Super Sabre Reversals
During his tenure at FWS, Boyd codified tactics theories into lesson plans, classes, and practical applications. Boyd attained legendary status when FWS began teaching tactics for flying and fighting the North American F-100 Super Sabre. The F-100 possessed many quirks that posed inherent dangers to flying it. Low-speed, high angle of attack (AOA) conditions proved daunting to many aviators but Boyd accepted these challenge readily. While teaching air-to-air maneuvering, if a student demonstrated overconfidence, Boyd would quickly maneuver the F-100 from the lead position (being chased) to a trailing position resulting in humility for the student. Boyd’s famous maneuver involved pulling full-aft on the stick, essentially creating a full-airplane speed brake that slowed the aircraft from 450 knots to 150 knots, and then stomping on the rudder to snap roll the aircraft to the student’s six o-clock position (hmmm, doesn’t that sound familiar from Top Gun?).
What a Difference 40 Seconds Can Make
Because Boyd understood the complexities of the F-100 like no other pilot before, he challenged anyone that he could move from a defensive position (lead) to an offensive position (trail) in twenty seconds- a reversal. He felt so strongly about his abilities that his challenge included $20 to anyone that could prevent him from completing the reversal maneuver. After waxing all challengers Boyd modified the challenge to 40 seconds and $40. Throughout his entire tenure at the school, no student, graduate, opposing Marine or Naval Aviator- nobody was able to best Boyd. He would forever be known as Forty-Second Boyd.
While Boyd mastered the F-100, he found that to prove his tactical theories and aircraft limitations, he needed to educate himself. He taught himself calculus while at the Fighter Weapons School. By 1959, Boyd had plans for a future outside the school but before leaving, his commanders desired a written tactics manual. Boyd completed the task and through dictating his thoughts, culminated his Fighter Weapons School tenure with the Aerial Attack Study in 1960.
Boyd’s Aerial Attack Study manual became THE air-to-air tactics manual for pilots around the world. His pioneering study earned him a Legion of Merit and Boyd became a household name for fighter pilots desiring to advance their abilities. Boyd wanted to attend the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) to purse a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, but with only an economics degree, he needed a technical degree prior to attending. He chose Georgia Institute of Technology for Industrial Engineering. While studying thermodynamics at GIT Boyd experienced an epiphany that lead to an entirely new way of understanding aircraft performance- Energy-Maneuverability (E-M). Boyd graduated in 1963 from Georgia Institute of Technology without formally naming his discovery.
The Mad Major
While assigned to Eglin AFB in Florida Boyd continued to work through the mathematics of his theory. Though limited by full-time Air Force Maintenance Officer duties at Eglin, Boyd spent countless hours at night calculating and re-calculating. Many nights, Boyd would call close associates from Fighter Weapons School, talking for hours about his thoughts and theories (a practice he began back at FWS). His unending passion for formulating this theory enveloped his entire life and those close to him gave him the nickname “Mad Major,” for his rank and his middle of the night calls. Boyd knew that he could complete the sophisticated mathematics using the new computers on base, but was not granted access.
Solving the Energy-Maneuverability Problem
At Eglin, Boyd met Thomas Christie, a soft-spoken engineer working on bombing ballistics and aircraft performance data. After selling the idea to Christie, Boyd and Christie continued developing the theory using computer time allocated toward projects for Christie’s research. Boyd understood how and what he needed to provide useful charts, graphs, and text for Energy-Maneuverability research. Over the next several years, Boyd and Christie worked together using computer data from Wright Patterson AFB, flight data from Nellis, and graphics from Eglin. Finally, his E-M research was developed into a refined study.
Taking Energy Maneuverability to the Top
Boyd’s E-M briefing, typically lasting four hours, drew the attention of pilots, engineers, scientists, and Air Force leadership. He briefed anyone that would listen, reaching an acme when he presented E-M in front of General Walter Sweeney, the commander of Tactical Air Command. Boyd’s brief impacted General Sweeney to the extent that the future of Air Force fighter design, research, and implementation changed.
As a fighter pilot, Boyd naturally desired combat. He believed an opportunity to both prove his theories and become an ace would prove elusive. After receiving orders to fly the F-4 in Vietnam in 1966, General John McConnell, the Air Force Chief of Staff, cancelled Boyd’s orders to deploy and sent him to the Pentagon to work on developing the newest fighter. For the next several years, Boyd fought the bureaucratic Pentagon maze of contractors, designers, and the military command structure.