it anyways. You need to communicate clearly and concisely with your wingmen at all times. Don't ramble on forever about trivial information, don't mumble something important so that it's indiscernable. Say what is important, and just what is important, and be done with it. "Scythe high over biolab" is all that is needed, not "Alright guys I see a scythe flying about 400 or so meters above Mani - sorry, Mani biolab not Mani Lake Satellite...". Likewise, all pilots should be able to discern what is meant and act accordingly when given such clear and concise information. This is where that map knowledge is key. You may understand "Scythe high over biolab", but if you don't know where that biolab is immediately in relation to your current heading and altitude and range, then you cannot act on that info. This is even harder with smaller bases, especially on Amerish or Hossin, where opponents that are flying low over smaller bases may be entirely obscured from view from many other angles and distances, and if you aren't clear on the exact base they are over, then your information is useless as well. Without being able to give as well as decipher comms in this manner, you will never truly be able to even capitalize on the primary advantage of having a wingman in the first place.

  • 3. Discipline - Target discipline mainly, as well as engagement discipline between yourself and your wingmen. This means don't get tunnel visioned on the same target as your wingman is already on when you don't need to. Sure, two guns may kill faster, but two guns on the same target means another set of eyes on that target that could be scanning for new threats. Engagement discipline means staying with your wingman no matter what; if your wingman is low on ammo and calls out he is returning to rearm, or needs to repair after nearly dying, don't just stay in the area and yolo-solo things until he gets back. The second you leave him like that, you are now both alone and without each other to utilize as wingmen. He is liable to get ganked in his now vulnerable, even landed state, and you are now alone without his support and liable to get ganked as well. Engage together, disengage together, and don't get tunnel visioned together.

For reiteration, be sure to watch this is you haven't already.
Common Threats to the ESF - Flak
Literally everything can hurt ESFs in this game. Sidearms and shotgun flashes will damage your aircraft. ESFs are paper thin flying machines and I have been killed or seen them killed by everything in the game, from trees to said shotgun flashes.

Some threats are obviously more common, and more tailored to, taking down ESFs however. Here we will go over those main ones, what to know about them, and how to defeat them.

Heavy Flak: This covers any flak source that creates the heavy hitting explosive sound when hitting your aircraft, which covers most, but not all of the flak encountered in game, and includes Skyguards, Phalanx Turrets, and Rangers.

  • Skyguards - These are the Lightnings with the flak turret equipped. Plain and simple. Only difficult thing about them is noticing if a lightning indeed has the skyguard equipped from afar or not. But you will know pretty quickly if you♥♥♥♥♥♥it off and you hear it blasting at you.

    ENEMY skyguards hitting your plane will cause the heavy flak sound and explosion effects. FRIENDLY skyguard round DO NOT detonate on friendly aircraft. They instead will only trigger on direct hits and only function as a regular bullet hitting the plane as opposed to an esplosive shell. So friendlly skyguards can usually shoot very near friendly aircraft without worry for a lot of friendly fire damage. You can also see the tracer colors to determine the faction the skyguard belongs to.

    Skyguards are a real menace for all aircraft, being the largest mobile AA in the game, and because the skyguard can only really hurt aircraft, their drivers generally are keeping an eye to the sky in the first place, making sneaking up on them fairly hard. Hornets or Liberators with tank busters are really the only thing that can reliably kill them before the flak you to death, and even then it requires a planned run and sometimes a bit of luck. If the skyguard gets the jump on you, best disengage and avoid it until you can jump it. If you can't manage that though because of flak density or bad run angles, best to leave them alone and find new hunting grounds.

  • Phalanx Turrets: These are the static turrets at most bases that anyone can get in. They also have a heavy flak designation and are comparable enoguh to skyguards in damage, even with just a slower fire rate. Remember you are in a piece of paper though, and these will still tear you up quickly enough. They do however have a cap of 450m range, though that doesn't stop them from trying to shoot farther either.

    It is hard for any ESF to defeat these turrets on their own, as their armor is thick and take many hits to take down, so really require ground support as the most reliable way of silencing them. Libs or battle gals are about all that can stand up to their fire enough to reliably kill them though, but willl take a beating either way. Multiple Phalanx turrets firing at even one gal will bring it down in good time though, and so these should never be trifled with without a good plan of taking them out.

    The autmated turrets of player built bases also follow the same pattern as base mounted ones, but as they are usually going to be automated, they can almost be harder to take out due to likely being in a larger base with many more defenses as well as the fact that you can't hope for human error in their operation to allow you more opportunity to kill them or escape. Ground support is really necessary if there are too many of these in one area.

  • Rangers: These are the vehicle mounted flak turrets, most commonly found on sunderers, for AA use. They don't sound much like the other heavy flak, but cause the same explosive effect on impact, and while a bit less damaging overall and seemingly less intimidating due to their size, they are still not to be trifled with without a good plan in place to take out the vehicle harboring them.

    If you haven't noticed, everything in the heavy flak category is very much tailored to strict Anti Air. Don't expect to beat these most of the time, and definitely err on the side of disengaging if they catch you by surprise.

Light Flak: Everything in the Light Flak category may not necessarily be flak at all, but either has a main AA purpose still, or is easily able to achieve an AA purpose in some way. They sound and feel less threatening than heavy flak, and objectively kind of are, but should still not be taken lightly (pun intended), because remember...you're still in a piece of paper by comparison.

  • Basilisk - The M20 Basilisk is one of the default, all-rounder cannons for most ground vehicles in the game (with an equivilent M20 Drake on libs/gals as a default). It won't excelt at AA abilities, but it can definitely do them. Up close as well, they are very dangerous, though most commonly seen in larger vehicle columns that want versatility in air defense and ground attack. You still generally cannot take on anything with a Basilisk head on unless you get the jump on it, but that still entirely depends on the vehicle that is sporting it. In any case, don't mess with them lightly, even if less damaging overall they can easily put enough of a dent in you to make you disengage or make you easy targets for other aircraft or flak sources.

  • Walker - The Walker turret is another dedicated AA option for both ground vehicles and libs/gals. It is a small rotating gun that fires lots of bullets really fast, and because of its light flak sounds, doesn't seem like a big deal. But it will tear through you nearly as fast as heavy flak, so don't be fooled. Treat it the same as you do other flak and with the same caution, only attempting to kill whatever is sporting it with a good plan to surprise them first.

  • Small Arms Fire - Not technically flak, but will create a similarly light plinking sound when hitting your aircraft. It won't do much, but lots of angry heavy or maxes shooting up at you with regular guns will still hurt you, and can easily kill you if you get careless. It can most definitely be enough damage to put you below the threshhold to survive multiple missiles hits, or make you begin trailing smoke and become a prime target for a more careful A2A ESF above you, so don't sit there taking small arms fire and pretend it's nothing forever.

  • ESF nosegun damage - Also noticabley not actually flak, hits from enemy noseguns have a similar small plinking sound effect when they hit your plane. Usually this is overpowered by the sound of their nosegun fire itself, but in the case of these rounds hitting you from far away you may hear only them hitting your aircraft at first and not the nosegun source, so keep in mind the potential for being shot from far away by other fighters.

Continued in the next section.
Common Threats to the ESF - Lockons
Ground Lockons: These are the empire specific G2A rocket launchers of each faction, as well as the NS Annihilator and Swarmer, and to a lesser extent Decimator (though not lockon, it can still hit you) and Striker.

Keep in mind with all lockons though, air or ground based, that the missile shows up on your radar, as well as an indicator on your HUD telling you the source of the lock (A for air, G for ground) and how many missiles are currently locked on to you and have been fired. Pay attention to this at all times, as it can help you evade to the best of your abilities, as well as pinpoint the threat for later elimination or just to know where to stay away from until you have a better plan.

  • G2A ES Launchers & Annihilator- While they are technically Empire Specific, these G2A launchers function exactly the same for each faction. These ones are simple but still do their job well enough. They are a simple point-at-target and lockon launcher, easy to use and pack enough of a punch. They will do roughly 1/3 damage to an ESF, so taking even just 2 hits from these can be enough to put you on fire, but even just 1 should be concerning because it lights you up as a target for all other potential AA in the area. Keep in mind that these can also be dumbfired by their operator (except the Annihilator), which negates their lockon ability but if they hit you will kill you outright unless you have 100% health and fire suppression to hit immedietely after. For their operator, the closer you are, the faster and easier they can lock on to you, so you can use that as an indication for their location if need be, but generally you shouldn't eat the missile just to find that out. They are also negated by flares and delayed by vehicle stealth.

  • Swarmer - The more unique lockon launcher, the Swarmer fires three missiles at you in one of two fashions. One will track you more quickly but have a shorter range, and the other has the opposite characteristic. You usually cannot tell until the missiles have been in flight exactly which you are dealing with, but with your radar and HUD indicator can easily see that it is a Swarmer and not the other G2A missiles.

