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Biggs: Luke, at that speed will you be able to pull out in time?

Luke: It'll be just like Beggar's Canyon back home. Pop the ailerons, bank into the turns ...

Biggs: Luke, you dweeb! You can't manoeuvre like that! There's no air out here!

When a lot of science fiction authors attempt to portray fighters in space, they tend to rely too much on the nature of terrestrial aircraft as a model--which as we all know gain their particular flying characteristics from the millions of tons of air they fly through. An airplane's wings are designed to get lift from the atmosphere, and they're always having to fight the friction of the atmosphere and Earth's gravity to keep aloft. Rudders, elevators, and ailerons allow airplanes to yaw, pitch, and roll through the air. Banking (rolling to one side until you reach a particular angle) puts an airplane into a turn that slowly, or quickly, changes its direction of flight. Kill the engine on most airplanes, and their wings will generate enough lift that they can still glide for a bit (hopefully to a controlled landing).

Since space is a near-perfect vacuum, there's hardly any pressure; starfighters can't rely on rudders, elevators, or ailerons to maneuver, though they don't have to worry about lift or (significant) friction either. Spaceships maneuver in space purely through use of thrust (or some equivalent) to accelerate in a given direction; with no air resistance, they can cut their thrusters and coast until a change in speed and direction is needed.

There's also the issue of gravity. Fighter aircraft in the Earth's atmosphere utilize gravity-assisted turning maneuvers like the High-Speed Yoyo, Low-Speed Yoyo, Barrel Roll Turn, Split S, and the Immelmann turn. There's also a whole school of thought in fighter combat called the "energy fight," where fighter pilots utilize the Earth's gravity to assist in outmaneuvering their opponents. In space, where gravitational pull is much more subtle, these tactics are of decidedly less utility.

But the simple fact is that most audiences are more familiar with flight in atmosphere than they are in a vacuum. Hence, Old School Dogfighting--vehicles in space maneuvering like vehicles in air.

When an author pulls this on the audience, there's a few reasons why it happened:

This trope tends to happen more often in visual media; science fiction literature (when it's not an adaption of a TV/Movie/Video game) tends to portray starfighter combat more realistically (if they show it at all).

Old School Dogfights are a subtrope of the Space Battle.

Examples of Old School Dogfighting include:


Anime and Manga

  • Justified Trope in some Gundam continuities as Minovsky Particle interference that scrambles most unshielded electronics (and most missiles are too small to fit sufficient shielding into), rendering most guided missiles more or less useless. In this case, it's more like old school infantry fighting, only bigger. Actual fighter planes, at least in space are uncommon & those that do appear are usually picked off easily by mobile suits due to the latter being more maneuverable & being able to field a larger & more powerful variety of weapons (in other words, really, Rule of Cool). The fighter jets do get a chance to shine in some of the original series' Earth-arc episodes, though.
    • In the Univeral Century timeline, the fighters were what wars were waged with prior to the development of mobile suits; they don't make much of an appearance past the Battle of A Baoa Qu. Though back story tells us that there are still new fighters being produced and developed at least 8 years after that.
    • Most universes have Transforming Mecha, but special mention should go to Mobile Suit Gundam 00, where two of the three Earth factions have "configurable" mecha - namely, they can be switched into flight modes at the base, but not in the heat of battle because of the Gs involved. So of course when The Rival does so it shows how much of a gutsy Badass he is.
  • Super Dimension Fortress Macross averts this most of the time, as the Valkyries normally use missiles. Lots and lots of missiles. Nonetheless, the series is still known for the Itano Circus, a stylized depiction of close-range dogfighting, which also includes the use of missiles.
    • Not to say there isn't a fair use of guns as well. This style continues through the entire franchise, though justified when they actually are flying in an atmosphere.
    • Macross Frontier actually plays it straight, subverts it, and inverts it at some points. Most of the time it's played straight as it is in the other series, with two notable exceptions. First, the Ghost V-9s behave very much like they're in space, changing direction with zigs and zags, which is where it's subverted (since everything else up to that point played it straight). Second, earlier in the series, Brera dodges a gun burst from Alto by zagging sideways in an atmosphere, giving the appearance of actually inverting the trope.
  • Cowboy Bebop's episodes "My Funny Valentine" & "Crazy Horses" have Old School Dogfights. "Real Folk Blues part 1" has a real dogfight above Mars, and the movie featured tons of these--which is justifiable, as much of the movie takes place in an atmospheric environment. Even Mars has an atmosphere, and you can see the vapor coming off the ship wings in the Real Folk Blues dogfight.
  • Somewhat subverted in The Five Star Stories: while the Prowler fighters used there are indeed quick, nimble, and have a crew of one, they're not exactly small, often measuring in the tens or even hundreds of meters, and they carry the most powerful weapons in the 'Verse -- buster launchers, enormous cannons fully capable of Earthshattering Kaboom. It's for this reason they were restricted to space warfare almost exclusively (there are few lords in that Feudal Future world who would fancy ruling the radioactive desert,) and Mortar Headds displaced them on the battlefield. When a couple of buster-equipped MHs were built, they were considered an oddity at the very least.
  • Fighters in Space Battleship Yamato operate with exactly identical tactics to World War Two carrier aircraft, including dive bombers and torpedo bombers.
    • Very much a part of the stylistic “feel” of the show, with the very first episode (heavily edited when it first aired in the US) even including the original WWII battle where the Yamato got sunk (by air attack) to illustrate the point.
  • Averted in Infinite Ryvius, where space battles take days, long-range weapons are employed, and orbital paths are considered; the fights are more similar to submarine warfare than airplane fights. When dogfighting does occur during the final battle, Yuki expresses surprise that such a thing is possible in space.
  • Gloriously, gloriously averted in Starship Operators. Battles take place at a distance of lightseconds, weapons travel at or near the speed of light, and hits are pretty much always instant kills.

