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"You've got an enemy on your tail! Use the brake!"
—Peppy, Star Fox 64
In a knuckle-whitening aerial dogfight (or other vehicle pursuit), our hero is in a tight spot as the enemy aircraft are closing in, approaching speeds he cannot hope to match, so rather then continue to outrun his opponents, our hero does the unexpected trick of putting on the brakes, switching the advantage in a split second as his foes rush out in front of his guns.
Truth in Television, as forcing your opponent to over-shoot is actually a keynote of dogfighting tactics. There are many ways to do it, including the simple defensive high-speed yo-yo to the more complex vertical and rolling scissors. The real-life maneuver most commonly seen in media is the DO A barrel roll defense, (press z or r twice) where the defending aircraft pops up and rolls gracefully before coming back down behind the attacker. It looks cool, and the split-second reversal of advantage is suitably dramatic. This works just as well on jets as it does on biplanes; it's just that dogfights are much less common in Real Life these days.
The trope also applies to more dramatic depictions where the characters vehicle seems to literally "brake" in mid-air without fancy maneuvering. This is possible if a pilot drops his flaps, speed brake or even landing gear to slow down (though this is a desperation move since it can also make them an easy target, or worse, stall the plane), or if they have certain kinds of vectored-thrust aircraft, specifically, the version used by the Harrier Jump Jet to enable STOVL (Short TakeOff, Vertical Landing), which can perform VIFFing (Vector In Forward Flight). Still other types of aircraft with thrust-vectoring (NOT the same as vectored thrust: Thrust-Vectoring is when you can redirect the jet nozzle's thrust off-center to augment or even completely replace the use of aerodynamic control surfaces usually used only to augment/replace rudders and elevators. Somewhat more difficult use for roll control)
And of course, the trope also applies to similar braking maneuvers that are simply unpossible.
Anime and Manga
- Erica pulls one in Strike Witches, although it's Gertrud that gets the kills.
- Kudo Shin from Macross Zero does the Pugachev Cobra maneuver. Unfortunately, the enemy knows what he's up to and nothing short of abusing the VF's innate ability to change forms did Shin able to get a shot in.
- The 'braking' version is actually a fairly common Ace Pilot trick in the entire Macross franchise. It helps when you can change into GERWALK mode in mid flight and actually have your main engines point forward for a few seconds.
- Alto Saotome's attempt to do it to kill Brera in Macross Frontier fails when Brera dodges his attack. And Alto was so certain it'd work too.
- The various versions of Area 88 regularly feature these maneuvers since it's a series about Ace Pilots in dogfights.
- Yuichi's signature move in The Sky Crawlers, which wins him several dogfights. Also the signature move of The Teacher, which turns out to be a plot point.
- Graham Aker pulls this off in a Humongous Mecha in Gundam 00 a Wakening of The Trailblazer to deal with a large wave of ELS following him, by reversing the direction his thrusters are pointing. He is shown to be in some amount of pain from the G-forces he pulls doing it, but it works.
- Occured in a G.I. Joe comic.
- Most hilarious version is probably in Gold Digger, when an opponent in a VTOL uses it to allow him to brake, so it's 'Like he's flying backwards'. The protagonist, meanwhile, laughs, and his plane's engines flip around, allowing him to literally fly backwards. Crazy Awesome, definitely. Crowning Moment of Funny? That would be a few pages later in the book.
- Boba Fett did this when he was chase by IG 88 in Shadows of the Empire comic.
- Formerly named for the iconic scene from Top Gun
- Iron Man: Tony pulls out the flaps and tries to hide under one of the pursuing jets.
- The Iron Giant does this as well.
- Taken to extremes in Hot Shots with the fighter plane braking in mid-air, complete with screeching sounds and an "AIR BRAKE" pedal!
- Luke does this during the speeder bike chase on Endor.
- Subverted in Pineapple Express. Saul slams on the brakes during the police chase, only to have the following car brake beside him and open fire.
