There are three main travel vectors along which a Banshee can move:
(1) Forward, with or without rotation
(2) Hovering in place (done by holding the "back" key -- will induce a slight rearward motion, but for combat purposes, is sufficiently close to a hover)
(3) Falling straight down by gravity (done by releasing all throttle)
Most pilots only account for the first. Some use the second. Rarely is the third seen.
Hovering is mostly useful when no motion is desired, whether to facilitate a stable firing platform or because, simply, you're in the best place at the moment. An example is when bombarding another Banshee that has gotten stuck against the terrain.
Falling is a rare secret. When you first use it, it will be a trick, but mastery will come when it progresses to a seamless piece of your combat maneuvering. Basically, it is another angle of movement to supplement forward movement, one that classic flight sim'ers will not comprehend. Use it to fire from a constant x,y coordinate point yet still engage in some degree of evasive motion; use it for more complex mobility; use it to "strafe vertically," the only planar motion a Banshee is capable of.
A falling Banshee can turn faster than a hovering Banshee, and a hovering Banshee can turn faster than a flying Banshee.
Understand, however, that both hovering and dropping are weaker defensively than flying; being less mobile, you are easier to target than a circling aircraft. However, against all but the most skilled of opponents, this will not be an issue; your opponent will simply continue circling or "stunting," allowing you to train continuous fire on him.
Of course, you should never remain in one position, or even one "system of motion" for very long. Change constantly. Always imagine what you would do to an enemy that was doing what you're doing; would you be an easy target or a hard one?
Remember leading. Even on a lagless server, both plasma fire and fuel rods have relatively slow travel time, especially in the rapid timespaces of air combat. The VAST MAJORITY of shots fired in the air (those that are meant to hit, and not merely the result of the fire key being held while one maneuvers) are useless solely because they are not properly led. You must fire considerably ahead of any target, taking into account both your vector and your opponent's.
The most advantageous position in an air-to-air battle is below your opponent with a clear shot into his underbelly. This seems unlikely, but does happen, usually when the opponent begins a misguided hover and you take advantage of it by hovering yourself below them, firing with impunity. This position is shockingly devastating; a single fuel rod and a smattering of plasma will kill a target instantly. The reason is because you are hitting the pilot, not the plane. Smaug's Bane. Because of the unusual nature of this position, it is more an attack of opportunity than something to seek. You cannot take it, but they may give it to you.
The secondmost superior position is on the immediate tail of your opponent, firing into their rear. This is the classic dogfighter's tactic, and perfectly sound; however, it will rarely last long, unless the enemy has another agenda and would rather fly than fight.
The thirdmost preferred position is above the opponent or beside him, firing into his roof or flanks. Like a wrestler's side mount, there is no inherent advantage to this, but it can cause effective damage. This is the bread and butter of rough-and-tumble realistic battle; in any dogfight lasting more than a few moments (which is an ambush), the majority of the damage will be done from a slanting side angle.
Head to head is an equal position, and dangerous; it will likely only last for a few seconds, usually in the beginning of the engagement or in a recommencement, when the opposing Banshees "charge." If you can aim better, you will do better. The drop is a useful way to both clear oncoming shots, pump fire into the other Banshee, and possible establish a bottom position.
One of the most key concepts, and vital skills, of a Banshee pilot is "the circle." This is the iconic template wherein both pilots attempt to attain the tail of the other, ending up spinning in an eternal circle, like ouroboros consuming its tail. Both aircraft have perfectly equal minimum turning radii, and equal weapons; this is a stalemate that accomplishes nothing. Generally, neither Banshee can hit the other, due to the speed of the circle and the lack of sufficient lead. Therefore, a quintessential and defining skillset of the Banshee pilot must be to "break the circle," to dominate and end the stalemate. Virtually all dogfights begin here, and some end here. It is a vital skill.
