This week we're having a flashback to hear Brigadier General Steve Ritchie tell his story. Steve shot down five enemy aircraft in Vietnam, making him the first (and only) Air Force pilot ace of the war. Most striking is his description of almost getting a sixth MiG, and the iron discipline involved.
Before you listen to Steve Ritchie's interview, please read this passage from Hamfist Over Hanoi, based on a true story:
“Now before I tell you what I consider the most important quality of a fighter pilot, and this goes for you WSOs also, I'm going to tell you a story.”
“During Operation Rolling Thunder, an F-105 flight lead was in an extended engagement with a MiG. He was performing repeated high-speed yoyos, gaining on the MiG with each yoyo. One more yoyo and he would be in a firing position.”
The Colonel paused and looked around the room. We were all transfixed in rapt attention.
“Just as he was about to get a firing solution, his wingman called Bingo.”
Bingo meant that the fuel had reached the predetermined quantity where the flight must Return To Base.
“What do you think Lead did?”
Colonel West made eye contact with each of us. I was hoping he wasn't expecting any of us to answer.
“Lead did what he was supposed to do,” he continued, “he disengaged by doing a quarter roll and zoom, and he RTB'd. And I'll tell you why he did it. He did it because he had flight discipline. And he had trust. He trusted that his wingman wouldn't call Bingo unless he was really at Bingo fuel. And he, the Flight Lead, had established that Bingo. He gave up his MiG because he had discipline. If he had taken one more slice, done one more yoyo, he could have had that MiG. But he would have put his wingman in jeopardy. He did the right thing. He had discipline.”
“I expect, I demand, that all my pilots exhibit discipline. I don't expect anyone to be perfect in his flying. You're going to make mistakes, and you're going to learn from your mistakes. But I do expect everyone to have perfect discipline. If anyone in the flight calls Bingo, you RTB, whether you've accomplished your training or not. If anyone calls Knock It Off, you discontinue the maneuver. And if you find yourself out of control below 10,000 feet, you eject.”
“Does anyone have any questions?”
Nobody uttered a word.