    These missiles can be more easily dodged by making them slam into the ground due to their erratic, somewhat spiral flight path they take to reach you (just watch one chasing you on radar and you'll see). If you are able to fly very close to the ground or structures, they are likely to hit that before hitting you. Another advantage you have can be your speed - these are still 3 seperate missiles, and while all 3 hitting you does about as much as a single one from other lockons, if you manage to dodge 1 or 2 of them the damage is pretty minimal. So these have the highest potential rewards for attempting to dodge, consider doing do as much as possible.

  • Striker - The Striker is the special ES launcher for the TR, and the one with perhaps the best G2A ability based on how it works. It isn't a lockon launcher like the others, but functions more like a heat seeker, so essentially more like Coyotes than anything. This isn't too terribly dangerous anymore in its own right, but it does allow for a sneakier firing due to heat seeking not having a reliable HUD or radar indicator for locks. If a couple guys with Strikers decide to get poncy and all fire at you at once, you may have a lot of small missiles hit you quickly and without warning, and little indication of where they came from beyond seeing the missiles physically.

    The Lancer (VS) is less useful as a G2A launcher, but is possible to be used as such. It is usually better against the bigger aircraft though, and generally any fast moving ESF has little to worry with these beyond the occassional lucky shot or guy who just really is good at leading these. You have more to fear as a A2G farmer hovering and staying still far too much for your own good.

A2A Lockons: The A2A lockons are the Tomcats (Photon pods on Scythe) and Coyotes. Tomcats are radar guided, meaning you must acquire the lock before firing and the missile is fire and forget after tha. Coyotes are heat seeking, meaning you must fire it near your target, near enough to pick up its heat signature and then lock on to it.

  • Tomcats - You will easily know what these ones are because they are the only prolonged [A] Lock indicator you can get. Coyotes still technically give this indicator, but their heat seeking nature means they only do so for a split second when they pick you up and then hit you almost instantly. Tomcats must have a lock acquired for a few seconds before even being able to be fired, and during missile flight will change to a constant beep warning over the intermittent one from the lock acquisition phase.

    The best way to defeat a Tomcat user is just to charge them, if you cannot run away to terrain to block LoS. Simply put, they are much harder to maintain a lock the closer the target is, meaning the pilot is wasting time trying to acquire that lock so close up instead of using their nosegun. It also puts you in the position to nosegun them down from very close up too. So if you have nowhere to retreat and no terrain cover close enough, charging your assailant is the best way to negate the Tomcats.

  • Coyotes - The heat seeking missiles are interesting, but honestly don't pack the biggest punch. Though in some situations, they can be a good supplement to your A2A damage, it definitely is not the preferred weapon by most pilots.

    As said before, they are heat seeking, so must be fired near their target then acquire a lock on their own after. Because they will be so close before technically getting this lock, you will almost never be able to rely on the A lock indicator to tell you these are Coyotes. You should know that before hand from their sound anyways, as they are still a close range missile weapon and unlikely to be used at long range like tomcats. Putting some distance between you and the Coyote user is the best way to negate them, or at least enough to ensure not every missile in each volley hits. Good maneuver discipline and your own aiming though can usually be enough to best a Coyote user at close range if they rely too much on the missile damage to help them. If they are good with aiming these though, being up close is usually a death sentence.

  • Hyena Missiles are the liberator version of Coyotes. They work almost exactly the same, just with 2 more missiles per mag and a slightly slower fire rate. Hopefully if you're dogfighting a liberator with these, you know that well before needing to hear the Hyenas to confirm that.
Rules of Engagement - Yours vs The Server
Pilot etiquette is one thing, but the overall rules of engagement on live are quite different, and not always overlapping in the way you may think.

Many pilots in the past have formed "truces" with one another, where if they see each other on opposing factions while flying around, they won't engage each other - whether out of respect, being tired of fighting one another so much, or for any other reason they can both conjure up and agree upon.

I am personally not the biggest fan of truces, especially not on today's current server pop and meta, and wasn't the biggest fan back in the day either (though a little more okay with it then). My personal reasoning behind it is that truces between opposing, experienced pilots to not fight each other creates an unhealhy environment for the less experienced pilots and is unfair to them, on top of just being a lame excuse to get rid of a challenege temporarily in favor of farming or noob hunting for no real reason other than the sake of it. When the aces knowingly don't fight each other, they will end up just going after other pilots, that are likely much less experienced, and know that they risk no engagement from their opponent's faction's good pilot(s). This doesn't help these aces improve at all, even if it would be just a little bit, and it certainly doesn't help the newbie pilots the best environment to get better when they're up against superior opponents and have teammates who knowingly do not help.

There can sometimes be alright reasons for truces, though those instances are few and far between, and too many pilots try to hold an "honorable" truce above your head should you question it, an attitude I find pretty pointless to begin with as well as just bad sportsmanship. In any case though, I have occassionally had some minor truces whenever I talk to some other opposing pilots I see or have engaged that session (key point is I messaged them, hence I got it in writing). If I find they're showing a new wingman around and helping them stay alive, or they're a lib pilot with a new lib gunner in training, I generally will at the very least cut them some slack and avoid engaging them if I really don't need to. Often though, this comes down to me avoiding these engagements when they're not over my faction territory (and this I have little reason to need to engage them), or there are so many others engaging them already that I really don't need to add my hand to that pot.

For me though, my faction loyalty plays fairly largely into how I go about any sort of truce. As I outlined, I may only engage above TR territory or if someone is engaging friendly TR forces, otherwise I may hold off engaging in most cases. I am obviously not beholden to any sort of rule to do or not to engage in this manner, this is simply how I do it based on my faction loyalty as well as trying to be fair to ALL pilots both on an off my faction. I do a disservice to friendly TR forces, especially other air forces, if I do not attempt to engage and assist them whenever possible and applicable - I don't care who that other enemy pilot is, I should be trying to help my faction win, even every little small battle. I also don't do my faction much service, nor do I do any other newbie pilots trying to learn the ropes much service, if I constantly go beyond TR lines and gank ESFs at NC/VS fights or in the middle of nowhere or at their warpgate. It may have been an almost necessary strategy in the days of large air squads, but today it is far from necessary, and if you ask me, even boring.

This does roll more nicely into the other important thing to remember about rules of engagement however. Your own personal rules of engagement can easily change day to day, both in what you intend overall and what actually applies to the ever changing live situation. What never changes however is what we can essentially ascribe to the game's meta - the overall culmination of all other players on the server and how battles in PS2 progress.

What does that mean? It means if you fly over a 96+ fight, you're going to take a lot of flak and/or lockons, regardless of if you are flying A2A or not. If you get into a hover duel above that fight, you're going to take flak and lockons, because those guys down there don't care about your duel or maintaining any notion of honor you think they had for you. Their air forces are likely not going to offer you any quarter either. Many newb pilots probably won't recognize the intracacies of a duel that is away from major fights and may interfere thinking they are helping. And with the advent of construction and auto AA turrets, those sure as hell aren't going to give a flying ♥♥♥♥ what you are doing or what your intentions are, if they are in range they will shoot you, end of story.

Live play, live battles, and the vast majority of players, give zero ♥♥♥♥s about any notion of honor, or even fairness to some degree. Even if they did, the size of most battles negates those few that might anyways. While A2A ESFs taking the majority of lockons and flak over fights instead of A2G ESFs is a problem in its own right with the overall state of combined arms, that doesn't mean you complaining and yelling and those folks on the ground and their inability to prioritize the ESFs hitting them over you is going to accomplish a damn thing. You need to be able to recognize and adapt to these situations, despite how crazy and stupid some may be, because you have no other choice but to do so. By all means, continue flying over Regent Rock with a 96+ on each side pop, and yell at the flak turret gunners that they're ruining the air game by shooting at just your non threatening rotary A2A ESF, but they won't hear you nor change their ways for you then and there. You'll keep coming back to a faceful of flak.

The simplest way to go about your daily session is really to just worry about your survival as a pilot. Avoiding that hover battle with your favorite opponent may suck if you've really got an itch for a good dogfight, but if you keep losing because you engage over their AA fire then you still only have yourself to blame for a bad engagement decision. In the end, no matter how the PS2 meta shifts and how battles develop, they're never going to change to cater to the lone pilot, nor the very few pilots, so get used to accepting this and adapting in the best way for you to remain having fun and avoiding hypernatremia.
On Liberators, Galaxies and Valkyries
While we won't be focusing on specifics of any of these three aircraft in terms of how to fly them, we'll take a brief look at their place in the overall air game as that relates to your role in an ESF.

