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Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War - Robert Coram John Boyd, a fighter pilot who commanded an air base during the Vietnam War, once set a general's tie on fire by jabbing it with a lit cigar in a Pentagon hallway while telling him how fucked up the air force was.

You gotta love John Boyd, contentious grump and royal asshole or no, at least I do, because when it comes to the art and craft of air war he was the working man's (combat pilot's) genius. If you don't know, asshole is the standard air force appellation for fighter pilots, and Boyd considered it higher praise than any commendation or promotion the powers-that-be might bestow. He had no interest in anything other than doing what needed to be done, and only what needed to be done, and doing it right the first time.

As Boyd saw it, "right" was not happening until the air force returned to the basic precepts and tactics and technology of fighter warfare. He was appalled by how bloated and ineffective and outright corrupt the air force had become under the tyranny of Strategic Air Command, which believed in nothing but bombing. Bomber pukes, Boyd called them, though he was hardly the only fighter pilot to do so.

Even among his detractors he earned respect because he was so damn smart, plain spoken, and in his way, noble, though his family life suffered; he was a man on a mission, with rarely a waking hour to spare on anything else. He took on what amounted to the entire military-industrial complex when he challenged production of an alleged fighter aircraft known as the F-111. A Pentagon briefing for a general and his staff went as follows.

Boyd gave them the numbers that showed how at any altitude, any speed, any G-load, any part of the flight-performance envelope, the F-111 was inferior to the Soviet threat. If the F-111 faced a MiG, it would be shot down. Period. End of story. The F-111 was, in the traditional phrase of the fighter pilots, a dog. The general thought for a moment. Maybe there was something the charts did not reveal, something he could salvage. "Major, based on your extensive research, do you have any recommendations regarding this aircraft?" Boyd did not miss a beat: "General, I'd pull the wings off, install benches in the bomb bay, paint the goddamn thing yellow, and turn it into a high-speed taxi."


Charming or no, his commitment and intelligence won him a comparably committed and intelligent following that became known as the Fighter Mafia; in the 1980s they made the cover of Time magazine. Coram does a fascinating job of telling Boyd's personal and professional stories. He's also good at explaining the technicalities of Boyd's schematics and formulas, such E-M Theory and P=[T-D over W]V, which added up to unprecedented breakthroughs in the potential for effective and efficient air warfare.

John Boyd had an advocate in then congressman Dick Cheney. Subsequent attempts by Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to appropriate Boyd's ideas rang false, however. Boyd was not around to defend himself against their machinations, but one of his closest associates, Pierre Sprey, has and continues to set that record straight. See the following link to Bill Moyer's Journal for more about that: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/01302009/profile.html