Film

  • The Lost in Space movie opened with the classic space dogfight.
  • Though Star Wars uses this trope primarily for looks, in the background of the Expanded Universe it's semi-justified for the most part, as guided weaponry tend to be incredibly powerful, but rather expensive, and the load-out can be limited in comparison to the cheap and nigh-unlimited supply of laser blaster turbolaser shots, meaning the only concern is lining up the target.
    • As for the close range battles that tend to happen in the movies, explanations range from:
      • Desperation (Battle of Endor)
      • Environmental or external circumstances (Obi Wan vs Jango over Geonosis and the Battle over Coruscant)
      • Intense jamming (Battle of Yavin)
    • As noted in the Irregular Webcomic link at the top of the page, the fighters tend to maneuver like they would in atmosphere using aerodynamic methods.
    • Justified in the Expanded Universe material. Starfighters have built in repulsorlift fields which create a gravitational pull on the ship equivalent to atmospheric flight. This field allows the starfighter to move through vaccuum as though it was air, allowing for more traditional maneuvering. The downside to the repulsorlift technology is that it consumes fuel incredibly fast.
  • Averted in The Last Starfighter; the Gunstar was capable of 3-D maneuvering and orientation and global weapons rotation. It still relied on human reflexes, vision, and manual aiming methods, but this didn't translate into Old School Dogfighting.
  • Averted in the Alien franchise. Any ship that is built like an Earth vessel is meant as a short range drop ship sort of thing, so it needs to run in the atmosphere. Anything else never enters atmosphere because they wouldn't survive the experience.