Liberators

While they are supposed to be the gunships that pound down on infantry on the ground, they often have a hard time fulfilling this role in larger fights where AA is so heavy that even their heavy armor cannot stand up to it for long. While many libs will still try this, it isn't uncommon to find a few that run A2A focused loadouts from time to time and hunt aircraft instead. Their easiest and most common prey is usually galaxies, where the tank buster and dalton can really DPS the crap out of them.

Despite your speed in an ESF though, you should never underestimate the ability of a lib to dogfight you. Many experienced lib crews are extremely aggressive against ESFs that try and intercept them, and the two main guns of the lib are deadly enough to kill you instantly or near instantly if given the opportunity. Not to mention they will most definitely win any ramming contest you try to have against them. You still have the advantage of speed and maneuverability though, but you absolutely must utilize it to its fullest to have any chance of beating a lib crew that knows what it is doing.

Regardless of the weapons the pilot and his gunner have, your main goal in fighting libs should always be to either plink at them from long range or to stay at an angle always directly above the liberator. Keeping your distance gives them the hardest shot and forces them to close the distance or bug out. If you have to engage up close though, your effort should be in evasion first, shooting back second. Stay above the lib where the pilot cannot get the nosegun on you and the belly gun can't see you at all. The tail gun may be able to see you here still, but that is fine since its the least threatening weapon (though if you have a guy accurate enough with a walker, do be careful still).

Because of this, fighting a lib crew that fights you back aggressively is a dangerous investment of time. Even assuming you do everything right, if you're alone you still have a lot of bullets you gotta shoot at that lib to bring it down, and one slip up in that process and the lib will easily kill you near instantly most of the time with the arsenal it has at its disposal. If you ever engage a liberator and the pilot either charges you or instantly flips that belly gun up to have a direct shot at you, assume they know what they're doing and take good evasive action, or you will definitely die.


Galaxies

Gals have a much better support role nowadays, mainly for infantry in the form of the mobile squad spawn point they provide. It is common to see gals waiting at flight ceiling just dropping in reinforcements for their squad, though the occassional battle gal can be found as well.

While generally these are little threat to any ESF, engaging them in the wrong manner will flip the tables instantly on you. They are big and slow, so use that to your advantage. You should always outmaneuver one in just about any ESF loadout, so take care to do so should you be close enough to them where they try to ram you first and ask questions later. A battle gal with multiple gunners can melt anything that gets close to them fairly easily and soak up enough damage to not need to take any evasive action at all.

So engage gals from long range as much as possible. Even if you have a rotary, try to stay at a good long range from them until you have a good idea of its crew and their intent. Sometimes the guy just operating the ceiling gal will not bother trying to kill you and just try to keep the gal alive as long as he can as he plummets towards the ground in an attempt to get himself out where he wants to safely. Battle gals, or any gals enroute to a target objective with a full squad of planetmans in them, usually will actively shoot back at you with as many guns as possible at the very least, though depending on their objective may not try and chase you.

The biggest thing to remember with gals though is they take a lot of time and a lot of ammo to bring down. Even a group of 3 ESFs taking on one gal will have to dedicate their attention to it for a good while to bring it down, and that's time where you are tunnel visioned and using a lot of bullets on one target. The most common thing to happen when you're on a gal is that someone else jumps you, or some other threat finds you and engages you forcing you to break off. It may be tempting, but gals are rarely worth the kill unless it's some specific squad objective because that gal is about to drop some tryhard squad on a point. Don't let yourself get tunnel visioned!

Valkyries

Valkyries are those small little helicopter things that usually glide around low around small base fights and usually are only found higher up because the pilot doesn't know what they're doing!

Well, these things are essentially just small squad transports, so like gals in function but smaller and a little faster. In my experience though, I have never encountered a Valk that has posed any significant threat to me, even if I engage it at very close range. Perhaps I just got lucky as well, but every time a Valk has also tried to ram me, not a damn thing happened for ram damage and I went on my merry way. Coupled with the fact that unless you miss all your shots and their gunner hits most of their, they can't really out DPS you (barring a full squad of lockon heavies sitting in all rumble seats of course), there is usually no threat from Valks to ESFs.

They are slower and smaller but still easy enough to hit, and generally you can safely get medium to close range with them to make that even easier without having to worry much. Usually they are focused on supporting the small squad they brought with them as a spawn point and some aerial fire support, so taking them by surprise is commonplace.

The only big thing to remember here is that Valks act the same as Gals do in that they can get you tunnel visioned fairly quickly. They take a fair amount of ammo to bring down as well, so your time on target is still quite a bit for such a small target. If another threat shows up, like an ESF or even a Lib, that should always take priority over a Valk. Likely if you disengage one they won't be able to really catch up to you or hurt you much in retaliation unless you let them.

Valk pilots will probably hate me for talking♥♥♥♥♥♥about their baby, but hey, I'm talking from enough personal experience here! I have really never had significant trouble against them. No worry of ramming or significant gun damage, only rare occurances or full lockon squads in the rumble seats, and usually no desire by the crew to try and dogfight me, has not led to the impression that valks are ever really a threat. They certainly are not a common one at the very least.
Implants for Pilots
Unfortunately Implants have been a rather lackluster addition to the game in terms of how well any of them, if at all, can apply to pilots and flying in general. The old implant system had very few worthwhile implants for pilots, and that hasn't really changed with the new system either. Here are the few that are worth it though, should RNG Jesus allow you to acquire them (but don't waste certs trying to get them, these are mor QoL than necesseties).

Ammo Printer

One of the newer implants, this one at least has some utility in the air since it will work in vehicles. It will only ever be truly useful when dogfighting is few and far between at times, making it so getting that free magazine every minute is enough to keep you from having to return to base all the time. If you're in a very intense and prolonged dogfight though, chances are you will still run out of ammo and only get one mag back in that timeframe, so this isn't something to rely on, just a nice little bonus from time to time. There may be a rare instance or two of that one extra mag saving your life, but its nothing to consistently count on.
Target Focus

Formally Enhanced Targetting, this is really the best implant for pilots all around. Any target you spot, you will also see their current health. Not always entirely necessary either though, especially for those experienced enough with smoke trail identification, but sometimes when render range and other factors prevent you from seeing your target's health in that fashion, having this is an easy and quick way to gauge that. Pretty useful on libs and gals as well, since they will have a lot more health overall and you can use this as a good visual indicator for how much damage you are actually doing over the amount of time it will take to shoot them down.


Counter Intelligence

The last truly useful one for pilots, this one will automatically spot any target that damages you, making it useful for locating stealth tomcat users or ground lockons users. While this definitely helps in that regard, if you're diligent enough with your surroundings and your radar, those alone can be enough to pinpoint these threats and close in on them or evade properly. In larger infantry fights as well, it's pretty useless to pinpoint that one heavy among likely many signatures, if possible at all, making it rather pointless in the end anyways. For A2A tomcat users, usually it is easy enough to see where the missile is coming from both physically and on radar, and knowing if its an A lock also helps you determine that as an air threat instantly anyways. So while this defnitely can have some QoL utility in some situations, I find it much more useful to just run Ammo Printer and Target Focus in my two slots, but if you don't have one of those or prefer this, then it isn't a bad choice either.
Remember that the Infravision implant seems tempting to make up for the nerf to weapon mounted thermal optics, it is an implant that does not work in vehicles at all, so is useless on your peasant farming build. Sorry!
Notes on Air to Air (Interceptor roles)
The true bread and butter of the ESF is being in the interceptor role, pure air to air, focused entirely on shooting down other aircraft. Unfortunately the overall meta that Planetside 2 has inevitabley developed with how it integrates combined arms means that ground based AA can do a lot more than interceptors usually can within a certain range, which basically means that the larger fights often have enough AA to keep all aircraft at bay. This usually applies more to interceptrs though since, as they are only interested in other aircraft to shoot, have no reason to go lower to the ground for target, and thus are often at just the right altitude to draw most of the flak and lockons from ground AA while the A2G peasantfarmers are usually lower and a little less noticable. As such, it is generally the interceptors that literally and figuratively take most of the flak for being SkyKnights.

This is not to dimish the importance of, nor fun time to be had, being in the role. Interceptors are capitalizing on the biggest strength of the ESF, and that is its speed. Nothing in the game can outrun an ESF with any fuel tanks except another ESF. The thrill of the chase at these high speeds is usually enough to keep most married to the role (looking at you PREY), and it is what the pilot community really developed around in the first place. Flight Clubs and tournaments revolved around A2A skills, nothing else, when it comes to ESFs (even libs and gals at one point), and the most notable and best pilots are that way now because of their skills in A2A combat, not A2G.

