I'm looking for an aircraft maneuver described in (I believe science) fiction. In order to get going fast a jet climbs higher than it needs to, then in a powered descent or dive gains additional speed through acceleration by gravity.

I think it might have been described in the novel Deception Point by Dan Brown (2001), where either scientists or government officials needed to get somewhere as absolutely quickly as possible.

But in my gut it feels more like a Michael Crichton story that I'm recalling.

  • 1
    I'm just looking at Deception Point. No scene appears to match the one you've described, nor is there any use of the words "powered descent" or "dive" (except in relation to water)
    – Valorum
    Feb 11, 2020 at 0:12
  • @Valorum despite what it sounds like, the context where I've read this was a plane-old (pun intended) airplane in the air, though internet searches using any descriptive terms I can think of keep going to the spacecraft maneuver.
    – uhoh
    Feb 11, 2020 at 2:59
  • 3
    'Flight of the Old Dog' maybe. OTOH, that is such a common, real world tactic (dive bombers used it in naval aviation throughout WW2), that it might appear in any number of books that have descriptions of aerial conflicts.
    – Kristian H
    Feb 11, 2020 at 15:57
  • One of the Firefox books?
    – Moriarty
    Feb 12, 2020 at 3:00
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Null
    Feb 12, 2020 at 3:50

1 Answer 1


I can't say the exact source you're referring to, but this is a very real maneuver carried out by fighter aircraft in order to reach higher speeds and altitudes. It is a modification of the more typical "zoom climb", and I believe is referred to as such.

A normal zoom climb is nothing special, you simply pull up and let the aircraft slow as it climbs. Normally if you continue this it will reach a speed where it's too slow and begins to stall.

But the way lift is generated at supersonic speeds is fundamentally different than subsonic. It is not uncommon that an aircraft will have two very different places in the performance envelope for the same amount of engine output.

A good example is the EE Lightning, where it was known as an "energy climb". The standard interception profile was to fly normally to a set altitude (25k?), accelerate in a slight dive to go supersonic, then pulling up into a zoom climb. The aircraft would now reach a new altitude (quite high IIRC, they caught U-2s) where it could cruise supersonically. I believe the F-104 was similar.

Shaw talks about it in Fighter Combat, but I can't find a version with snippet view on Google.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.