Literature

  • Played with in Tomorrow War by Alexander Zorich: there are aerospace fighters, they have both missiles and cannons, but engage other fighters at ranges longer than in a classical dogfight. They attack big ships that aren't severely damaged only from several megameters, with missiles, since Space Navy is mostly modern navy In Space, only with better radars and laser CIWS. Pilots use biostimulant to improve their acceleration tolerance to a higher performance level.
  • Subverted in Honor Harrington. The fighter craft are fleet-footed ships ... but with crews of 10 or more that launch from carriers and operate in swarms to take down their larger, slower foes. Assuming the swarms have the proper vector to intercept their targets. It takes over half the main series before the technology to make them practical vs. capital ships becomes available, and they spend several books in field testing before being openly deployed.
    • Also despite the fact that Space Is an Ocean capital ships fight from distances so large they are expressed in exponents (and incidentally, simultaneously avert 2-D Space with their vertical Wall of Battle).
    • It is also somewhat of a pet peeve that light attack craft are not fighters. They can be described as heavily refitted inter-system patrol vessels, and it's been said that better Real Life comparison would be torpedo boats. They still play the role of carrier-launched airplanes, though...
  • An unusual example of written SF playing this trope straight is Barry Longyear's novella Enemy Mine, a survival story about two marooned space-fighter pilots, which was later made into a film.
  • There are a lot of Old School Dogfights in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, particularly the X Wing Series. No one has ever explained exactly how the "etheric rudder" (apparently the equivalent of thrusters) on a snubfighter works, for instance. Starfighters have and use concussion missiles and torpedoes (which are considered more powerful than a capital ship's turbolaser), but mostly they go with lasers (due to their expense and the existence of anti-concussion field generators). More than a few books mention that flying in space is different from flying in atmosphere, too.
    • Despite the close-range Old School Dogfighting, the novelizations do try to fill in extreme range battles we don't see in the movies (like the Liberty's long-range battle before it was destroyed by the Death Star II). Still, Han Solo's inability to engage a single TIE-Fighter over the ruins of Alderaan because it was "out of range" during A New Hope clashes with all the justifying.
      • This is expanded upon in "Tyrant's Test," which explains that the Millennium Falcon's guns are generally only fitted to capital ships, which have no standard adaptation mounts for light freighters. Chewie even had to devise the control rig himself since the standard one wasn't intended to work with cockpit seat controls.
    • Also of note: Droid starfighters exist. They're usually noted for having quicker response times than a human, and capable of maneuvers that would kill organic pilots--but their lack of tactical imagination often evens the odds. One attempt to get around this involved pairing live pilots with droid wingmen, but that was, in turn, vulnerable to jamming the link between them.
    • In the X Wing Series, Rogue Squadron attempts to avert this trope whenever possible by using standoff tactics, thinning out approaching waves of enemy fighters using the superior range and tracking capabilities of their proton torpedoes. This is the primary reason why they are able to take out enemy formations three times their size.
    • In one area this trope gets partially inverted: due to their design, TIE fighters are unable to fully apply Old School Dogfighting inside an atmosphere without risking their "wings" ripping off. Novice pilots don't always adjust for this...
      • This is in fact Lampshaded in one book where Wedge is chasing a TIE fighter in space. Because it's only trying to evade him using vertical climbs and dives, Wedge can tell the pilot is a rookie who's only been trained in atmosphere, since the TIE fighter's inefficient aerodynamic design makes it incapable of complex maneuvers in atmosphere.
  • Averted in the Bio of a Space Tyrant series by Piers Anthony. Many of the complications of battle in space are addressed, and the battles involve a lot of tactics that could only be employed in space.
  • The novelizations of the Robotech series address this problem by noting that the Veritech fighters were partially controlled by the pilot's thoughts. And since the pilots were accustomed to flying in the atmosphere, that translated to similar flying patterns in space.
  • Bujold's Vorkosigan series describes credible fleet actions in space (helped by the fact that there are no FTL drives, interstellar travel is by wormhole teleports, once there everything goes at sub-relativistic speeds). An attacking fleet builds up speed at a safe distance, makes a run through the defenders while exchanging fire, then there's a lull while the attackers reverse-thrust for the next pass. Bujold also notes that when reinforcements arrive unexpectedly, the attackers have the choice of decelerating hard and being caught dead in space, or continuing to accelerate, hoping to pass fast enough to escape.
  • Addressed in The Lost Fleet series - Fast Attack Craft (fighters) aren't even mentioned until the sixth book. Their usage is discussed, with major characters noting their use is characteristic of someone more familiar with atmospheric combat and still thinking in those terms. As always, the physics of the matter are also brought up; unable to carry the weaponry of larger ships, they are dependent upon carrier ships and are slower and less maneuverable than larger ships due to poor mass-to-thrust ratios. Their sole advantage over larger ships is their small size, which makes them difficult to target. This advantage is more than offset by their poor speed and maneuverability in relativistic combat - they are so slow by comparison to larger ships that they are incapable of turning themselves around in a timely fashion to make a second attack pass.
  • Completely averted in Triplanetary, in which formation fighting with battleships is the norm.
  • Also averted in The Forever War, in which hyperrelativistic combat is the primary mode of space combat we actually see at use in the story. While there are fighters, the act as highly mobile missile boats.
  • In the Posleen War Series, the sole Space Fighter scene averts this trope. The fighters in question using guided missiles to engage the enemy, and there's even an evasive maneuver that takes advantage of being able to change the direction one's pointing without changing vector until thrust is applied.
  • In the Gaunt's Ghosts spinoff Double Eagle, hyper advanced space fighters with vectored thrust engines and laser cannons are still mixing it up WWII style.