As such I think the best way to cover interceptor roles is to briefly go over the Dicta Boelcke, the list of fundamental aerial maneuvers of aerial combat by the WWI flying ace Oswald Boelcke...no, not the Red Baron, but the guy the Red Baron learned from. Other aces, such as Rene Fonck, have also applied and advocated similar notions and tactics in aerial combat, to great effect. I know this isn't exactly WWI we're fighting on Auraxis here, but there are parallels to be drawn in the similarities of combat despite the sci fi setting, and even disregarding that, these are so fundamental they really apply to any flight sim or flying game of any sort anyways. So we'll summarize them real quick (see link in additional resources section for full list).

  • 1. Try to secure the upper hand before attacking - Simple enough right? Applying this isn't always straightforward though. This can mean being sure an area is free of too much AA before chasing a target towards his own lines, or that you're not attacking a target that outmatches your health or knows of your presence.

  • 2. Always continue with an attack you have begun - Usually, a very good idea, but in PS2, not always the best. Knowing when to disengage is important too, and you will have to do it often, but generally you shouldn't commit to an attack you won't have at least some chance of being able to finish.

  • 3. Open fire only at close range, and then only when the opponent is squarely in your sights - Also not true 100% of the time, but often enough. Especially if running a Rotary, you shouldn't generally open fire from long range, as you will do much less damage then as well as alerting them to your whereabouts and general presence. Wait until you are close enough to guarantee landing your shots - all of them.

  • 4. You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent and never let yourself be deceived by ruses - Is your target hovering near his front lines? Did he disengage in a strange fashion or direction? If you know the pilot by name, is this how they normally fly? This and many similar questions you should always been asking yourself. If something seems like a ruse, it probably is, and ends with a skyguard or a tree. Don't be fooled.

  • 5. In any type of attack, it is essential to assail your opponent from behind - Surprise buttsecks jokes aside, this is the truest thing in PS2 as well. Attack your opponent from behind so you get your shots off first before he can react and fire back. In PS2, the reverse maneuver originally was the way to combat this, actually turning the tables on the guy following this rule from the start. While not as useful now, hover fighting in general still allows for one thing that wasn't possible for our WWI counterparts, and that is for both targets to maneuver AND fire at each other at the same time. In any case though, this doesn't mean that getting the first shot off from behind on an unaware opponent is a bad idea. Usually, if you don't fudge it up, it means you will win most of the time.

  • 6. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to get around his attack, but fly to meet it - In short, don't start fleeing when you are engaged by someone else. This just gives them more time to shoot at you without giving them something they have to worry about. Whether you reverse maneuver or find terrain cover to turn about, find a way to engage them back or else you only make things easier for them. Especially true against tomcat users, as they need room to use the missiles effectively, running only gives them that room to work with. Charging them straight on takes that away from them.

  • 7. When over the enemy's lines, always remember your own line of retreat - Basically, know when and where to disengage to. But mostly where. If you fly towards enemy lines, you will definitely find enemy flak. We don't care about bailing out over friendly lines in PS2, but we do care about not getting pinked by some random skyguard way behind enemy lines because you went the wrong way. Always have your bearings about you.

  • 8. Tip for Squadrons: In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four or six. If fights break up into a series of single combats, pay attention that several comrades would not go after one opponent. - Not to be taken word for word here, but for the general principle that applies here, which is don't get tunnel visioned or engage the same target as your wingmen when not necessary. Large aerial furballs are often confusing though, and this can be hard to do in practice, but in general you have to remember that things will start snowballing in favor of one side when one gets a slight numerical advantage. Managing this can be tough, and is a balance of teaming up on one target as well as not leaving any enemy target unengaged and free to do as he will. Good communication is really the best way to ensure things go well for your side (as far as team skills go), but your ability to ascertain an ever changing situation very quickly will ultimately do the best in these large fights in helping you and your side.

Again, this was a summary of these fundamentals, so read the full thing if you want a little more depth. But this is how it applies to PS2 in a nutshell at the very least. Remember these and you'll go far in your interceptor career.
Notes on Air to Ground (Attacker roles)
One of the roles many hate the ESF for is its attacker role, that is, the ability to farm groundpeasants. With tthe AI noseguns like the Banshee, PPA and Airhammer and the wing mounted Lolpods (rocketpods) and Hornets, ESFs can pack a serioues punch against ground targets. It has been a little bit less lately due to the nerf of thermal optics against highlighting infantry, pushing ESFs into a role more suited for just anti tank/ground vehicle and less anti infantry, though it is still quite doable.

The biggest pitfall of those flying air to ground loadouts though is tunnel vision and complacency. You have to have your "nose to the ground", literally speaking, to be doing the job of air to ground in the first place. This usually makes you completely lose sight of an important amount of sky where any number of threats can come from. ESFs in interceptor roles relish the ground peasant farmer with his nose to the ground, oblivious of them until it is usually too late, as do liberator crews entering the fight as well wishing to remove you from their farming grounds. Even Gals can easily get kills on unsuspecting peasantfarmers, who just hover nearly in place with their nose down and make a very tempting ram target.

So if you're ever in the role, you must remember that to truly make the most of it, your survival is paramount. This applies to any part of the air game really, but it should be in all caps in your mind when doing attacker missions. Utilize the speed and agility of the ESF to do multiple attack runs, and from different angles, to take down a target, instead of hovering above it all the time and making yourself a glaring target for any present AA and an increasing annoyance for the guy you are shooting at (who may subsequently go all out with more AA to get rid of your annoying♥♥♥♥♥. Rarely will doing the same thing over and over in the same area allow that area to remain safe to you for long. Infantry and armor become aware of you quickly and nowadays don't hesitate to pull some form of AA to get you to♥♥♥♥♥♥off. Then there is still the ever present threat of that interceptor entering the airspace and seeing you down there, alone, distracted, and ripe for the kill.

In terms of just your attacking abilities as it relates to just ground forces though, one of your biggest advantages to remember is not just your speed, but in how you use it to avoid ground threats. You should always know where, at any given base or fight, you can duck behind buildings or terrain for cover from flak and lockons, to the point where you dodge them entirely or at least mitigate the damage as much as possible. Don't get in the habit of staying around for a kill while getting hit by flak or locked on. Even if you escape dying there and get your kill just barely, you're now probably nearly dead and in a really bad position.

Another issue that sometimes arises for those not entirely comfortable in their planes is simply panic. Panic from ramming slightly into another aircraft or terrain or buildings, not enough to kill or even damage you much but enough to throw you for a loop and screw with your sense of control. Panic from losing a target from LoS when so close to killing it, and chasing it still so vehemently that you put yourself in very awkward and usually bad situations. Whenever something goes wrong or even something silly happens, don't lose your sense of control at all and keep your calm or else you'll easily be thrown towards the physics gods or a stray decimator shot.

In the end, remember most everyone hates the peasant farmer. The peasants hate you for farming them, the skyknights hate you for making them come close to all that ground AA from the mad peasants to have to kill you. In any case, whatever specifically you do in A2G and however you do it, expect to die a lot more than most other aircraft roles and expect to get crap for it no matter what. But hey, gotta get those certs somehow right?
Notes on Multi-role Loadouts
Multi-role loadouts (called MR here on) are, in my opinion, some of the best and most fun in the game. While limited in how specifc you can get due to the weapons at your disposal, it is still extremely fun for me to take something like Hornet and a Rotary and be able to effectively take on just about any target. While this ability has essentially been seriously nerfed over time (removal of thermals highlighting infantry, hornets damage reduction to both infantry and vehicles), it is still possible and at least still as rewarding to your soul if not as rewarding to your cert wallet as it used to be.

In the past I always spoke for my love of MR setups, simply because it was a loudout that gave me the opportunity to be a jack of all trades and take one anything, even if my plane on its own would not excel at it. But my personal skills as a pilot were the factor that would allow me to push the limits of these loadouts to the extreme ends of A2G and A2A combat, allowing me to excel at both despite not having a loadout that was specced to excel at either. If I could git gud with hitting aircraft with Hornets, then the fact I lost speed and maneuverability with fuel tanks for hornets was practically negated. If I could git gud at killing some infantry with the rotary, even just that one pesky♥♥♥♥♥heavy, then that disadvantage of not having lolpods or a Banshee was overcome. The possibilities are really endless in MR loadouts when you push your skills to their limits, one way or another.

The biggest thing to remember here though is just that though - in the end, you are a jack of all trades, a master of none. You shouldn't be getting into prolonged dogfights or taking on more AA than normal either. Your versatility allows you to adapt, but sometimes the scale of Planetside 2 means that your adaptation may not matter at all in some situations. Here more tan interceptor or attacker roles is where you must exercise the most caution, as you have to be more careful in choosing both your ground and air fights. More specialized aircraft will have the upper hand on you in some situations, but you have the versatility to hopefully pick the fight in a way that best suits you first. If you don't then you face a hard time getting anything done with these loadouts.

