Before you start doing some fancy dogfighting, it's necessary to make the proper preparations. This includes ship, gun and missile selection. This seems obvious, but I know quite a lot of friends who make a selection based on the name of the ship/weapon or whether it looks cool or not.
It's important to know what kind of weapons work best in certain situations. The Prometheus S for example is an extraordinary weapon, but because of it's slow refire rate, I'm not able to use it properly. This makes the weapon useless for me, since I prefer guns with a high refire rate which may lack the punch of the bigger brother.
It's also important to pick a ship where you are comfortable with. The GVF Serapis is an excellent interceptor with high speeds, but it's light armor do not fit the profile of my 'ideal' ship. Although not an interceptor, I prefer to take a ship with less maneuverability and more armor like the myrmidon.
If you know what you are going into, try to pick your most favorable ships, guns and missiles for that situation! The default selection of the computer is not bad, but don't be afraid to change it.
Know the controls
Also obvious and simple. Just keep in mind that you don't need to know every key to be a good pilot. I know the keys which allow me to play comfortably and relaxed, e.g.: I never use the M key (auto adjust speed to target). Why? Because I think it's annoying. I want to go full speed ahead and I'll adjust my speed with the A/Z temporary speed adjust keys.
When I see a friend goofing up because he can't find the gun/missile selection key while flying, I have an urge put my head in the toilet and flush. Things like that shouldn't happen, they can mean the difference between life and death.
Most of you will be flying this space sim with a joystick (you have to be nuts if you don't). Well, don't forget to adjust the sensitivity of the joystick to your liking. Maximum sensitivity is not always the best option, since it has a big influence on your aim. To those who want to use the rudder but can't: you can install the rudder in your key assignment screen. Select absolute positioning if you install your rudder.
There are lots of different flying styles, but I'm going to explain mine. This might help newbies a bit in developing their own style.
First of all adjust your weapon settings. I always tend to set my guns in dual fire mode (this already explains why I can't use 2 guns which drain power very fast). This gives me max. damage with the least effort. Once my gun energy is running low I switch back to single fire mode (but that almost never happens). For the missiles it depends on the type of missile and the type of target. Against fighters I use single/dual launch mode, depending on the rocket. Trebuchets shouldn't be launched to a fighter in dual launch mode ... it has sufficient power to knock a fighter down by itself. Dumbfires, on the other hand, are always launched in dual fire mode ... they lack punch against both fighters as capital ships. Against capital ships I always fire missiles in dual mode. There are only 2 exceptions: the Cyclops and the helios missile.
An important aspect of flying is being capable of dodging incoming fire (guns or missiles). Gunfire can easily be evaded by a simple maneuver. However, if the attacker is flying on your tail, you'll need to shake some fancy flying out of your sleeve in order to dodge the incoming fire. The best thing to do in such a situation is to stop focusing on your current target and trying to evade the hostile fighter completely, preferably in a position which allows you to take him out!
Evading missiles might seem easy ... you have the countermeasures for something right?! Wrong! In single player missions, you usually have enough countermeasures to finish a mission, but in the few multiplayer missions I have flown, you'll notice that they are depleted pretty fast. You need to learn how to evade missiles without countermeasures. If you are flying a fast agile fighter you have 2 possibilities. If you are flying a bomber, only 1. The first possibility for the fighter is to let the missiles get real close to you (mind the beeping noise). Once the missile is extremely close, you have to pull up (or any other direction) fiercely, in combination with a speed boost with the afterburners. This can't be applied by bombers, since they lack maneuverability and the speed to evade the missile. The second possibility works for both the fighter and the bomber. You should fly head on with the missile and just before impact you should pull up (or down). The missile will fly right past you ... This can be used bythe bombers too, since the missile has less time to correct it's path once the evasive maneuver starts. The second way of evading missiles is more efficient (if you follow the same path as the missile, it has more time to adjust it's flying path), but also harder (since the missile is closing in on you at a very high speed (missile speed + your own velocity). Nonetheless, both methods require extensive training, since timing is an extremely important factor.
The easiest way to take out a target it to fly behind it and follow it, preferably from close range. Head-to-head situations are not healthy for your own fighter, so don't do it too often. Attacking a fighter from the side is also a possibility. This means that the target is no threat to you, but the target is much harder to hit, since small changes in speed result in a miss (this isn't the case when you tail your target). Also, don't be afraid to use your missiles ... if the banks get depleted, so what?! You can rearm yourself in most missions and by not using missiles you're making everything more difficult for yourself. This often results in finished missions with almost all missiles in the banks, that's not why they are there! Furthermore you should make a difference between the ships you are attacking:
Bombers aren't a real threat to a fighter, unless you are heavily outnumbered (this means that you get a rocket behind your tail every 5 seconds). Bombers lack maneuverability, which usually make them easy targets for your guns. If the need is high, you should fire missiles to speed up the job, otherwise your guns will be sufficient.
Remember however that taking a bomber out with your guns might take a while, because of their heavy hull and shielding. Therefore it's not wise (certainly in multiplayer) to hover behind a bomber for a longer period of time. This makes you the sitting duck, since your fighter isn't heavily armored and you are flying at slower speeds.
Fighters can be annoying from time to time. With their excellent maneuverability and often high speeds, they tend to be a more difficult target. I thought the SF Dragon was the hardest target to destroy: it outmaneuvered and outran you easily, but once you were able to hit it a few times they were spacedust. This is also the biggest drawback of the fighter, lack of shielding and hull plating. It doesn't take much to take out an enemy fighter (there are some exceptions like the SF Mara), but also remember that you are flying a similar craft and also are lightly armored. That's why I like the GTF Erinyes most. It has good speed, maneuverability and plating, combined with a large number of gun mounts and missile banks.
It's not recommended to attack warships with a regular fighter. It's not fit for the job and usually does minor damage because of it's unadapted payload. If you want to take out multiple capital ships, make sure you pick a bomber.
While attacking a warship, always try to hit one of it's weapons or subsystems. This does damage and if you destroy a laser turret, that's one less thing to worry about. What should you target first? This depends on the urgency of the matter. If you notice one of your capital ships is being torn apart, head for the beam turrets. Otherwise I recommend to take out laser turrets or missile launchers first. You might also target one of the subsystems: engines if you don't want the target to get in close range of a certain ship, sensors or weapons - can't remember exactly - if you want to make the targeting system less accurate.
GTW Subach HL-7 GTW UD-8 Kayser
GTM-19 Harpoon (2x)
Why is this my favorite ship and weapon loadout? Simple, the Erinyes is an excellent ship: it's sturdy, has an average flying speed and average maneuverability. Combine this with the high number of gun mounts and 2 missile banks and you have the perfect dogfighter. Some will say, what's the difference with the Myrmidon ... I don't know! I tend to perform better with the Erinyes than with any other ship.
Why do you put a Subach HL-7 gun on the ship? There's this thing called energy management ... I don't like to toy around with the engine/shield/gun recharge levels and this solves my problem. If you want to pack a good punch, dual fire mode gives you the solution. I tend to fly with only the Kayser on-line ... once my energy levels become critically low, I switch to the Subach. This allows me to continue firing at the enemy, while the energy level has the opportunity to recharge (the Subach hardly drains any power).
The Harpoons are also an obvious choice, since this is my favorite dogfighting ship. (This loadout isn't fit to engage capital ships) If you are fighting against the odds, speed is of the essence. The harpoon with his fast lock gives me the speed. Cripple the shields with the guns, fire the harpoon for the kill. The great thing of it is ... it works!