Live Action TV

  • Star Trek (especially TOS and related movies) tends to avert this trope, primarily showing capital ships fire torpedoes and virtually instant hit phasers at each other while performing distant evasive maneuvers. As time has gone on (and budgets have gone up), some entries in the franchise have started to play it straight--not only with the fighters, but with capital ships, too! Old School Dogfighting is especially visible in Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation, where fleet battles and any scenes featuring the Defiant show starships and starfighters alike banking, rolling, and chasing one another's tails--and not only that, but they fight at ranges comparable to WWII-era dogfights. Considering how big the capital ships are, this is so ludicrously close that it's a wonder there aren't twenty-starship pileups during the fleet battle scenes.
    • To wit, The Original Series seems to have a more realistic approach in terms of distance. Likewise, you would hardly ever see both the Enterprise and the enemy vessel on screen at once, although this obviously has completely different reasons.
      • It should also be noted that Star Trek relies on Space Is an Ocean rather than Space Is Top Gun, so the combat has a very different style than Star Wars-esque dogfighting.
        • However, some smaller starships (like Defiant and Voyager) pull off some serious dogfighting at moments. Even 700-meters-long Sovereign-class Enterprise-E pulls it off in Nemesis. Additionally, existence of sensory jamming is hinted at in some Star Trek episodes, possibly explaining prevalence of short-range combat in new series' and movies - although there are still several long range examples, like TNG episodes "The Wounded" and one other where cloaked Bird of Prey plans on attacking the Enterprise.
  • Farscape opens with John getting shot into the middle of an Old School Dogfight.
  • Used oddly in Babylon 5; the series made a point of obeying Newtonian physics. Its fighters, for example, had inertia and momentum, and used maneuvering jets to change vectors and even rotate around their centers of mass without changing their direction of flight (with some exceptions). While there was talk of point-defense against incoming missiles and the like, it still had plenty of Frickin' Laser Beams.
    • Let's qualify that: the series (sometimes) tried to feature Newtonian physics. Some of the fighters, especially the Earth Alliance ones, did exhibit full six-degree-of-freedom motion, but others didn't, and several episodes included scenes in which even the EA fighters acted like aircraft in an atmosphere, or gained and lost huge amounts of velocity instantaneously. Some scenes even had warships do the same thing, usually by supposedly decoupling forward speed and attitude, only to have a rotation produce a change in the velocity vector... just like an aircraft.
    • Word of God posits all heavy warship combat in B5 to occur at incredible distances, with cut together scenes of shots being fired with scenes of hits, to create the desired action. Except the fighters always seem to be right on top of the bigger ships, causing some unfortunate Fridge Logic questions (which JMS tried to answer by saying that fighters move at the speed of the plot).
      • In episode commentaries he mentions that the reason they only showed major battles this way once or twice was that it was visually very dull.
    • What's more, the Earth warships and fighters were never able to score victories against Minbari forces, because their weapons could not lock on. In the flashbacks with fighters, the Minbari ships often fill the field of view. One wonders, how did they miss?
      • Thank Minbari ECM for that one. Its effectiveness is easily seen in the Babylon 5 mod of Freespace (even though it's a mod and therefore not official material); normally your HUD would tell you where to aim in order for your ordnance to hit the target, but suffice to say that beyond point-blank range without this aid it is nearly impossible to hit anything, even capital ships. The fact that you and your target are moving at different speeds and different directions, and that your shots take a certain amount of time to travel from your ship to your target, make it extremely difficult to eyeball where to shoot. It's no coincidence that one of the first Real Life computers was developed to solve precisely this problem.
      • Besides there's only one flashback with fighters in which, the Minbari ships fill the field of view. In that particular flashback the pilot had just decided to kamikaze the Minbari ship which was filling his field of view.
  • Stargate SG-1 has a few, and every race has at least one vehicle useful in a dogfight (F-302s, Death Gliders, Puddle Jumpers, Wraith Darts etc.).
    • The F-302 and Death Gliders are hybrid aircraft that can also fight in atmosphere, which might excuse their aerodynamic design to some degree.
      • What, as compared to Puddle-Jumpers and Darts, neither of which are all that aerodynamic, but both of which can not only fight in atmosphere, but travel through Stargates? The Goa'uld also invented a Stargate traveling Death Glider at one point, but due to the difficulty of "threading the needle" only master pilots were able to use them for that purpose.
  • Averted in Andromeda. Ship-to-ship combat takes place between two ships using fist-size, kinetic missiles that travel a significant percentage of the speed of light, with Anti-Proton cannons only used as close range and generally instant-kill weapons. However, in the Slipfighter scenes, most fighting is done with energy weapons, and it takes a long time for missiles to lock on to a target (presumably since they have sophisticated counter-measures), but when they do, they're generally one-hit kills.
  • Justified Trope and mildly Averted Trope in the new Battlestar Galactica Reimagined - Cylon ECM is good enough to make guided missiles useless. The Cylons do use missiles, especially in the miniseries, and warships are equipped with point-defenses to compensate. Additionally, fighters often take advantage of freefall conditions to flip around or perform strafing attacks. Some of the ships still use missiles, though, as there're times when Raptors use missile pods to fire them out against Cylons.
    • It seemed that the Raptors' missiles were unguided. This would require them to be fired at relatively close range, as seen in the show. It'd make sense -- you can't jam an unguided warhead, and might be evidence that the Colonials are adapting their weapons systems.
    • One wonders if the Colonial restrictions on computer research have anything to do with the lack of "fire and forget" weapons in their arsenal, but the Galactica was one of the oldest battlestars in the fleet and was on the verge of being decommissioned at the start of the series.
    • Another Battlestar is shown launching a ship-to-ship missile -- against another human ship. So they can use long-range weapons if they need to, but thanks to Cylon ECM the preferred tactics seem to be to rely on defensive gun batteries and heavy armor while the Viper wing brings down the Base Ship.
    • Also worth noting that the original Battlestar Galactica played this trope straight on nearly every episode.
      • Of course they did; they were using the same stock footage almost every time.
  • Pretty much used in every episode of Buck Rogers in The 25th Century. With the same stock footage almost every time.
      • There's also the fact that the Vipers are shown to be able to fly sideways or backwards, making another aversion.
  • Space: Above and Beyond. The Human SA-43 "Hammerhead" fighters had guns infront and behind so they could shoot at targets that wasn't in fount of them.
  • The interceptors in UFO use stand-off missiles, though they appear to be unguided. The combat in general draws very much from popular Battle of Britain images: Moonbase is the beleaguered sector airfield and SID (Space Intruder Detector) the RDF radar. Calmly-speaking young women (the WAAF's) vector in Interceptors (Spitfires) against the anonymous alien invaders (German bombers). But given that the Moon takes 27.322 days to orbit the Earth, one wonders why the aliens don't just attack when Moonbase is on the opposite side of their target.
  • Doctor Who came up with an example of this trope taken to its extreme - through some technobabble upgrades, 1940's Spitfires take on a Dalek ship in orbit.