MR setups come down to being a mix of a scavenger and a support role in the air. You'll usually have to pick off weakened ground targets, or loners, rather then attacking them head on while they are fresh for a fight. You'll likely have to hang back from aerial engagements a bit and wait until you have a chance to utilize the element of surprise, or again, pick of already hurting aircraft.

Whenever you come into a situation where you aren't going to win however, being in a MR loadout is one of the best ways to foster improvement in your skills as a pilot. You have enough utility in your plane and its weapons to know what you can do, what is possible to do even if you haven't achieved that yet, and adapt yourself and try new things to actually achieve that. I set out with the goal early on to take Hornets and not just git gud at using them against enemy ESFs, but entirely excel at it and even use it as the primary weapon for dogfights. While I could still have a long way to go to truly be great with them by any standards, I was able to reach a point where I was more than comfortable in using them in dogfights, to the point where I would charge into an objectively bad situation for myself just to try and get better at using them in those clutch moments.

In the end, the fun of MR loadouts is what you make of it, but you have to take the fun and advantages of it with a grain of salt and realize once again that the jack of all trades is always the master of none.
Improving your Aim
Understand first that improving your aim is probably the absolute hardest thing to do as a pilot, and one you never truly get a mastery of. Your maneuvering skills and your situational awareness can reach a fairly definable peak proficiency, but your aiming ability will always feel like it can be improved - and it can be. Personally, I still have pretty♥♥♥♥♥♥aim, as I feel I do at least, especially compared to many pilots I have dueled over the years (except hornets, I aim those with such wow!). Regardless of how good you are at aiming, you'll never have perfect aim all the time and will miss many, many shots. But that's totally fine in the air. You generally don't need to hit every shot to win or even make a dent. Most top ace pilots seem to have 33% accuracy on average, perhaps a little higher, and the best of the best probably barely break 40% at that. I've sat around 33% give or take with my Rotary pretty much forever.

The best way of improving your aim is to just be cogniscent of how you are aiming, what is and isn't working and making easier, as you dogfight and fly normally on live servers.

An easy way to go practice on your own though is to go to VR training and pull your plane and just find any fixed target - vehicle or terrain or structure - and practice maneuvering around that target while keeping your sights on them the entire time. Practice shooting in bursts, careful only to fire when you will actually hit your target and not just spraying bullets into the air for dramatic effect.

By far the best way to practice aiming aside from just live play is to get a partner and, as detailed in the advanced maneuvering section, duel them. Set rules for yourselves or boudaries as needed, fighting at fixed ranges only or with certain noseguns, but other than that just duel as if it is to the death. There is no better way to practice your fine aiming than against the most agile vehicle in the game. Learning how to lead with each nosegun will take some time as well, especially because that changes at different ranges, and duels are a good place to practice this and get a feel for them. You also need to developed your ability to maneuver without thinking about it; being able to manevuer effectively with relative ease allows you to focus more on your aim, something that usually needs that focus anyways.

Working on your trigger discipline will help some too. Many pilots fall into the mistake of holding down the trigger and firing many bullets off target, which forces a reload earlier as well as wastes your time and bullets on nothing. While even the best pilots still don't have the greatest accuracy ever (as stated above), they generally have developed such trigger discipline so that they do not waste bullets and time with missed shots when it counts the most, and are essentially just good at stopping their fire whenever they notice they are not on target anymore. Yes, you will miss shots, you will always miss shots, but we don't need every shot to hit either. Just enough to kill the target.

Your mouse sensitivity is another factor in your aim, but that is something you again, have to figure out for yourself. I personally use bound mouse thumb buttons for pitch up and down to use for faster movements in the air, and keep my mouse sensitivity fairly low so that I can make finer adjustments to my aim on the fly. Play around with it though and find what works for you.

Beyond this sort of practice though, really the only true way to improve is to keep playing and practicing at it. It is a difficult thing to train outside of trial by fire, so don't expect any amount of VR training and dueling to make you an ace overnight. Situations you encounter in the air vary widely and how you approach them will as well, and that means your aim is something that must be both adaptable and precise at the same time, not something that passive training can accomplish easily, if at all. Throw yourself into the fire if you want to truly git gud at aiming.
The Nugget's FAQ
Since some people seem to like random Q&A type stuff with random facts and tidbits about flying, I'll just throw some of those in here. Likely they are reiterating things already said in this guide, so consider this more a misc/extra more than a core section of this guide.

Q: What is the best loadout?

A: There is no right answer to that question, though we could get close. While there are many loadouts that excel at one thing, or even multiple thing, nothing is the catch-all end-all loadout for everything. Certain utilities and weapons will have a leg up on the others in most situations, but again they do all have their place. Instead ask what is the best loadout for a specific intended purpose, and you'll get a better answer from that. The answer to which, you should find easily within this guide.

Q: How do I improve my aim?

A: Understand first that improving your aim is probably the absolute hardest thing to do as a pilot, and one you never truly get a mastery of. Your maneuvering skills and your situational awareness can reach a fairly definable peak proficiency, but your aiming ability will always feel like it can be improved - and it can be. Personally, I still have pretty♥♥♥♥♥♥aim, as I feel I do at least, especially compared to many pilots I have dueled over the years (except hornets, I aim those with such wow!). Regardless of how good you are at aiming, you'll never have perfect aim all the time and will miss many, many shots. But that's totally fine in the air. You generally don't need to hit every shot to win or even make a dent. Most top ace pilots seem to have 33% accuracy on average, perhaps a little higher, and the best of the best probably barely break 40% at that.

See section on improving your aim for a litle more depth.

Q: Should I get Tomcats/Coyotes/SuchnSuch Weapon to help me do better?

A: No, you should never be getting any weapons, for certs or DBC, for the sake of improving your kill rate or survivability in the air. None of the wing mount weapons really do that, in fact will probably hinder it if you are not already a pilot with a solid foundation of maneuvering and situational awareness skills. Much like people will say with infantry weapons, everything is a sidegrade from your default loadouts that everyone has and starts with. This applies much the same for ESFs, with the default noseguns being objectively the best and usually most favored by many aces. The fuel tanks are also loved and extremely useful, even though with the default noseguns and them only you are still mainly an A2A role, they are still one of the best wing mounts there is. The other fuel tanks are specific side grades to those, and Hornets/Lolpods work to give you some A2G ability. The Tomcats/Coyotes may be tempting to bolster an A2A setup, but are honestly lackluster and not going to help you if you don't already have solid piloting skills already. We don't just recommend staying away from them because they are not fun to fight against and we think they're a form of cancer - they are genuinely just not as great as many would seem to think they are compared to the default loadouts.


The History of Flight in Planetside 2 - Part 1

Note: This is mostly from my perspective, and thus may have some gaps or interpretations based on my perspective or what I heard from others. It will also focus some on the Emerald (early on Waterson) servers subculture of pilots and how it developed, as it was both very important towards competitive play for pilots back in the day and was something I had first hand experience in watching grow.

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The Early Days

Flying during the Beta phase of Planetside 2 was definitely a tricky thing to do for most, a fairly new flight model and controls foreign to even the most experienced flight sim junkies. HAving only Indar for most of the beta as well as many changes to the how and what of game mechanics in that time, experimentation was the name of the game here. While some pilots figured out through trial and error that despite the usefulness of early Tomcats for people not yet used to aiming these lumbering ESFs, utilizing the speed and maenueverability of them for A2A combat was their true bread and butter.

Once the game hit full release, it was just chaos for a good while. Understandably so as well. Having all continents with huge fights on them between all factions, full servers and plenty of outfits just barely organizing all their men into one area left little room for much strategic improvement. But it did leave a little bit in the air that was workable for those truly dedicated to the art of flying ESFs to at least start somewhere.

As things started to settle down some, this small niche in the air had a much better chance to expand, now that there were some fewer planes full of pilots not knowing anything about what to do and not caring to figure it out as well as those few who had taken the time thus far to start honing the art. While no one can really be attributed as being the true founder of the infamous Reverse Maneuver, it was likely the videos made by IronFistLMS that brought it into the limelight for most people, giving those who hadn't yet figured it out by now a boost up as well as showing everyone else what was indeed possible for a skilled pilot in the air now.

Aces at this point were viewed as those who could now do a good Reverse Maneuver, as well as capitalize on its main advantage. Seeing as this usually would still take many people off guard - having a plane they jumped turn around, fly backwards and shoot back - it wasn't too difficult for those that had mastered it to come out on top more often than not, even against multiple opponents. This is where you see the gap start to widen some more between the noob pilots and the dedicated pilots. Those whom had now learned to survive longer in the air had a much easier time practicing the finer points of flying and mastering them. Liberator pilots and gunners now started to become more prominent threats, now that the Zephyr era of farming all thouse thousands of peasants from launch day had come to an end, the Dalton began its rise as a threat to be feared in the hands of anyone that could aim it well.