- The Terminator Sarah hits the brakes on the car while the Terminator's car continues its high speed pursuit.
- Used during Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Bumblebee, Sideswipe, and Dino/Mirage brake, causing the Dreads to jump over them instead of onto them.
- Lampshaded in the Star Wars: X Wing Series. A fake recruit in training (don't ask; If you really want to know, it's a sting operation against an officer who's faking crashes and selling fighters on the black market.), is in the simulator with other members of her squadron. Her mission is to deliberately be an average student, in order to entrap a villainous instructor into artificially improving her scores. So she takes the lead from her less experienced but determined wingmate during the simulated mission. While being chased by two TIE fighters, she pulls one of these. It doesn't work. After the sim, her commander notes something to the effect of, "you were trying to slow down, in open airspace, while being chased by two more experienced pilots in more maneuverable craft? What Were You Thinking??"
- The aforementioned wingmate is able to give the correct response to the situation: drop a missile and use the detonation as a screen for the turnaround maneuver.
- A more complicated variant is a Rogue Squadron tactic: one wingmate stops short, expecting the pursuit to also stop short. However, the other wingmate continues in a plain arc, and that pilot's pursuer follows in a predictable manner, becoming an easy target for the first Rogue.
- This is a classic scissors manuver for a two-plane element. Stackpole indulged in a little Shown Their Work in the first book of which this is part.
- In Shooting Script by Gavin Lyall, the hero kills a fighter jet with his unarmed propellor-driven plane by slowing down abruptly right in front of the jet, which stalls while trying to avoid crashing into him and goes into the ground. The fighter had been buzzing him because the local dictatorship thought he was supporting the rebels. They hassled him so much that, well....
- Favorite tactic for Dale Brown's Pat Mc Lanahan, unlike normal pilots he does it with a B-52
- In Mercedes Lackey's Sacred Ground, protagonist Jennifer is being chased by hired hitmen, in a woefully underpowered car. Thwarted in her attempts to outmaneuver them and about to be forced off the road, she abruptly remembers her brakes. The badguys overshoot and are promptly rammed by a bus going in the opposite direction.
Live Action TV
- This maneuver is referred to as "Good old-fashioned red-dogging" in the pilot two-parter of the Buck Rogers in The 25th Century TV series.
- Also shows up many times in the original Battlestar Galactica Classic, written by the same guy who did Buck Rogers.
- Airwolf did this practically every single episode; Justified as it's a helicopter that really can just stop in the air.
- Since the series takes place in space, Babylon 5 pilots occasionally do this sort of thing. Sheridan trains the station's Starfury pilots in one episode and says that aliens with greater tolerance for G-forces or are willing to let the autopilot fly while they're blacked out can be particularly dangerous in these situations.
- Crazy Ivanova?
- This is one of the exceedingly rare instances of Newtonian physics actually being shown in space. After all, in a vacuum, where you are pointing, where your engines are pointing and the direction in which you are currently travelling can all be quite different things without any particular effort or stress on the spacecraft, unlike a vehicle operating in an atmosphere.
- The correct display of Newtonian physics was also used for a variation several times in the 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, as well as in Space: Above and Beyond: In both cases, the chased pilots simply flipped their fighters backwards while keeping their momentum, thus bringing the pursuing enemy into their sights.
- Interesting variation on Firefly, with the "Crazy Ivan"--the manoeuvrable Serenity pulls a 180 flip, then engages its interplanetary drive, catching the pursuers in its high-temperature exhaust. The move is named after a real life submarine manoeuvre used for detecting ships hiding in sonar shadow.
- Which you will all of course know from The Hunt for Red October.
- Done in Stargate Atlantis by Colonel John Sheppard in an F-302 against an AI-controlled F-302 that's trying to kill him.
- Played with in a strip of Calvin and Hobbes, in which Spaceman Spiff pulls this maneuver to turn the tables on some pursuing aliens. This being outer space, they respond by simply turning around, so Spiff speeds up to get back ahead of them again, whereupon they turn around again, and so on. The last panel reveals Calvin is imagining this scenario from a swing set.
