Fighter Mafia: A series of articles dedicated to Colonel John Boyd, Thomas P. Christie, Pierre M. Sprey, Chuck Myers, Colonel Everest Riccioni, Harry Hillaker, Dr. Raymond Leopold, James Burton, Colonel Mike Wyly, and Franklin “Chuck” Spinney – the Fighter Mafia and Acolyte core; an independent, free-thinking group of pentagon analysts, pilots, and engineers that demonstrably changed the culture, theory, and production of air combat assets.
“Who’s The Best Pilot You Ever Saw?”
Many of us self-proclaimed aviation geeks that watched this movie scene from “The Right Stuff” humbly muttered “me of course” just loud enough for any fellow viewer’s benefit! However, according to Franklin C. (Chuck) Spinney, one distinctive man held that honor – Colonel John Boyd.
Why would Spinney, a non-flying research engineer, bestow such an accolade upon Boyd (commonly referred)? Perhaps Boyd held ACE status for combat kills? No he did not. Maybe Boyd commanded large fighter squadrons? Again he did not. Surely Boyd distinguished himself aeronautically through combat performance over many conflicts? Alas, not that either. Boyd flew combat missions in Korea, instructed at the USAF Fighter Weapons School, then spent a career in the Pentagon. So why did Spinney consider Boyd the Greatest Fighter Pilot? Read on and find out.
Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, John Boyd’s humble beginnings originated shortly after his birth in January, 1927 when his traveling salesman father, Hubert, passed away in 1930 from pneumonia. Boyd’s mother Elsie, desiring to maintain a strong image, reared the family through the depression. During high school, Boyd first slipped the surly bonds of earth most likely sealing his aeronautic enthusiasm.
Earning His Wings
Boyd enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in April, 1945 as an 18-year- old swimming instructor and served in Japan from January 1946 to January 1947. After serving overseas, John received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and commission from the University of Iowa through the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Boyd excelled in pilot training flying the North American T-6 Texan and completed pilot training in 1951. During fighter bomber escort training, Boyd piloted the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star then completed North American F-86 Sabre training.
To War in Korea
The US Air Force (USAF) sent Boyd to Suwon Air Base in South Korea as an F-86 Sabre pilot where he flew 22 combat missions. Though MiGs and MiG kills remained elusive for Boyd, he quickly became the most proficient fighter pilot in the squadron. His exemplary talents and passion for aviation led fellow pilots to request briefings and tactics instruction. Boyd accepted the challenge and developed briefings on aerial tactics, and thus began Boyd’s next 40 years of original thinking and teaching. The Korean War ended and Boyd reported for duty at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada in 1954 to complete Advanced Flying School.
USAF Fighter Weapons School
Upon graduation from the Advanced Flying School, Boyd immersed himself in the process of changing then-current air-to-air combat training. Post World War II, the USAF oriented its mission toward long range bombing at high altitude and all but dismissed air-to-air combat. Boyd quickly became the most knowledgeable person in the Air Force regarding tactics during aerial combat and began training at the USAF Fighter Weapons School in 1955. Upon completion of his FWS training Boyd remained at Nellis as an FWS instructor.