Evolving Needs and Designs to Meet Them
Desiring a lightweight fighter, absent of “swing wing” design (like the F-111 and F-14 concepts), Boyd worked on design specifications. Ultimately losing to the military appropriations machine, the F-X became the F-15 and Boyd’s inputs kept the overall weight lower than the Air Force originally desired. A new need developed for a close air support (CAS) platform. Boyd met Pierre Sprey, a civilian analyst with whom he shared a mutual distaste for the eventual F-X, but would team together for the A-X project.
While a true fighter pilot such as Boyd naturally dismissed close air support, Sprey sought and obtained Boyd’s assistance with the creation of perhaps the most influential specialized combat aircraft ever built- the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Sprey utilized Boyd’s E-M charts to design a close air support aircraft with unparalleled capabilities that were finally conclusively proven during the Gulf War.
The Fighter Mafia is Born
After “losing” the new F-X for a more lightweight and maneuverable aircraft, Boyd found a partner in fellow fighter pilot Colonel Everett Riccioni. Riccioni was in charge of Research and Development and philosophically agreed with Boyd and Sprey regarding a smaller single engine fighter aircraft. As a previous WWII fighter pilot, aeronautical engineer, Air Force Academy instructor, and now Pentagon worker, Riccioni joined Sprey and Boyd to become the “Fighter Mafia” as they worked on a new advanced fighter design flying under the radar of leadership.
The Fighter Mafia Evolves
Thanks to the Mafia group’s dedication to its virtues the lightweight fighter program gradually developed. Boyd was promoted to Colonel and transferred to Thailand for a command tour before returning to the Pentagon. Upon his return to the CONUS Boyd championed the new lightweight fighter with new members of the Mafia- Dr. Ray Leopold and Chuck Spinney. Their time, effort, and dedication toward this aircraft led to the F-16 and books could be written about the red tape, obstacles, and challenges that rose and fell before production.
Conjuring Patterns of Conflict
Boyd retired in 1975 after 24 years of service to focus on new areas of aeronautical and tactical thought. He spent that first year of retirement simply reading and understanding war, which lead to perhaps his most intellectual idea. Boyd developed a six-hour briefing entitled Patterns of Conflict- essentially a summary of ground warfare history. Boyd condensed and studied major historical battles and relationships with war strategists such as Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz.
OODA Looping the Top Brass
Boyd generated the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop. The Loop step is a bit of a misnomer as the cycle may include hundreds of inputs and/or simply result in observe to act. The intent of the decision process in war is to facilitate rapid actions that leave the opposing force unable to react. From the late 1970s to the present day the OODA loop symbolizes one of the greatest contributions to war. Boyd briefed Patterns to notable future influential personnel such as Sam Nunn and Dick Cheney.
Boyd the Marine
In 1980, an instructor at the Marine Amphibious Warfare School, Major Mike Wyly, was tasked to change and update the Corps’ tactics and doctrine as then taught. Wyly asked Boyd to provide a two hour brief on Patterns for the class. Boyd responded that the brief would be five hours or none. Relenting, Wyly let Boyd deliver the Patterns brief to the young marines. Wyly immediately understood the importance and change-effect outlined in the Patterns brief. Not only did the young marines finish the brief, they continued asking questions of this former Air Force fighter pilot about conducting ground warfare.
Applying Lessons on the Battlefield
The Gulf War validated many concepts and methods instilled in the marine forces regarding maneuver warfare. Marines rapidly advanced and Iraqi army units surrendered because they were unable to react to the quick advancement. Boyd’s impact upon the Marine Corps resulted in his becoming the only Air Force member with a dedicated exhibit at the Marine Corps Research Center at Quantico in Virginia.
John Boyd remains one of the most influential, controversial, cigar-smoking, foul-mouthed legendary fighter pilots ever to exist. His legacies of Aerial Attack Study, the OODA Loop, and Patterns of Conflict continue to educate those willing to read and study. He passed away in 1997 from cancer, but his impacts upon aviation and ground warfare solidify his life achievements.
Stay tuned for more in this series of Fighter Mafia!
Below is from Erie, PA, recognizing John Boyd’s life.