Steambirds Strategy and Hint Guide: how to get 4-stars for every mission!
Steambirds is a game of simulated air combat between opposing forces on a 2D battlefield. You control your fighters. and try to kill enemy fighters using your plane's guns, special abilities, and careful maneuvers. You are almost always outnumbered, so careful planning is important.
Game is available for Flash (as a browser game), iOS (iPhones and iPads), and Android OS (smartphones and now, smartpads)
This guide will go through all special abilities, enemy fighters, general tactics, and finally individual mission hints.
Download Steambirds Demo on Android (only first 5- levels in demo), buy the full version!
Buy/Download Steambirds on ITunes (HD version available for iPad)
EXTRA! EXTRA! Steambirds Survival, the next version of Steambirds, is now available on Flash! Go to Steambirds.com and play!
EXTRA! EXTRA! Steambirds, Android version, wins Grand Prize at IndiePub Mobile Games competition!
Extra Extra! "Hotseat" Multiplayer! New Missions!
Version 1.3 patched the 1956 final bonus mission (3 shooters vs. 2 huge missile shooters). It also now includes "local versus" mode, which is pass-the-phone multiplayer. Each player chooses up to 3 planes plane (with only one special ability each), and see who kills who! Each plane have different ratings. What's more the playing field actually contracts every turn, so you can't run forever. It can be quite a bit of fun
Version 1.4 now has bonus mission part 2! Some special planes are included and difficulty is raised!
How is Success Measured
The success level is measured as follows:
- 4-stars -- you were able to finish the mission without a single scratch to ANY of your planes, great job!
- 3-stars -- your planes suffered very little damage individually, good job!
- 2-stars -- you did not lose any planes and killed all enemy aircraft, not bad!
- 1-star -- at least some of your planes came back and all enemy aircraft are dead, tolerable, but you can do better
- FAILURE! -- you can't even destroy all the enemy! Try again!
You need to get at least one star to advance to the next mission.
Each of your fighters have a front-facing fun that actually can engage a cone in front of the plane, only only straight ahead, but a slight offset as well.
Your guns will not shoot at your own fighters, only enemy aircraft (which would include zeppelins and balloons). As far as I can tell, your guns cannot damage your own fighters.
You can set your speed. Drag it close to fly slow, drag it out to fly fast. Speed affects your turning radius. If you want a tight turn, fly slower.
Special abilities (discussed next) either recharges every 2 turns (so you can use it every other turn), or every 3 turns (so you can use it, then rest for 2 turns).
NOTE: You actually have two different fighters: Bristol, and Commonwealth. However, they are similar enough that it really doesn't make any difference if you don't want to get hit at all.
NOTE: The 3 new planes introduced in "Bonus Levels 2" are discussed in that section.
Each of your fighters is equipped with 2 special abilities from the following.
In regular missions:
- Shield -- protects the plane for ONE TURN from all damage (including gas), but cannot fire during that turn
Shield is used for temporary protection, such as when you need to do a "blow through", i.e. fly PAST the enemy line and brave its fire, in order to get behind it. Another use is to fly through a line of gas without taking any damage. A third possibility is to turn on shields and make a sharp turn hoping to get inside enemy's turn.
Speed -- makes the plane 50% faster for one turn
Speed is very useful if you are being chased. Nothing can catch you if you use speed. It can also be used to chase down an enemy. However, it will not prevent you from getting hit.
Gas -- spreads green gas behind the plane for one turn, damage all (including your own side) who fly through it, and jams their guns. Persistent for 3 turns (or so). Also jams your own guns so the gas-er cannot shoot for a turn.
Probably the most useful weapon other than bomb, as it is one of the only two rearward weapons. Gas is persistent so you can lead enemies through it, the slower the better. The problem is, of course, enemy guns are in front too, so you need a bit of speed and/or distance to make this work.
U-turn -- makes 180 degree turn in one turn and a very short distance
U-turn is useful only in certain circumstances. As an opening move to stay as far from enemy as possible, or as a way to reverse when you get behind the enemy without spending 2 turns to make a big turn. Remember to increase speed next turn as you default to "dead slow"
360-spin -- makes a flat-spin and keep going
Not that useful, fly through / past a group of targets and blast them looks cool but isn't that useful for dealing damage. It is considered a rear-facing weapon as you *do* shoot the enemies behind you, but if you can shoot them, they can shoot you as well (unless you have one of those special extended range guns in Bonus Missions II)
Only in the special missions
Missile -- goes straight if it sees a target, but will make a left turn if it doesn't
see a target or the target is not close enough. Kills ANYTHING with one hit, even the zeppelin
Missile is useful as an opening salvo and a distraction, as well as against slow targets like balloons and zeppelins. ALWAYS turn RIGHT after firing so it doesn't come back and bite you in the rear. Keep track of fired missiles so you don't get hit yourself.