- A standard tactic in Aeronautica Imperialis, especially effective if an Eldar Nightwing dumps the throttle and pulls a nice sharp climb to drop its speed by 5 (on a 0 to 9 scale, no less), forcing the tailing Ork fighter to rocket-booster along and let the Nightwing drop down behind it and shred it in a barrage of shuriken cannon fire.
- You can do this in Star Fox 64 during the dogfights with the Star Wolf team.
- Some airship battles in Skies of Arcadia give you the option to slow down and let the other airship get ahead for a clear shot with your Harpoon Cannon (and later, Wave Motion Gun).
- Occassionally occurs with some of the more elite pilots in the Ace Combat series. The most obvious are the Su-37 Ace pilots in Ace Combat 2, which can pull a Pugachev Cobra (see under Real Life). If you don't expect it, you fly straight past and they get a perfect shot at you. If you are expecting it, you get a free shot at a completely immobile enemy.
- Yellow Squadron pilots will also perform this maneuver in Ace Combat 04 Shattered Skies; ironically, their replacements in the final mission do it so much that it back-fires, making them easy gun kills. It's similarly possible for the player to evade close-in enemies by braking and actually stalling for a second or so.
- You can do this in Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X., but realistically it's only possible with the higher-performance modern jets and not, say, a "Fishbed".
- However, the type of maneuver the game encourages you to use to get behind your enemies is the one tactic most pilots would try to avoid, which would be deliberately stalling your plane.
- Arguably the tactic in Ace Online, although the choices are, like in their real life counterpart, numerous. Should you lure your enemy into terrain? Use (or abuse) the Back Move Mach/Turn Around function to engage the enemy? Or use an innate ability to basically keep yourself alive longer than your opponents? The choice is endless.
- Subverted in Afterburner Climax; some enemy planes will do this, but all it does is make them an easy target since they can't fire at you.
- A major gameplay mechanic in Ace Combat Assault Horizon: while pursued in Dog Fighting Mode, you can pull the brakes and instantly swap places with the pursuer--though you have to be perfectly level and at an exactly right distance to the pursuer to do that (so you almost always leave yourself open to attacks briefly while getting into position).
- The game also contains a counter-move: braking in the split second when the opponent does this to you will let you machinegun his exposed cockpit For Massive Damage or, failing that, restore the original positioning with you pursuing him.
- In the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command episode "Inside Job", Buzz uses this twice as it is his Chekhov's Maneuver for the episode. He referred to it as "Stop, Drop, Rock and Roll!".
- Samurai Jack: Episode XIX "Jack Remembers the Past". Jack is being pursued by bounty hunters riding on giant hornets. Jack has his own hornet stop and draws his sword and cuts off his opponent's head as they fly past.
- Early in Transformers Cybertron, Thundercracker pulls this on Optimus Prime. Unfortunately for 'Cracker, when the smoke clears it turns out to have done no damage, and Optimus kicks off the running gag of Thundercracker being injured for our amusement by blowing up the poor Decepticon's own missiles in his face.
- Pugachev's Cobra, named after Sukhoi test pilot Viktor Pugachev who demonstrated it at the Paris Air Show.
- The first MIG-29 sent to the Paris Airshow crashed doing this, ironically. Do not assault your stall speed close to the ground!
- Although RAF Harriers and RN Sea Harriers were widely reported as VIF Fing during the Falklands War, in fact the Argentinian pilots were at the edge of their range and did not fly aggressively enough to make it necessary. Slamming the nozzles into "full hover stop" however gave the Harrier a significant advantage in a number of training dogfights.
- Many say Duke Cunningham's combat experiences formed the basis of Top Gun's action sequences, as Cunningham actually performed the maneuver in Vietnam in a big bulky F-4 Phantom II in combat against a MiG-17.