First, you’ll need the basic upgrades, common to most of the loadouts. This is the suggested order:

Fire Suppression 1 (Utility – 30 Certs)

It sets your health at 20% if you’re below that (on fire) and heals an extra 24%, meaning Fire Suppression can heal between 24% and 44% of your health. This is a must-have, ESFs are really fragile without it. Further ranks only reduce the cooldown, so unlock the first one and leave the rest for later.

Hover Stability Airframe 1 (Performance – 100 Certs)

Hover Stability Airframe 2 (Performance – 200 Certs)

Hover Stability Airframe 3 (Performance – 400 Certs)

It will greatly improve the handling of your ESF, and improve your vertical thrust, which will be your main tool to dodge shots. ESFs are fragile for a vehicle and rely on dodging damage to survive, so this will be important, especially against other aircraft.

Stealth 1 (Defense – 30 Certs)

Stealth 2 (Defense – 100 Certs)

Stealth 3 (Defense – 200 Certs)

ESFs automatically detect other ESFs in their HUD up to 600 meters. Each rank of stealth reduces that range by 100m, up to 200m. The last rank is expensive and can be left for later. Stealth will also increase the time for lock-ons to lock on to you, a smaller but nice to have bonus.

Fire Suppression 2 (Utility – 100 Certs)

Fire Suppression 3 (Utility – 200 Certs)

This will reduce the cooldown from 55 seconds to 47. The last rank is 500 certs for 2 fewer seconds, so it’s not worth getting until you have nothing important left to cert.

You now have a solid A2A (air to air) loadout, and your main limit will be your own skill. You will also have a solid backbone for A2G (air to ground) or hybrid loadouts, if you replace wing mount and/or nosegun.

At this point, max out the rest of the abilities and magazine size in no-particular order.

Recommended Loadout

Nose Cannon: (default) M20 Mustang w/ magazine size (M18 Needler on TR and Saron Laser Cannon on VS)
Wing Mount: (default) External Fuel Tanks
Utility: Fire Suppression System
Defense: Vehicle Stealth
Performance: Hover Stability Airframe
Competitive: – Yes