Bomb -- a string of 5 bombs behind you, explodes one turn later, wider damage than the gas, but not persistent
There is no marker on the map to tell you where the bombs were dropped. Use the grid coordinates to give you an idea where the hits are and if the enemy will fly through it.
Your tactics will change
depending on which one you got. Special abilities can only be used on
alternate turns (needs one turn to "recharge"). In some missions it takes 3 turns to recharge (2 turns you can't use any).
These are your opponents. They don't have quite as many special abilities, but they have some.
- Dart / Fighter -- just like you, get behind it and blast it, get inside its turn
- Duster -- no guns, fat body, release gas behind it when you get close, don't fly directly behind it, but off to one side or stay in front of it and use rearward weapons
- Turtle / Fighter-bomber -- slow, tougher, release gas behind it when you get close, but still have front guns. Use rearward weapons if you can, else use offset shooting (see below)
- Bombino (flying wing) -- have a front-hemisphere heavy gun with a good range, but quite slow, get behind it, or make it fly through gas
- Defensive Balloon -- short range but VERY heavy guns, VERY VERY
slow, guide it through the gas, or shoot it from outside its range. If you have missiles, they are ideal for balloon busting
- Zeppelin -- have 360 degree guns, slow, shoot it from outside its range, missiles would be ideal.
Only in bonus missions
- Bistols -- exact copy of your fighter, albeit without special abilities. Just treat it as a normal fighter.
Flying HQ (super bomber) -- immune to missiles, but armed with 2
missiles (special abilities), get past it and behind it, then stay behind it and slightly to the right
so the circling missiles miss you. Stay on its tail and blast it into pieces.
- Expolit the AI
Each enemy plane picks ONE of your planes and goes after it with a vengeance. It will SHOOT at targets of opportunity, but it will only chase down one target. Thus, what you need to do is get in front and RUN, and leave poison gas (or bomb) in your wake, or hit the chaser with some other plane of yours
- Find out who's chasing who
Enemy AI picks one of your planes to chase for each of theirs. Spread out and figure out who's chasing who so you can exploit this behavior with the subsequent tactics.
- Let them chase you if you can
If you have rear-firing weapons (gas, bomb, 360 spin) let the enemy chase you. Even if you don't, use your other planes to take care of those chasing you.
- Exploit the range difference
Airplane guns have better range than the zeppelins and the balloons. The best way to do this is with the Lufbery Circle, basically a minimal radius circle where you just circle, blast, circle, blast, with slight shifting of circle to stay out of the range of the enemy.
- Turn to dodge
You can vary your speed, the enemies do not. They always go max speed. Exploit their larger turning radius by slowing down and turn INSIDE their turn, to stay out of their gun arc.
- Kill the planes first
THEN the balloons / zeppelins. The planes chase you, the balloons and zeppelins do not (at least not to any significant degree)
- Watch the border
If a plane flies out of the map, it's considered destroyed. If you can make a sharp turn just before the border and the enemy can't turn and flies out, it counts as destroyed for you! Of course, this also means if you fly out (or you can't control the plane any more) you lose the plane too. Also, don't be near the border when the game ends, as if you "fly out" accidentally it counts as your loss as well.
- Offset Shooting
Your guns actually fire in a small CONE, not just directly ahead. You can be slightly off to one side of the enemy track and your guns will still hit the target. You *have* to use this to win the final bonus mission, where you're against 2 missile shooting flying HQs. Experiment a little and learn how far off track you can be still still hit the enemy.
- Get Behind Them
Most enemies do NOT have rear weapons (Exception: ballons and zepplins, and some planes with gas) If you get behind them the enemy's toast, as long as you stay slow and behind them. Just watch out for the gas (discussed later)
- How to Kill Dusters
The trick in killing dusters is do NOT follow directly behind it, but off to one side. (See offset shooting above) You need the duster to chase one of your planes, then another plane come in from behind and kill it.
Another trick is to fly just INSIDE the enemy turn circle. You may have to go minimum speed to make the tight turn. Again, you need to "lead" the enemy with the front "bait" plane so it will turn and you stay inside the turn.