In time, these dedicated pilots began running into their counterparts on other factions a lot more often, now that these pilots had better awareness and skills of deduction when it came to gauging another pilots ability. Many found that someone else that could also reverse maneuver didn't always mean they could handle themselves in the ensuing duel, so those that could became true adversaries and some of the most intense dogfights of the time came to be as a result. Since it was unlikely, and frankly somewhat impossible, for anyone using Tomcats to pull off effective reverse maneuver or even duel effectively, their stigma as a cancerous and useless weapon used by only those who couldn't fly well and didn't want to only grew more in this era. This also helped strengthen the bond between those pilots of opposing factions that consistently found themselves dueling each other in an aerial dance of destruction. We start seeing some of these pilots go out of their way to practice against one another to further hone their skills, as well as call truces between themselves - not to allow each other to farm the noobs as often thought, but most often out of mutual respect for each other's actual dogfighting ability. It started becoming more common for pilots who knew each other to knowingly ignore each other when in the same area because of this, and instead opt for going off and dueling in some far off corner of the map.

As time progressed though, it came to the point where there were a good number of pilots on each faction per server to start banding together and flying together. Not necessarily out of need or want of a wingman for survivability (though that was always part of it), but more so for having someone else who did what they did and understood it, since so much of the community that weren't pilots at the time either hated them or ignored them. This lead to the first air squadrons being formed, and good pilots flying together became a much more common occurance. Lib crews eventually entered the mix with this as well, either as unstoppable armadas or mixing with ESF escorts of their factions best pilots and creating a truly terrifying air force that was suicide to go against for any inexperienced pilots and a quick death for those on the ground who had to face ready and able liberator crews that had ESF backing to protect them.

MLG BRUH

SOE began to go the route of making Planetside 2 into a super leet MLG eSport at one point, giving some the excuse they needed to git gud and go all in. Many pilots didn't give a single♥♥♥♥♥♥about this at this point, preferring to continue honing their skills and stories of the air and ignore the MLG crap that looked like it was all infantry focused already anyways. It took the combination of the TR outfit of Waterson known as NUC (the infantry tryhards of the time) making a deal with the prominent TR air outfit of Waterson known as LIBZ (unsurprisingly, made up mostly of lib crews and their ESF pilots friends) to be the first integration of experienced and dedicated pilots to support an infantry focused and elite group and take that into the eSports scene. This resulted in NUC becoming a much more diverse force, and gave it a huge upperhand in the MLG scene, showing how having those super good pilots dudes could seriously help win matches when combined with equally good infantry players.

Eventually on Waterson, TIW on the NC formed a similar counterpart to NUC, though they had less luck getting many good pilots on their side. While not formally with TIW by any means, the prominent NC air outfit known as PREY was made up of the best NC pilots there and was a consistent threat to the NUC air forces. ZAPS on the VS formed another similar outfit on Waterson, having a bit more luck getting some of their factions piloting skill under their name and forming a more well rounded outfit of good players in all aspects...if not also a more trollsome bunch at the same time.

Other outfits on other servers also joined in the fray here, but NUCs recruiting efforts were always one step ahead of most. Eventually, the NUC air forces claimed the best TR pilots from Waterson as well as a few from other servers, and even other factions, and eventually NUC had the largest group of aces on any faction on any server. Unsurpringly, this made them nigh unstoppable in the air when they put their mind to a task. As time went on they improved daily on the combined arms of air and ground, and with the best of the best in both these departments spearheading the way forward with these combined strategies, the result was a NUC that everyone on TR grew to love (to an extent at least) and everyone else grew to hate and fear.

Continued in next section...
The History of Flight in Planetside 2 - Part 2
As far as the air forces go though, now that NUC, ZAPS and PREY all had significant squadrons at their disposal, clashes were inevitable. Sometimes it was small dogfights or furballs of a few, where engagements were not always decisive but usually very cut-throat and without mercy. PREY stood on a side of their honor in never using tomcats, while ZAPS took a stand with "anything goes in war" and had no remorse in using tomcats and anything else to win dogfights. NUC took a more mixed approach, preferring to stick to no tomcats as to not get complacent and keep developing pilot skill but not shying away from using them when they could be useful either.

One of the biggest and most well known non-MLG events that transpired (well known to those involved at least) was the affectionately named "Summer of Blood" between primarily PREY and NUC pilots, where hostilities were at their peak and the highest number of pilots for each outfit were consistently on. It came to a peak on July 4th, 2016, during the weekend/July 4th double experience event for the game. PREY had gathered a squadron and a half of its best pilots as well as a few others from the NC and had begun terrorizing the Indar skies as a giant airball of death, with smurfs on TR alts even coming into TR orders chat with threats and boasts. NUC, at the time, was mostly just minding their own business and farming (at least I was!) during this double experience event. Eventually however, an airball of ~15 of the NC's best pilots owning all the Indar skies was too much to ignore, so NUC scrambled together it's best pilots to form a counter force.

What resulted were numerous furball engagements between the groups over the period of about an hour, with both groups not necessarily having a hard time searching for each other, but more so deciding on the best time to actually strike as to ensure victory. The clahs was inevitable either way though, and over that hour there were at least 3 engagements between all aircraft of both sides. NUC came out victorious in all of them, and in the end PREY had to forgo their Indar air superiority and terrorism and scatter to the winds....(okay I soapboxed the TR propaganda a bit here I'm sorry but hey it did go down like that in the end!)

While the rest of the day and next few weeks went by relatively more relaxed in terms of these engagements, it brought to light something most had not thought about much yet since it never really happened before - how to win furball engagements. Sure, many of these such engagements have taken place in Planetside before, some much larger than this, but none had ever been between two groups this large and made up of only the best, most dedicated pilots of a server's faction at once. Throwing a bunch of planes into a furball is one thing, but throwing aces in those planes is another thing entirely.

NUC began a lot more serious training in preparing for these sorts of engagements, where many aircraft would be present and communication and target priority were difficult for even the best pilots to use effectively. Through some more live engagements against PREY and ZAPS, as well as some interoutfit scrims in NUC as well as ones on the Battle Nexus against a PREY/QRY/TGWW (the latter 2 being prominent Mattherson air outfits) alliance, NUC was able to begin forming true strategies for furball engagements and how to effectively tackle them.

Despite how well NUC was doing overall, especially its Bravo squad and pilots in general, eventually came the time of MLG derp and community disinterest and hate towards it that would lead to the downfall of competitive play for Planetside 2 overall. To an extent, some would blame NUC for the downfall, and speaking personally here, those claims are not completely wrong. NUCs recruiting practices were definitely good from just a pure recruiting standpoint, but it ended up taking away good pilots and players from other factions and servers that could have instead joined competitive groups on their original servers and factions, creating more competition overall so there was variety in the groups partaking. Derspite this though, perhaps what really killed MLG competitive play for PS2 was simply mismanagement and frankly, incompetence, of those involved in organizing it and casting it. Events, whether or not NUC was part of them, were generally poorly organized and left some of those involved with a sour experience that was much less fun than live play, and while the lack of real casting/viewing tools for those watching was a hinderance as well, the inability of those casting to both communicate well and just provide a good viewing experience led to more and more disinterest for people to actually care about these events. The straw the broke the camels back can be argued as the match between NUC and a conglomerate of European outfits, where numerous miscommunications and frankly bad casting overall led to a boring experience for both viewers and players alike, and the mismanagement of the event was worst for the Euro outfits because it was also their first time doing this sort of thing, and NUC was already well versed.

The backlash from the community ended any true interest in MLG for anyone now, and it slowly faded into obscurity after that match. NUC stayed together for a good while still, and practiced just in case it became a thing again, but when it was evident that this competitive play was no longer going to be a thing anymore, NUC eventually had an informal disbanding, with everyone free to stay in the outfit and do as they please ingame still, but with formal outfit operations towards competitive play and practice coming to an end. Many eventually left NUC, going back to their original servers or factions or scattering to the winds in the TR on Waterson. We'll get to it a bit more later, but this eventually had some positive effects on all of Planetside 2, with all these players bringing their knowledge elsewhere.

As for the pilots though, the disbandment of NUC here didn't hurt relations between pilots much at all, though it would lead to some leaving the game. And not just in NUC either, at this point in Planetside 2, many pilots started becoming fed up with the state of the game and just quitting outright, or just playing a whole lot less. They days of large air focused outfits dominating the skies together, on Waterson and most every server, were fast waning.
The History of Flight in Planetside 2 - Part 3
For a good amount of time, Planetside 2 was losing dedicated pilots at a fairly steady rate, at least in terms of consistent activity. Some left the game for good, others just stopped playing as much as they had been, and overall activity was just fairly low save for some few still playing fairly regularly.

