In Aviation, what are Dogfights?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2019
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The concept of dogfights, as they relate to aviation, emerged during the time of World War I. Essentially, a dogfight is a style of wartime aerial combat that is designed to allow opposing forces to engage in battle in the air, rather than simply at ground level. The idea of dogfights came about after planes that had been used mainly for observation purposes began to carry artillery and bombs as part of their standard gear. This innovation allowed the aircraft of opponents to engage in the exchange of gunfire while in the air, as well as drop bombs on land targets.

An interesting but often forgotten fact about early dogfights is that pilots often carried lengths of rope during those early years. The planes of the era all operated with the use of propellers. Rope was the perfect medium to deploy in hopes of tangling the propellers of enemy planes, causing the engines to stall. However, after machine guns were mounted in turrets or on the sides of the small planes, it became increasingly difficult to make use of this strategy.


By the Second World War, dogfights had become increasingly sophisticated, with many of the techniques developed during World War I forming the foundation for the new methods. Faster planes, tracking systems, and greater maneuverability helped pilots to engage in a number of raids and aerial battles that would have amazed the earlier dog fight experts. Flying squadrons were provided with colorful nicknames, and many movie newsreels and radio broadcasts provided the general public with continual updates of the successes of these valiant fighters. Many key battles during the Second World War were understood to have been won as a direct result of dogfights, with the Battle of Britain being an often-cited example.

With the continuing advances in warfare technology, there was a period in which the concept of dogfights was deemed to be outmoded. However, the Vietnam War quickly proved that in spite of newer technology, dogfights were still an important strategy in the modern world. Intensive training of pilots to engage in dogfights continues to this day. With fighter aircraft that is more comprehensive than ever, dogfights are now referred to as air combat maneuvering, or ACM.


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