- Anti-Missile Tactic
Having problem in the final mission? Two things to note:
1) Missiles can be shot down
2) A missile with no target always circles LEFT so stay to the RIGHT of your target you should be pretty safe.
Mistakes to Avoid
- Do not cross in front of the enemy (unless you are SURE you can't be hit)
Crossing in front of of enemy (except duster) is a good way to get shot and make it impossible to get a full 4-star rating.
Stay far out in front, make sure their guns are jammed (with gas), or turn on shields. (if you use shields, make sure you cannot be hit on the next turn)
- Do not lose track of any enemies
You don't want to get shot by some enemies you forgot about, came from out of the side and got a few shots in and ruined your 4-star run. As this is a turn-based game, there is NO excuse to lose track of any enemy. Zoom out and check again before hitting "next turn"
- Do not shoot missiles in close proximity of each other
Firing missiles close to each other can result in fratricide / friendly fire. It came from personal experience. Two fighters trying to shoot the same balloon. Next turn... KABOOM! One fighter went down in flames.
- Do not fly too close to the border
Flying out means "killed", which is bad, bad, bad. In fact, if you have to make a sharp turn and brought you into the range of enemy... that's bad too. Keep the border in mind as you plan your maneuvers.
- Do NOT lead your teammate into enemy's gunsights
Happened many times... ran out of room to maneuver at the border, turned, and ended up crossing one group in front of the other's guns. Yikes.
- Don't fly through your own gas
Even "mostly" dissipated gas still cause damage. Use "zoom" to make SURE you don't fly too close to the gas and ruin your 4-star run.
- Don't let the enemy get too close
Don't get too fixated on "one more turn of gas" that you forgot to use speed to open the range.
Hints for Main Levels
1907 -- 1 vee 2. Tutorial mission...
Do you really need a walkthru for this? Follow the tutorial instructions. The key point to takeaway... You can fly slow OR fast, by setting the speed closer or further.
1916 -- 1 vee 4, 2 E, 1 NE, and 1 SE.
Go North (with speed), then east, then south to engage the first one. Then cut southeast and engage the rest. Remember NOT to overshoot.
1917 -- 2 vee 2, both to E heading away
As you start directly behind them, just chase them down, without overshooting. If they split up, split your 2 and stay behind them. It should end in 3 turns.
1939 -- 2 vee 2, except they are chasing you!
Split, north and south. The one with speed engage speed. After one turn, it should be clear which of you the two enemy planes are chasing. If they are chasing the southern guy with speed, let them. U-turn the other plane and kill them from behind. If they are chasing the northern guy, keep running and turn the southern guy around and chase them down with speed. If they split, use the speed guy to chase down the other one.
1940 -- 2 vee 2, against "dusters" (gas-ers)
The trick against gas-ers/dusters is don't fly directly behind them, but rather, off to one side. Again, split and see who they go after. Usually they go for the slow guy (south) so go south then east and let them chase. Turn the speedy guy around and chase down the enemy, and turn inside their track and use "offset shooting" to finish them off.
1941 -- 2 vee 2, against balloons
Balloons have 360 degree guns so there's no blind spot, but they have lousy range. As long as you stay away (and they move slowly) they can't hurt you. The 360 spin and U-turn can be exploited, but are not required to win.
Approach, and do NOT get closer than 60% of that grid on the ground (yes there's grid, look carefully). After a few "circles" at the right distance with strafing runs you can kill the balloons without being hit.
1942 -- 2 vee 3, 1 duster due east, 2 fighters north and south of the duster.
The wildcard here is duster. Your move depends on what he does.
Standard opening move: split north and south but not all the way. Instead, aim straight at the enemy fighters. Next move depends on which one the duster commits to (i.e. does it go north or south). Next round, hit shields on both and blow through the two fighters. However, before you hit next turn, the fighter that the "duster" is going after needs to extend further north as you don't want the duster to brush the tail (and ruin the perfect score). After the blow through, the northern fighter turn south, the southern fighter turn north, and kill the two fighters while avoiding the duster. Just beware don't let the two fighters merge on each other and get "cross shots". When the 2 fighters die, kill the duster is easy with the "target" out front and use the other follow behind and kill it.
1943 -- 3 vee 1, against a bombino, the flying wing!
Bombino has a nasty 180 degree "turret" that covers its entire front. However, it is relatively slow (half speed of fighter) and its guns have slightly shorter distance than yours. Your best chance is to get behind it.