On Waterson, and evetually the merged server of Emerald, it was the remnants of PREY and QRY that kept up the livliness of dedicated piloting on the NC. On the Vanu side, ZAPS lost a lot of momentum over time as a large, combined arms outfit of any sort (much like NUC) and still had a few of its good pilots around, though the Vanu had it's talent spread out over outfits like GOKU or GOTR and some TGWW remnants, or just solo flyers in general. The TR had a good few NUC pilots stick around still, though many didn't adopt much faction loyalty of any sort and jumped between factions somewhat regularly. Those that remained TR (such as myself) would either end up joining GALM, ROOK or LUXE mainly, as well as some other solo flyers and outfits for alts of other pilots. Overall though, while the game lost numbers of dedicated pilots, dogfights didn't lose much of their tenacity and rivalries remained as strong as ever, even if less evident to the general server population.

Eventually though, even those dedicated enough to stay around as long as they had already started to play less as well, and fewer new pilots seemed interested in actually getting into the air game in any similarly dedicated fashion. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), the event known as ServerSmash started to become a really big deal in the PS2 community, and eventually was big enough to the point where servers had to form dedicated air wings for these events since they started to notice just how important a dominant air force could be. And who better to lead and compose these air forces than those salty vet pilots that had been flying and perfecting the art since launch day?

The 2013-2014 season of ServerSmash was, arguably, one of the biggest in terms of popularity, interest, and players partaking. Most pilots, despite the newfound love of a dedicated air force from the server leadership, were still a bit skeptical of just how fun such a thing would be in a dedicated air force role, but most would bite and give it a shot. Early and mid season saw a good number of those dedicated pilots from all servers representing their own server's air force, and for the first time very large air battles would take place during these serversmash events with many of those long time career pilots in them.

Though this did bring to the forefront another problem - furballs. These air battles were massive, in Planetside terms, with generally at least 36 aircraft per side in one massive engagement usually spanning over multiple bases and hexes. Funny enough, most pilots were not very experienced with such massive furballs, and tackling them in a way that would produce victory was a new concept for many.

Fortunately for those salty Emerald vet pilots, the days of MLG esports between the Waterson factions had produced large enough air battles for them to practice moderate sized furballs and how to approach them, giving them a good edge in both pilot skill and air force leadership for these larger ServerSmash dogfights. While even the best tactics didn't ensure the most lasting, overwhelming victory in the air, it did give Emerald an edge in the air game for the start of the season. It wasn't long until all servers eventually got the hang of things though, and unfortunately this meant that these furballs turned more into massive zergs of aircraft for each side that would generally avoid each other and just go where their ground forces needed them most, and if they ever engaged and one side lost too many aircraft to be a worthwhile force anymore, it usually meant a very easy time for the winning air force's faction. The air forces in ServerSmash became a very important resource, however the nature of these battles lead many of those dedicated pilots to give up on the bland and grindy air battles that always results from it, ones where numbers and cheese dictated more than any individual skill and actual strategic air thought ever could.

While a good few pilots remained active enough in the ServerSmash events for their server's air forces, that too would soon start hemorrhaging pilots to the point of conscript ground peasants needing to make up the majority of the air force. Live server play also suffered more loss of pilots that stuck around consistently, and eventually most pilot outfits of the past dwindled to a select few still around even semi consistently, with the list of recognizable names of once well known pilots and tags growing thin.Thus stands PlanetSide 2 today, for all that it's worth; a desolate wasteland as far as the career ESF pilot is concerned.
Additional Resources
https://discord.me/planetside (PS2 Discord) - Hop in and see if anyone is willing to teach you, answer questions, or duel

https://learn2flyesf.wordpress.com/ - And old site, but with some pertinent and helpful information still, and historically a good look at how flying used to be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZxrvXzkit8 (the "original" reverse) - Perhaps one of the more well known tutorials for the reverse maneuver in the early days of the game, still somewhat pertinent though recommended to watch more current videos demonstrating it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X35Z89AeCBU (banking turns) - Another older video from Ironfist, goes along with the reverse video. Still somewhat pertinent though stil dated and less necessary to learn as demonstrated in this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8N7Zsn5dVU (ESF basics by Wrel) - A somewhat more recent video for some ESF basics by Wrel. Still a bit dated though, especially after a bigger ESF update that happened after this video and changed some things fundamentally, but still with some good general information. If you're in this guide already though, we've already gone over everything here that Wrel does and in greater depth anyways.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtpDWtEf5nyuZ5EDKhrXj0R6PuyhLyYsM (Playlist - Under the Radar Podcast) - An old podcast I did with Ginger and Ironroids, with focus solely on flying in PS2. While dated there is some good discussion in them if you have time to kill, though otherwise are still just dated and not entirely relevant. A much better historical reference for how flying in PS2 has developed over the years rather than an actual guide.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLFCeHpOijo7CRlTNf7i6nspillQs7TpYd (Season 2 of UTR Podcast) - See above; Just the second Season of our podcast

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCu48eAdXTMdRhGjjSf8lbsA (Season 3 of UTR Podcast) - See Above; 3rd and shortlived season of our podcast, ended up being a temp reboot just because, but a good look at the most recent major changes on ESFs since.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtpDWtEf5nyt6LetCI-QH_gT5Nhyeolwu (ESF Maneuver tutorials) - My simple maneuver tutorials, embedded and used in this guide already, here for reference.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtpDWtEf5nytOnvWGVp6y2vRAOYZBGX9r (compilation) - A compilation playlist of other ESF tutorials not by me. Most are probably dated by now too, but may have some good concepts to teach still.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtpDWtEf5nytQnd6SFEqwEUpxYe58p4q6 (ESF tutorial series, outdated) - My old ESF tutorial series, which got very indepth but unfortunately is quite outdated at this point. Watch if you wish but much information contained within them is now obsolete and/or outdated and would be misinformation at this point. More of a historical reference than anything by now.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtpDWtEf5nyuLPatozMDgcxTkXLKopoZH (ESF Tutorial series II, relevant) - My more up to date tutorial series. All videos in this playlist were used and embedded in other parts of this guide already, here for reference.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtpDWtEf5nysQzo4s8rRH_t73kRkIpzTQ (Hader's ESF gameplay videos) - A shameless self plug of my montages mostly...but hopefully entertaining, and ESF related still!

https://www.reddit.com/r/Planetside2Air/ (subreddit for all PS2 air) - Quite dead and never really extremely active, but may have some good info here and there as well as other tutorials, though some are probably dated.

A chart with a slightly dated but still mostly relevant look at what role each weapon and wingmount on ESFs pushes them towards. Not the end all for what ESFs should do in certain loadouts, just a more 'technical' look at what each weapon's intended purpose pushes it towards.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dicta_Boelcke (The Dicta Boelcke) - This is a list of fundamentals for aerial combat formulated by the IRL German flying Ace of WWI, Oswald Boelcke. No, not the Red Baron, but the guy who taught the Red Baron. While these are cemented in real life aerial combat, they still apply almost 100% to flying in PS2, so their concepts should be considered worth learning and understanding entirely.

Pilot and PS2 slang/lingo (glossary/index)
1-Clip/One Mag: Term meaning to kill an enemy aircraft with a single magazine or less, usually referring just to noseguns on ESFs and Libs.

1-Hit/1HKO: In terms of aircraft, probably referring to the Liberators Dalton belly gun, the only gun from an aircraft that could technically one hit kill an ESF.

AAA/AA/Triple-A: Short for Anti Aircraft Artillery, or ground based Anti Aircraft guns in general.

A2A: Short for Air to Air, either as a general combat concept, or to refer to a specific build for an ESF or Lib or Gal focused on fighting other aircraft.

A2G: Short for Air to Ground, either as a general combat concept, or to refer to the specific build for and ESF or Lib or Gal focused on attacking ground targets.

Airlocks: Referring to Tomcats, Coyotes, and/or Hyenas collectively.

Airzerg: A massive amount of aircraft flying together.

Attacker: Describing an ESF with a loadout specifically tailored to attacking ground targets, infantry or ground vehicles.

Bailassault: Slang term referring to pilots that fly as the light assault class, usually with intent to bail out of their plane just before it is destroyed, either to drift safely down to the ground to join infantry fights, try and pull some small arms shenanigans on the guy who shot them down, or more likely to pad their KD because they're shitters.

Bogey: Term for hostile aircraft.

Bugging out: Used to denote disengaging from a fight. "I'm bugging out" or "He's bugging out", saying that you or that opponent has given up the fight and is disengaging to safety.

Burned/Burning: Usually used to describe using afterburners to get to one place or disengage. Sometimes also used to refer to your plane actually being on fire.