Tabletop Games

  • Played straight, then averted in BattleTech. Under the standard rules, aerospace fighters function much the same in either space or atmosphere -- there are some practical differences between the environments, but the basic maneuvers and tactics are still the same. Cue the advanced rules (found in the Strategic Operations volume in the current incarnation of the rule set), though, and suddenly fighters in space can use their maneuvering thrusters to spin in mid-flight in ways that they never could in mid-air. (This doesn't change their heading, mind, just their facing -- but it still effectively turns them into fast-moving turrets.)
  • This trope is the entire purpose of the Warhammer40000-derived game Aeronautica Imperialis. The only guided missiles in the game are ground-attack-only weapons.
    • The Imperium has access to Skystrike missiles for air-to-air combat, and Tau seeker missiles give them a distinct edge over other races, but for the most part the game plays this trope straight.
  • Also inverted in the Warhammer40000-derived game Battle Fleet Gothic where the ship models come close to one another to fire, but the rulebook explains that the models are just visual aids--at the scale the game is played at, ships (be they capital ships or starfighters) are really just specks that are thousands of kilometers apart: they just appear to follow this trope so that the player can see what they're doing / have funky models that aren't epic-scale small they can mess around with / Rule of Fun

Video Games

  • The Evochron series allows for old-school dogfighting when the Inertial Dampening System is active, which fires your vernier thrusters automatically to fly you in a straight line. Using it in a dogfight is basically a death sentence though, as players who take advantage of the benefits of the game's Newtonian physics will be boosting past you backwards at 5 times the IDS's max speed. Dogfights in planets play this straight though, as players must maintain a constant forward speed to generate lift. If the player tries to fly without the IDS active, he'll likely plummet to the ground.
  • Elite for the 8-bit BBC Micro was the original space-borne point of view shooter/trader game, with later versions for other computers. The original version used this trope. Some of later versions tried to have more realistic physics, but this made for very poor game play; basically you just pointed your ship at the enemy and blasted away until one of you destroyed the other, occasionally crashing into each other instead.
    • Played with in Frontier's versions of Elite--Newtonian physics, more or less sensible effective weapon ranges but AI is rather simple, so you still get to see some bot nearly ramming you, and instruments for long-range fight (even zoom) are not implemented, turning this into sort of Pixel Hunt.
  • Mass Effect neatly averts this; the only weapon that fighter-bombers carry are slow-moving disruptor torpedoes which can bypass kinetic barriers by moving at slow speeds to knock out enemy vessels; the only reason fighters are used is because the disruptors move slow enough to be picked off by point defense weapons. Interceptor fighters, equipped with smaller, lighter missiles intended to target enemy fighter-bombers, are too weak to actually hurt shielded warships.
    • The game's encyclopedia and several novels specifically mention that only humans had the big idea of building dedicated carrier ships. Prior to this, most of the Citadel species used organic fighter support, with every cruiser or dreadnought carrying its own fighter and bomber complement.
    • Another entry in the encyclopedia describes "modern" ship-to-ship space combat. It starts with dreadnoughts exchanging artillery fire at extreme ranges. The fleets then close in to medium range with destroyers, frigates, and cruisers pitching in their firepower. Close range is rare, as only battle-hardened commanders would be willing to close in for the kill, especially without the support of dreadnoughts, whose weapons are useless at close range (which explains why the Destiny Ascension, the most powerful ship of the Citadel fleet, was crippled by the Geth fleet and Sovereign -- the Geth rapidly closed in to short and medium range, ensuring that the Ascension's artillery guns would be minimally effective).
    • While Joker does bank the Normandy like a fighter jet from time to time, he also points out that banking in a vacuum is hard. Presumably it's more complex than he makes it look; Joker is a damn good pilot.
  • The Wing Commander games employ most of this trope. The in-game flight mechanics of the series are not reminiscent of airplanes (they yaw instead of bank when they turn, for one), but they do enforce Space Friction and Chasing Your Tail. What's more, the flight mechanics do not change when fighting in a planet's atmosphere, making it seem more like Wing Commander has its own bizarre rules of reality for both air and space.
    • And then from the third game onward we add the "Auto-slide" function, engaged (by default) by hitting CAPS-LOCK. Your fighter will now maintain its current speed and direction, but can rotate in all 720 degrees whilst doing so. Release CAPS-LOCK to disengage Newtonian physics.
    • And, just to add to the Mind Screw, the novels avert this, mentioning the possibility of infinite acceleration limited only by fuel, and unabashedly breaking the in-game rules about each ship design having Space Friction-imposed maximum speeds.