Standard opening move: northern plane extends north, southern plane extends south, center plane makes U-turn or minimal radius turn and reverse course. See which fighter the bombino commits on. Get that one away, but not at max speed. The idea is just stay ahead of of the bombino while the other two fighters circle around and get behind the bombino, go minimal speed, and hose it full of holes.
1944 -- 2 vee 2, against 2 fighter-bombers (duster / fighter hybrid) heading away
This is interesting as you can't get in front of them, but getting behind them doesn't work either.
Go straight ahead, and your next move depends on which one the enemy fighters go after. If they both commit on one, use the other and offset shooting to kill one then the other. If they split, go into a big circle fight or two separate circles. You should be able to turn tighter than either one so exploit that.
1945 -- 2 vee 3, against 2 defense balloons and 1 zeppelin
All three are slow moving (the balloons especially so). The trick is basically perform the Lufbery circle just outside the enemy's range and blast it into pieces. The balloons are easy, the zeppelin is a little harder as it moves a bit more, but not THAT difficult.
1946 -- 4 vee 5, against 5 enemy fighters (north, south, and 3 to east)
This one depends a LOT on luck, as it HEAVILY depends on which of your 4 fighters the 5 enemy fighters commit on. In general, it's 1, 3, and 1, but it will depend. The worst case is "pincer" movement, when two of the closest fighters (black and green) concentrate on one of your 2 slower fighters (the two "middle" ones) and there's no place to turn and avoid them. In that case, you'll need to restart and hope for a "better die roll".
The starting move is the same. Naming the 4 fighters from north the south P1 through P4, P1 go northeast, speed. P2 go north. P3 go south. P4 go southeast, speed. Next step will depend on luck. If you are NOT lucky (i.e. the two closer enemies, i.e. black and green) commit on P2 or P3 then you'll get hit on next turn. If they commit on P2 (with shield) you may be able to make a hard turn and throw them off and engage shields to survive a turn if you goofed up. If they commit on P3 you will probably need to restart as you can't make a hard turn in time. The rest is careful management... You probably have P1 or P4 free. Use it to chase down the closest enemies committed on one of your other fighters. The other three will have to rely on gas, speed, and tight turns to avoid fire. Avoid the borders (unless you can get close enough so the enemy run into it). It will be difficult, but the 4-star win should be most satisfying.
1947 -- 3 vee 5, against 4 dusters and a bombino
This one actually isn't that hard. The 4 dusters will chase you leaving the bombino behind. And the dusters will often kill each other. Usually, P1, and P3 have U-turn, and P2 have speed. Have P1 and P3 execute the U-turn, and P2 do minimal radius turn. Next turn, P1 and P3 extend northwest and southwest, while P2 also extend west using speed, and see which duster commits on which. Then use gas, turn, and group tactics to kill them. Once done, figure out which fighter the bombino is committed on, then get the other three behind it and blast it to pieces.
1948 -- 2 vee 4, a bombino, a fighter-bomber, and 2 fighters are after you!
This is tough, but you have speed/gas and speed/u-turn. As you only have one gas, get the non-gas fighter out front and gas one slightly behind. Kill the two fighters first by using gas. You can't get hit by guns unless you run out of room to run as you have speed to extend the range if needed. Kill everything else, then circle around and kill the bombino.
1949 -- 2 vee 6, 5 balloons and 1 fighter-bomber
Both make a turn south and make a run on the closest balloon, then run and lead the fighter-bomber away from the balloons so you don't get distracted. Again, get the non-gas fighter out front, and the gas-equipped fighter just behind it, and kill the fighter-bomber. Once that's dead, you can kill the balloons at your leisure by doing lufbery circles.
1950 -- 4 vee 3, 2 fighter bombers and a zeppelin
The zeppelin is a non-factor, at least in the beginning. Your problem are the 2 fighter-bombers. Opening moves are the standard spread... P1 go N, P2 go NE, P3 go SE, and P4 go S. Figure out which fighter(s) did the 2 enemies commit on (use shield or speed to get distance) and use the other two to kill the fighter-bombers with offset shooting. Then you can do Lufbery circle on the zeppelins.
Hints for Bonus Levels
1951 -- 3 vee 7, 2 fighters (close), 2 fighter bombers, 2 balloons, and a duster.
You get missiles and bombs. which are definitely fun to play with, but they are not wonder weapons. And this one depends on a bit of luck. The two balloons are non-factor. They are easily busted with a missile each. It's the 2 close fighters that are dangerous. Everything else is a joke.