Burster: Shorthand/slang referring to a MAX unit running dual Burster flak guns. The ultimate and final form of a salty ground peasant.

CAS: Short for Close Air Support.

Dogfight: Term used for a fight strictly between aircraft. Can technically be any number or type of aircraft in PS2, though generally used only to describe the smaller scale group fights or duels.

Down: Referring to being shot down and effectively out of the combat picture.

Duel: For pilots, this refers to a specific form of etiquette for dogfighting, usually 1v1. It involves both pilots facing each other in their planes, moving forward and passing each other, signifying the beginning of a duel. Duels are either to the death or until one plane is on fire. It is bad etiquette in the pilot world to interupt a duel if it seems obvious enough that it was an agreed upon duel (usually indicated by pilots dueling far away from any other fight on the continent), and one should not be surprised if both pilots turn and attack any intruders for interrupting, even if one is on the same team.

ESF: Empire Specific Fighter

Flak (heavy/light): Term simply referring to any form of AA flak in the game, though sometimes heavy flak and light flak have a distinction when called out.

Flight Ceiling: The maximum altitude any aircraft can reach ingame, set at 1000 Meters. The Ceiling is constant throughout each continent, while terrain elevation is not, so actual altitude from the ground below you can and will vary widely, but the ceiling itself remains constant.

FS: Short for Fire Suppression. Also sometimes called FireSupp.

Furball: Term used to describe a large aerial battle between many aircraft. Used because the large number of planes in one small area produces so many radar contacts that it is hard, nearly impossible, to distinguish any visually in all the chaos, and hence looks like just a furball of radar hits.

Gal: Short for Galaxy

Ganking: Term referring to a pilot, or more often multiple pilots, flying together at once and being shitters as they gang up on unsuspecting targets to kill them quickly and with much salt.

Groundpeasants: Slang term made by pilots to refer to the infantry tryhards whom do not care for air combat aspects of the game nor to even try to understand them. Usually used semi sarcasically these days, though for a time had a pretty strong derogatory inclination.

Horneycats: Term used to describe Hader and his hornet loving shitter air squadron GALM, usually by salty VULT vets.

Interceptor: Term used to describe ESFs with a loadout specifically made to target only other enemy aircraft.

Jink: A quick and violent maneuver for quickly dodging a threat.

Lib: Short for Liberator

Locks: Used to refer to gaining a lockon missile, or many.

Lolpods: Slang term for rocketpods, coming from the early days of the game where they were laughably overpowered infantry killing machines and often associated with A2G farmers.

Maggy: Short for Magrider

Mossie: Slang for the Mosquito aircraft.

Multi-Role: Describing an ESF with a loadout with versatility in mind to engage both aircraft and ground targets with some degree of efficiency.

NAR: Short for Nanite Auto Repair

Nugget: A newbie pilot.

PeasantFarmer: Referring to an A2G shitter focusing on just killing anything on the ground, namely peasants.

PeasantWagon: Slang term for any ground vehicle carrying groundpeasants. Usually Sunderers though, but from high up in the sky, no one can make out the distinct features of every peasant wagon anyways, so they may as well all be the same.

Peels: Term used by pilots referring to 'peeling' back towards friendly air forces in an effort to both lure enemy aircraft into a waiting friendly as well as disengage quickly and safely to such friendly airspace. Mostly used in larger squadrons and potential furball dogfights.

Reverse (maneuver): Referring to the maneuver done in ESFs known as the Reverse Maneuver, in which the pilot turns his plane around 180* and swaps to hover mode and afterburns up and away in a fashion that brings his guns to bear on an opponent originally behind him. "Reverse" comes from the fact that your plane appears to be going up and backwards when performed right.

Run: Referring to an attack pattern and/or path with a specific goal, i.e. flying through a canyon low and coming up on the rear armor of a tank for a clean shot.

Rushing: Sometimes called "Reaver Rushing" if you know what an rguitar is; denotes the strategy used by pilots of straight up rushing other aircraft to throw their opponent off guard and kill them as quickly as possible at short range where aim is easier and rotaries and airhammers are most effective.
SAM(s): Short for Surface to Air Missile.

Shitter(s): Slang term for someone whom is literally a shitter. If you're a shitter, you'll know it.

SkyKnight: Term used by most groundpeasants to describe tryhard career pilots. More specifically refers to those pilots who mainly care about A2A fighting and duels, and not A2G or farming groundpeasants, though the term is often used incorrectly to refer to anyone who likes their ESF a lot

Sundie(s): Short for Sunderer.

Swarmer(s): Used as shorthand to refer to a Swarmer missile lock on oneself or another. Swarmer missile are more distinct as they are fired with 3 small missiles on radar and have an erratic flight pattern, requiring different evasion techniques than most other missiles.

Tomcats: Name used to refer to all A2A missiles, including Scythe A2A Photon Missile pods, since both the Reaver and Mosquito versions share the Tomcat name.

Up: Back in the air and in the fight (after being shot down usually, or just initial engagement)

Vanny: Short for Vanguard (MBT)

VTOL: Short for Vertical Takeoff and Landing. Sometimes referred to simply as Hover Mode or Hover Abilities.

Warpgating/Warpgate Camping: In the air, specifically referring to a pilot or group of pilots camping the warpgate of an opponent and not allowing any aircraft to leave it. Is done regardless of where the ground battle is in relation to the warpgate.

Whale/Skywhale: Slang term for Galaxies, the majestic beasts of the sky.
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11 Comments
Hader  [author] Aug 20 @ 8:43am 
TheLastUn1c0rn Most of the time it is using some combo of pitch and roll to get the angle I want and then adjust, which is why I keep my mouse sensitivity fairly low so I can use mouse movement for that fine aim adjustment. Yaw I will use if I can fly fairly level while shooting a target that for whatever reason is barely evading, or against some moving ground target that is ahead of me but not below me. Having hover frame on almost always too means I have a fairly slow yaw, which I find better still for fine aim adjustment.
TheLastUn1c0rn Aug 20 @ 3:36am 
Really good guide, thanks Hader!

The problem which is most important to me remains though: if have problems "aiming sideways". From other flying and space games I am used to having analog control of pitch and yaw at the same time to lead my target in "real time".

Now in PS2, I can't do that in the same way. Yaw is only possibly through a digital control (A and D by default, I guess), meaning that I cannot lead targets smoothly which feels very unnatural and awkward to me. When trying to aim for infantry the "chunks" of yaw I achieve with A and D most often are just not precise enough.

So the only option I see is rolling the ESF to one side and pitching up or down to make my aim go "left" or "right". Although I know this behavior form Elite: Dangerous, it feels very uncomfortable in a game where I can fall to the ground.

So here is my question:
How do you "aim left and right"? Do you use the yaw, maybe in very short taps? Or what is the whole trick behind this?
Shas Aug 17 @ 5:45am 
One stop shop for everything ESF related. You will not miss a thing via Hader's Tome of Flight. Always ask further questions too if you seek help!
GalacticSlushy Aug 8 @ 10:37pm 
Holy crap man! That's a LOT of information! Thanks a ton @Hader for all that work you put into this. Seriously. Thanks. To those who want a personal trainer just to help explain things and be a able to duel, either send me a message or add me on discord: GalacticSlushy#0681
Grushnag Jul 27 @ 3:50am 
Those hitboxes are complete lies because they're counting the landing gear.
THE LANDING GEAR IS UP DURING FLIGHT.
Almost Certainly a Fella Jul 26 @ 9:21am 
Directions confusing, dick stuck in Mosquito exahust.
(actually a really good guide)
loopuleasa Jul 24 @ 1:06am 
Wow, this guide.
Thank you for the effort. I started playing PS2 again after a 6 month break, being a Lib and Vanguard main, and now I have fallen way behind the air game. I will take this advice to heart.
Thank you.
N0Name4Me Jul 23 @ 5:49pm 
Yeah, I tested it right before I posted just to make sure it hadn't been changed while I wasn't paying attention.
Hader  [author] Jul 23 @ 5:39pm 
@ N0Name4Me - For real on the launchers? I literally don't use them I only know that from being shot by them so that's new or I misinterpreted what was being shot at me :P

I believe racer over hover on the scythe most of the time if I had to just because it could really use the speed boost for keeping up with reavers and mossies. It doesn't necessarily add more value for any of them, or detract any, but plays to different strengths that each ESF has inherently.
N0Name4Me Jul 23 @ 5:31pm 
A great and very in depth guide. One thing I do want to point out is that it doesn't matter if the g2a launchers are locked on or not, they always do the same amount of damage.

I also have a question for you. When you suggest airframes for the ESFs in step 11a, do you mean you would pick racer over hover on the scythe or do you believe racer adds more value to the scythe than it would to a reaver or mosquito?