  • The Star Wars game X-Wing Alliance tried to justify the trope by saying that guided missiles could be easily shot down by enemy ships unless dumb-fired, which require close ranges regardless.
    • Empire at War gives fighters two purposes: killing fighters (to stop them from killing your bombers) and killing bombers. Corvettes are much better at this than fighters (which have a 1:1 kill ratio), but they can be targeted by capital ships, whereas fighters can't.
  • The space shooter Free Space 2 has "World War I-style dogfighting" written on the box as a feature. This is not entirely true, however, as your primary guns are quite a bit less effective than missiles, even though both forms of combat occur at absurdly short ranges and velocities (the maximum cruising speed of most fighter craft could easily be beaten by an ordinary automobile). Capital ships in Freespace 2 avert the trope to the extent of mounting beam cannons with extremely long ranges relative to other weapons in the game.
    • The Freespace Source Code Project had some fun with this, namely by implementing "Newtonian Physics" just because they could. Of course, this broke the AI and made the game unplayable, so it's not a standard feature on their builds.
  • The original Descent series inverts this, as player ships and most enemies completely ignore gravity even though it takes place mostly in environments that would have at least some gravity (there is Space Friction where there shouldn't be, however). Ships have no need to maintain forward velocity and can hover or accelerate freely in any direction, making them more akin to gunships than fighters, and as such, "dogfighting" in open areas includes completely different maneuvers.
  • In Project Sylpheed you can try to shoot down enemy fighters with your machine guns, but you start with a guided missile system mounted, and can research and mount several more. All of them are more effective at killing enemy fighters than guns, and most carry enough ammo that you won't need to resupply often. Your guns and other unguided weapons are most useful at shooting turrets, engines, and shield generators off capital ships. You can also cut your engines to glide on inertia, but most other aspects of the trope are played absolutely straight.
  • Averted Trope in Eve Online. Guided missiles are perfectly valid ship weaponry, and are preferred in some situations. Regular guns are mounted on turrets that track targets, so piloting your ship is important only in the strategic sense of where you want to be in a battle. Most major fleet engagements occur at ranges of up to 200km between battleships sniping each other with artillery while smaller ships usually have a screening role.
  • In Homeworld, strike craft based on the fighter chassis make strafing runs against their targets, whereas other craft will simply fly into weapons range and unload. Unlike this trope, however, they tend to maneuver by doing 180 degree turns and returning on the same path to their target.
  • Sometimes averted in Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere. Missiles are much more practical than guns (especially since you have an almost infinite supply) ... unless you're flying a ship that fires lasers instead of machine guns.
    • Zero takes it Up to Eleven by making you and the final boss do the equivalent of Air Jousting.
    • Assault Horizon deserves special mention because it surpasses the previous games by cranking this trope Up to Eleven, with modern fighter jets getting gunkills on each other at distances where you can literally open up the canopy and spit on the opposing fighter. Justified in the fact that the developers admitted they did this solely for Rule of Cool.
  • In Freelancer, you can shoot down starfighters with missiles, but they're highly dodgeable and using your guns is much more effective.
    • Actually, the combination of both is much more effective. There is a reason for most people using missiles on vanilla servers.
  • In Sins of a Solar Empire, missiles are a standard weapon. However, they're not the only weapon; beams, photon torpedoes and other wave-shaped thingies that defy explanation are the standard equipment that every ship has, even the 'missile only' craft.
    • That said, the game handles more like an infantry sim than an air, space, or even naval sim. Squadrons will go to their assigned location or post up on their assigned target, turn and maneuver into a formation with each ship pointing the maximum number of guns it can at the enemy, and then open up with everything they've got. If that target location is amongst the enemy fleet, your ships will move among and sometimes even collide with other ships, mainly due to demonstrably poor path algorithms. Only the fighter and bomber craft actually fit this trope but they fit it perfectly; in looks, in role, and in how they fly.
    • Even moreso, they have the roles of dogfighting. The bombers attack large targets. The fighters are the best weapon against bombers and fighters, and therefore fighters will be in both the attacking and defending contingents much like the bombing raids over Europe in WW 2. The AA boats are pretty good against bombers but they devastate fighters, but are themselves one of the, if not the weakest combat unit in the game.
  • Averted in the adventure game Mission Critical, where ships do use fighters alongside missiles, but human input has no place in combat when combat computers act orders of magnitude faster. One plot point involves a serum meant to put human input back in, strong AI having proved unattainable. You do not want to imagine what it has to do to people.