The best way to break the circle is not to enter it. When only one pilot is circling, it is a weak form; the free pilot can fire at the circler without fear and with ease. However, clearly it is an uncommon enemy that will circle for your leisure without a reason. In the end, though, the simplest way to beat the circle is to break the rules. "If you are losing at a game, change the game." Upset the circle by moving on other axes (dropping will GENERALLY be preferable to hovering, as it lends a degree of evasion, as well as increases your turnspeed and establishes potential bottom angles). Don't remain there long; static reliance on any position or technique is asking to be shot down. Quickly segue into more motion, remembering the positions of dominance.
Ground targets are both a Banshee's greatest strength and greatest weakness. Remember that the rules are different on the ground, and you cannot expect to apply the concepts of air battle to a strafing run.
When attacking targets that are on foot, it is best to bombard them with a stream of plasma, hit with a fuel rod (all while diving toward them), and promptly smear them into the ground with your Banshee, in a single, clean impact. The least desirable attack is to miss your dive, and begin to spin gawkishly on the ground, attempting to squirm around until you hit your target. Clearly, the ideal attack is one from a distance, but this is rarely viable; Banshee weapons can take a surprisingly long time to kill, and you are fairly vulnerably even to hand weapons. Also, you will generally have other things to do. The impact crush is the only fast and effective means of an instant kill.
If you approach from the back or the target does not see you, consider charging them sans fire and crushing them by surprise, or dropping from above. If they are on a cliff, consider swooping up from below (perhaps unseen) and "ledging" them off -- or coming from the other direction and forcing them to step off the edge to their death.
If YOU are on foot and are attacked from the air, your best options are heavy weapons -- the rocket launcher or perhaps the fuel rod cannon, or, for the daring, the flame thrower. In the absence of these, your best friend will be the shotgun. When the Banshee tries to bulldog you, dodge by jumping and running (jumping is vital against a skilled attacker!) and constantly pump the shotgun into them at close range. It will take time, depending on how close you are when you fire your shots, but eventually you will blow the pilot out of the Banshee.
Plasma grenades against Banshees are difficult but sometimes effective. With these, as with heavy weapons, wait for the Banshee to bulldog into the ground before you fire at the motionless target. Frag grenades are style weapons, almost never feasible against a Banshee.
If you are the pilot attacking the infantry who has a rocket launcher, fuel rod, etc., do not enter or attempt to crush. Make diving attack runs like a WWII fighter, firing at them until they die.
When using a Banshee to attack a tank, remember several things. The tank's strength is an attack that can kill you immediately. Its weakness is a difficulty in maneuvering, and the challenge of aiming its slow-reloading shot to hit a flying Banshee. Needless to say, if you are slow or predictable in your flight, or stop to drop or hover at any point, or simply fly in a straight, linear course when approaching the tank, it will hit you with ease. If you can see it fire (a long contrail, like a sniper rigle), then you can count the reload until the next shot is available, approximately four seconds. When the reload is complete, execute a sharp evasive action, such as a diagonal, diving cycle. With luck, you will dodge the next shot, and will be able to continue your approach.
Upon reaching the tank, you have two choices. DIRECTLY above the tank, you will be invulnerable; the tank's turret cannot elevate to this angle, and you can hover and fire straight down until it dies. It needs wariness and care to maintain this position. If you can see the exposed driver of the tank, aim for him.
The second option is to proceed into a position immediately behind the tank's turret, with its barrel facing the opposite direction, and fire straight into the tank. The turret will try to turn and face you, but the stun effect of your plasma will hinder it -- not enough to stop it, though. You will have to adjust your position by moving, or hope to kill it before it can bring the barrel to bear, or, ideally, get so close that the rotation of the turret actually pushes you, keeping you in a safe position. No matter what your position, you will need two full fuel rod shots and a barrage of plasma to make your kill. Usually, the second fuel rod will come just in time, saving your knickers.
The last method of preventing the shot, not recommended, is to simply stay so close and tight to the tank that it cannot manage to put the barrel into you; it is literally too long. Like all infighting, this is playing with fire, but may sometimes force itself upon you.