This opening move is slight different. P1 fire missile and turn north. P2 and P3 fire missile and turn south. This should kill 2 of the aircraft chasing you. Then you can use the bombs on the rest of the chasers. Don't fly TOO fast, as you need them to be close enough for them to fly through the bombs, but far enough to NOT shoot you. When you deal with all the chasers, THEN circle back and take out the balloons with one missile each.
1952 -- 3 vee 5, 2 fighters (close), 1 fighter bomber, 2 dusters
Again, missiles and bombers, and same opening move: P1 turn north, P2 and P3 turn south, all fire missiles, then run for it and leave bombs in your wake for the chasers.
1953 -- 1 vee 4, they don't have any specials.
This one is easy... Lead them on a chase and use bombs to hit them all. Just do minimal radius turn right. Go ahead and shoot a missile, though it probably won't hit anything. Just go ahead bomb your enemies to oblivion.
1954 -- 2 vee 11, one zeppelin and 10 balloons
Missiles against balloons? it's like clubbing baby seals. One missile and kaboom! Down goes the balloon. Minimal radius circles and missile away! Remember, always turn right after firing a missile because if missile don't hit anything it turns LEFT! One missile will take down the zepplin too. You just have to learn the distance where the missile will hit, yet you still have a chance to turn away before entering effective range of the enemy.
1955 -- 4 vee 8, 4 fighters north and south, 2 dusters, and 2 more fighters to east.
No missiles for you this time... just bombs. So the tactics are clear... P1 and P2 go north, P3 and P4 go south, then leave bombs in your wake for the guests chasing you.
1956 -- 3 vee 2, special "flying HQs" that are immune to missiles... and they shoot 2 missiles each!
This one is tough on the phone. My phone crashed silly (force close in middle of turn 4 or 5) so kill programs and make lots of memory available before going into this mission, as there will be a TON of things flying. Get the V1.3 patch and it should fix this.
Your fighters have shields and U-turn, but if you do it right, the specials are of little use. It doesn't matter actually which one the HQ's commit on, they don't really turn.
All three aim just north of the northern HQ. Next turn, just fly behind it, then minimum radius and turn around and get behind the flying HQ, slightly behind and to the right, and use "offset shooting" to kill one then the other.You probably don't even need shields.
Hints for Bonus Level II
Bonus Level II involves 3 new planes, and these are tough, VERY tough. it's usually one plane against the world. However, it is interesting.
Looper -- this is allied version of flying wing Bombino, but it is FAST, can do 360 spin, AND have a missile. The 360 spin allow you to kill things behind you, and the guns on this plane is very hard hitting AND have great range (at least 50% longer than enemy planes) and great wide-angle shots. Use missiles to kill Zepplin (i.e. Behemoth) and defense balloons (spotters), keep running and keep enemies behind you and keep using 360 spin.
Spider -- this is basically a "super-Duster" as it has speed and "super-gas", which is more potent than regular gas. Use speed to get away and leave choking poison gas in your wake. You'll rarely need the guns, but this gun has longer range and wider shot angles as well.
Chikadee -- super fast, U-turn, and shield, but virtually no armor. One solid burst and it's kaput. However, nothing enemy's got can keep up, and the guns are extremely good... long range and have a VERY wide angle. Thus, the best tactic is to get away from the enemy, then make a sharp turn, do an oblique approach on the enemy, let your wide-angle gun do some work, and get out before you get into his range. Repeat until enemy's dead.
Feb 1941 -- Looper vs. 4 Darts and 5 Dusters
This one sounds dire, but is actually not that hard. Pick a direction to avoid the Darts, and stay in FRONT of the Dusters. Then just use 360 spin to kill all the chasers. You can try to let the Dusters a bit closer (try to maneuver so the Dusters are in front) so their gas kill the other chasers, but that's a bit hard to arrange.
Mar 1941 -- Looper vs. 13 enemies, including Bombinos, Turtles, Dusters, and Darts.
This one gets serious. The three Darts in front are your first threats. Fire a missile and turn right to get away from them. South is mostly clear so go that way, keep using 360 spin to kill chasers, and avoid getting into range of the enemy's guns. Once you've cleared out the Darts, Turtles, and Dusters, use the missiles on the Bombinos.
Nov 1941 -- Looper vs. 18 enemies, including Bombinos, Turtles, Dusters, and Darts.