  • Vega Strike currently features an interesting attempt at close combat in Newtonian physics (FTL disables shields and doesn't work well close to other ships), though not without dubious parameters for weapons and defences while ignoring the heat sinking problem. Dogfighting is possible, but not optimal: light craft tactics tends toward either high-velocity "jousting" passes or close-quarters strafing dance; even cheapest missiles has much greater effective range than guns or beams, though far launches are more likely to be jammed or shot.
  • Averted in the Escape Velocity series, as in-game mechanics include inertia (unless you're piloting certain ships) with no Space Friction--however, battles between starships and starfighters do take on a form similar to Air Jousting rather than Old School Dogfighting (at least for the AI). Though guided torpedoes and missiles can be used effectively by you and are annoying for you to dodge/jam/block, the primary weapons are laser cannons, proton cannons and their turreted versions, all of which have infinite ammo. Ships also have arbitrary maximum velocities, inertia or no.
  • In Ace Online, while ridiculously high-altitude and long-range missile combat is possible, war situations tend to move towards close-range combat for numerous reasons, including:
    • A-gears in Siege Mode are capable of killing at extreme distances due to the volume of firepower they're capable of, especially if they have a unique build of Legendary Weapon called the Hax-Smash. However, the minimum range on their weapons (which is affected by their armor) means that the best way to kill them aside from B-gear bombardment would be to approach low with an A-gear of your own while they are busy killing something else, and take them down from where their guns cannot lock on to you.
    • M-gears can also take down A-gears at close range by circle-strafing them with their Standard weapons inside said minimum range.
    • B-gears are able to rain death from the very top of the battlefield. However, they're often used instead as a battering ram in nation war events, in which they attempt to destroy defenders pouring weapons fire into a zone gate with an Action Bomb that takes out nearby gears.
    • I-gears have amazing maximum lock-on range with their missiles, but it's also harder to lock on to the desired target from extreme range if said target is surrounded by clouds of sacrificial decoy craft.
  • Averted Trope in the Independence War series. Dogfights completely follow the laws of Newtonian physics. Inertial compensation is turned on by default, but you can easily switch it off-and you will if you want to maintain a high speed necessary to dodge missiles, not to mention being able to take your hands off the thruster override controls while gliding along on inertia and taking potshots at passing enemies with max-energy weapons. Note that Chasing Your Tail is still encouraged due to a general lack of weapons and shield coverage, albeit difficult due to said Newtonian physics and inertia.
  • Averted Trope HARD in Terminus. Not only is there no Space Friction, but the act of maneuvering burns precious fuel-generally a non-factor in other space combat games. Care must be taken to conserve fuel lest one be stuck drifting endlessly in space.
  • Done both right and wrong in Tachyon : The Fringe. On the one hand, the player can turn his starfighter towards any direction while keeping his original momentum and speed (i.e. the fighter can move one way, while the nose points in the opposite direction), then reapply thrusters - very handy to perform very tight turns. On the other hand, the second your afterburners are cut, you lose their extra burst of speed despite there being no friction in space.
  • Played straight in the indie space fighter game Critical Mass, in which your squad does indeed have guided missiles, but the ships often turn faster than the missiles do. Add this to the fact that a lot of ships are equipped with the powerful but unguided Plectron rocket, and you get Old School Dogfighting.
  • The X-Universe games, like pretty much everything set in space, heavily invokes this trope but X3: Reunion is a particularly egregious offender. Most medium to heavy missiles are not only easily shot down by guns, but are actually slower than their intended targets. Arguably a response to Artificial Stupidity, as the missiles are prone to Roboteching and there's no such thing as countermeasures.
    • X3 proudly advertised its "newtonian" physics model, and certainly you do have a bit of drift when rapidly changing directions. However, it still works with the constant thrust = constant speed model, and you can't even disengage your thrusters to coast or rotate your ship while carried by your forward momentum.
    • One minor part of the trope is averted, however: Ships maneuver using thrusters rather than some sort of space rudder. On small ships (particularly Split fighters) you can sometimes even see the thruster fire.
  • X Wing, TIE Fighter and the rest of the series, naturally. It's notable in that not only are they trying to emulate the examples set in the film, but they are as much a Spiritual Successor to Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe as much as they are Star Wars licensed games.
  • Star Fox is built on this trope, which shouldn't be surprising since the ships used are basically just the X-wings from Star Wars. Levels take place in open space, near the ground, or even near the surface of a sun, but the handling is always exactly the same.