Attacking a Warthog is fairly basic, though you must be careful if it is manned with a gunner (again, the drop is a good defense while you attack, and a straight flight is not). Your goal is to disrupt the Warthog's base by hitting the ground beside, behind, or in front of it with a fuel rod; the Warthog will flip, causing damage and giving you infantry to deal with. Proceed to level them with clean sweeps. Another option is to fly DIRECTLY above the vehicle, where the gunner, like that of a tank, cannot target you.
Attacking a Ghost is similar to a Warthog, with two exceptions: They are dangerous, and they are difficult to flip. Because they fire the same stuff you do, you must be careful not to fly down to the same plane as them; they can damage you. Rather, stay high and above, where, like a tank or Warthog, they cannot target. Because they hover, they will be tough to flip; if you manage it, immediately swoop in and flatten the driver. If not, continue pestering them with plasma and fuel rods until they die. Do not try to flip the Ghost with a wing, if you can have a choice.
Attacking a Shade is dangerous because of the power of their fire, and because they are essentially designed to combat targets like you. Treat them like a tank, and approach them in the same manner; once you have acquire the hovering-above position, dispatch them identically to the #1 tank method. They cannot aim up.
Do not underestimate them; they can kill you.
If the gunner, seeing his fate, absconds from the turret to attack in another manner, he will be badly hurt already; continue your barrage, and only swoop to crush if he steadfastly refuses to die.
Dogfighting against multiple Banshees is a difficult art. The best scenario is when several of them cycle away for long enough for you to target one, dispatch it, then move to the next. If one gets caught in terrain, hovers, or is otherwise indisposed (especially if you have an underbelly shot), you can remove him from the fight quickly. However, this is largely chance. While common wisdom in a mob attack is to concentrate on one attacker until he is destroyed, then move to the next (with the idea that three attackers at 2/3 health each will kill you just as dead as if they had full health, whereas if you focused that damage on one attacker, he would be destroyed, yielding one less gunner trying to kill you), this is not always possible in the chaotic madness of a multiple-Banshee air battle (and it will be chaotic, incredibly so -- keeping your calm, your aim, and your mousepad is a practiced skill). Often, while focusing on one target, he will spin away or get lost in the chaos, forcing you to find another -- or he may wheel off and disengage, so that while you follow him to kill, another attacker acquires your tail and shoots you just as you are shooting his partner. Devotion is impossible with multiple attackers, as devotion implies predictability and doggedness, which will get you killed. You must be able to attack and focus fire on single targets, but only in the short term, and if your opportunity is lost, to move immediately to the next. Your kills will come from lucky breaks, underbelly shots or mistakes; they will not come from the long battles of attrition so common in one-on-one dogfights. I have no more to say on multiple attackers except that practice and fluidity will serve you well in them, as in all things. I must study them more and see whether they suggest more efficient tactics.
Always beware of becoming so engaged in an air battle that you do not see the tank or infantry aiming at you. Remember your goals: If in Slayer, you merely want kills, so if you see an easier target you can take, do not be afraid to grab it. If you have another objective (CTF, KotH), remember why you are here, and think if this fight serves it or hinders it.
If you can equip yourself with one or two heavy, brutally simple weapons (RL, fuel rod, etc.), you will be able, if needed, to dismount your Banshee and pursue a fleeing infantryman, or deal with a pesky ground target (motionless tanks are good targets, as they will not expect you), or even get the drop on a Banshee that will not anticipate a land attack and, if you dismount quickly when they wheel away and hold your fire until they wheel back for another attack, may not notice that your Banshee is empty until too late. If they get stuck on a tree or rock, best of all.
The most effective configuration of Banshees is to fly in "wings" of two. If both pilots are skilled, this is a devastating formation; one pilot should be the flight leader and one the wingman, with the flight leader flying where he chooses and the wingman following closely (not too near, so as not to be taken by the same tank shot, but quite close still). When engaging the same target, one method of preventing friendly fire is for one Banshee to attack from generally high, the other to stay generally low. Be careful with fuel rods, which can kill anybody.
Practice, study, and learn. Enjoy the skies.
- Brandon "vector40" Oto