Defending America
18 March '97
David Hackworth


Colonel John R. Boyd United States Air Force is dead.

Future generations will learn that John Boyd, a legendary fighter pilot, was America's greatest military thinker. He's remembered now by all those he touched over the last 52 years of service to our country as not only the original Top Gun, but as one smart hombre who always had the guts to stand tall and to tell it like it is.

He didn't just drive Chinese fighter pilots nuts while flying his F-86 over the Yalu River during the Korean War, he spent decades causing the top brass to climb the walls and the cost-plus defense contractor racketeers to run for cover.

He was not only a fearless fighter pilot with a laser sharp mind, but a man of rare moral courage. The mission of providing America with the best airplane came first, closely followed by his love for the troops and his concern for their welfare. Many of the current crop of Air Force generals could pull out of their moral nose dive by following his example.

After the Korean War, he became known as "40 second Boyd" because he defeated opponents in aerial combat in less than 40 seconds. Many of his contemporaries from this period say he was "the best fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force ."

Not only was he skilled and brave, he was also a brain. The Air Force recognized this and sent him to Georgia Tech, not to be a "rambling wreck," but to become a top graduate engineer. It was there he developed the fighter tactics which proved so effective during the Vietnam War and the concepts that later revolutionized the design of fighter aircraft as well as the USA's way of fighting wars both in the air and on the ground.

He saved the F-15 from being a 80,000 pound swing-wing air bus, streamlining it into a 40,000 pound lean and mean fixed wing fighter, which Desert Storm proved still has no equal.

Boyd was also a key player in the development of the F-16, probably the most agile and maneuverable fighter aircraft ever built and costing half the price of the F-15. The top brass didn't want it. To them, more expensive was better. So Boyd outfoxed them by developing it in secret.

Chuck Spinney, who as a Pentagon staffer sweated under Boyd's cantankerous, demanding tough love says, " The most important gift my father gave me was a deep belief in the importance of doing what you think is right ­ to act on what your conscience says you should act on and to accept the consequences. The most important gift Boyd gave me was the ability to do this and survive and grow at the same time."

Boyd never made general -- truthtellers seldom do in today's slick military. The Pentagon brass who hate the truth and try to destroy all those who tell it, did their best to do a number on John. But true to form, he always out-maneuvered them.

Norman Schwarzkopf is widely heralded as the hero of Desert Storm, but in fact Boyd's tactics and strategy were the real force behind the 100 Hour War. Stormin' Norman simply copied Boyd's play book, and the Marines were brilliant during their attack into Kuwait. As USMC Colonel Mike Wyly tells it, Boyd "applied his keen thinking to Marine tactics and today we are a stronger, sharper Corps."

His example inspired many. He affected everyone with whom he came in contact. He trained a generation of disciples in all the services, and they're carrying on his good work, continuing to serve truth over self.

For those who know, the name Boyd has already become a synonym for doing the right thing. His legacy will be that integrity -- doing the hard right over the easy wrong -- is more important than all the stars, all the plush executive suites and all the bucks.

God now has the finest pilot ever at his side. And He, in all His wisdom will surely give Boyd the recognition he deserves by promoting him to Air Marshall of the Universe.

For sure, we can all expect a few changes in the design of heaven as Boyd makes it a better place just as he did planet earth.

The end. copy af times