Yikes, there's a noose around you and it's getting tighter! However, there is one trick: You need to get out of the noose by going straight/right. You need to get in FRONT of that Duster just "below" you. Do 360 spin and try to get in front of it. You should not hit any gas if you do it right. if you *do* hit gas, you didn't go far enough, so restart the mission and try again. If you do it right, you should kill that Duster, and escape the trap. Then it's carefully maneuver out of the trap by running close to the border (don't get too close that you can't adjust course!) and keep using 360 to thin the opposition, then use the missiles on the Bombinos that are left.
Jan 1942 -- Spider vs 6 enemies, Darts and Dusters
Nothing too hard here... You have guns, AND gas, AND speed, so use speed to get away and gas them all. Just takes a bit of patience.
Feb 1942 -- Spider vs. 10 enemies, all types
Gets a bit harder, but still the same tactics... All the enemies are to your side or behind you. Get out of the "pocket" and go for the left upper or lower corner, and leave gas in your wake.
Mar 1942 -- Spider vs. 11 enemies, including 3 defense balloons and a zeppelin
This gets serious. Balloons and Zeppelin aren't really vulnerable to your gas as they're too slow. On the other hand if you get out of the pocket you can kill all the fighters first THEN come back and carefully kill relatively immobile enemies. Your guns have the range and you can circle quite slowly.
May 1943 -- Chickadee vs. 9 enemies, all types
Chikadee is one of those planes that you either get 4 stars or 2-stars (or none).In this case, U-turn is nearly worthless. Use the "oblique approach"... Get away from the enemy then do a sharp turn and approach him with an offset, let your wide-angle gun shot a bit, then turn away, open the range, then repeat. You have quite a bit of room for this so it should not be too hard, but you need patience with this plane. One mistake and you may go down in flames.
Sep 1943 -- 3 Chikadees vs. 12 enemies, including a Zeppelin
NOTE: By the timeline, this mission should be last, though the wording says this is next to last.
No different from Nov 1943... Keep the three fighters together, fly around a bit and get the enemies to bunch up, then do the oblique approach and kill one or two per pass. You can also split up and see who's chasing whom, then try to get the fighter with the least enemies lag a bit so he can come back and kill the chasers on the other two.
Nov 1943 -- 2 Chikadees vs. 9 enemies, including at least 3 Bombino
Note: By the timeline this mission should be next to last, but wording says this is last.
Both should do a U-Turn, then go for upper left and lower left corner (don't get too close to the Bombinos) and figure out which fighter are the Darts chasing. Then keep that in front and use the other fighter to take them all out. If both have pursuers then pick the one with less enemies and use that one to kill the enemies chasing the other one (while avoid getting hit) The hardest part in this mission is not to make a mistake and get hit by the Bombinos which are like sitting ducks. Remember, the Bombinos are also chasing, so get that out front and get the other behind it and shoot it down.
Bristol -- Well-rounded, can do 180 turns, but not that useful as you only have front-facing weapons. Fly past the enemy and use 180 turns to surprise them.
Commonwealth -- weak armor (half of Bistol), but have better agility , speed, and have dash capability (super-speed). Use the speed to stay away from others and chase down your targets.
Duster -- no guns, just poison gas cloud, but very good speed and agility (it's slightly faster than a Bistol) Turn and gas, then hide behind your gas clouds. Remember, gas dissipates.
Otto -- slow, but have 360 spin and shield. 360 spin is not that useful. Use shield on the blow-through and get behind them.
Dart -- quite fast (almost as fast as Commonwealth and Duster), have shield. Good match for Bistol and Commonwealth.
Turtle -- slow, heavy armor, bomb. Have both front and rear weapons help quite a bit. You'll have to wait for your enemies to come to you.
Barrage -- guns, missile, AND armor, but virtually no agility. Eeek. You have to use the missiles to keep your tail clear, or use another fighter on your side.
As there are almost infinite combinations, it is not possible to discuss all the various ramifications. What you should do similar to what AI does... pick a good target and go after it. A fast fighter should pick a slower enemy and go after it. Slower fighter should "escort" the guy in front and clear his tail.
Decide if you want a one-circle fight or two-circle fight. The one circle fight is both fighters end up turning in same direction, and end up chasing each other's tail, so whoever make the tightest turn wins. The two circle fight is you end up each doing half of 8, and end up face to face.
Steambirds is one of those games that are easy to play but difficult to master. Spry Fox really did make an interesting game. Rest assured, the sequel is in the works... Choose your own squadron, promotions, and others are on the way.
Eagerly awaiting the sequel!