Web Comics

  • Crimson Dark
  • Angels 2200
  • Notably averted in Schlock Mercenary, where fighters are mentioned multiple times, but aren't shown acting like airplanes. In fact, given the technology of the setting, tanks are more than capable of standing in for dedicated starfighters. To wit, Tagon's Toughs has an armor unit that doubles as a starfighter wing, used several times in ship-to ship-combat.

Real Life

  • Though we have yet to see any Real Life battles in space, the fact that there are no guided missiles is actually partially Truth in Television. The Cold War spawned multiple designs for combat spacecraft, but in nearly all cases, the intended method of combat involved intercepting a satellite for up-close inspection, then destruction with unguided rockets or mines. Some of the Almaz series of space stations launched by the USSR were also armed, but only with aircraft cannons or unguided missiles. The Polyus (also Russian) would have had just a cannon.
  • On the other hand, the presence of guided missiles capable of being launched and directed from outside "eyeball range" makes Old School Dogfighting increasingly more rare in modern aerial combat. Still, old-fashioned pilot-to-pilot duels using close-range weaponry do happen from time to time.
    • With each generation of new aircraft, someone has declared that dog fighting is a thing of the past, and they've always been wrong. It was so bad in the early 1960s that the US military had banned its pilots from practicing Air Combat Maneuvering, and designed the F-4 Phantom without a gun. Then Vietnam happened.
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