TOPGUN, school 50th anniversary

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
2019 is the 50th anniversary of the US Navy school that revolutionized air combat for Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews.

During the 1960s portion of the Vietnam air war, the Rolling Thunder campaign over North Vietnam, both USN as well as USAF fighter crews were having a difficult time in air-to-air combat against Soviet-built MiG fighters supplied to the VPAF, or Vietnam People's Air Force (North Vietnam). The MiGs, crewed by North Vietnamese pilots, as well as Soviet and East German advisors, were holding their own against US fighter aircraft in Within-Visual-Range (WVR) dogfighting. While the ability to kill the enemy aircraft at Beyond-Visual-Range (BVR) existed with the primary air-to-air fighter of the USN, USMC, and USAF, the F-4 Phantom, using it's AIM-7 Sparrow medium range missiles; unfortunately the Rules of Engagement for the war did not allow for BVR kills. The ROE required a visual ID before engaging an enemy aircraft, thus bringing any air-to-air fight into the WVR arena and resultant dogfight. As US aircrews from all services had begun to rely on the BVR kill with the advent of medium range missiles, the art of dogfighting in a WVR environment had slowly gone by the wayside, as evidenced by the F-4 Phantoms of all services being built without an internal gun: the exception being the later F-4E model of the USAF. F-4 Phantoms of the USN and USMC did carry external gun pods, but these early pods were cumbersome and jam-prone, and took up a centerline weapons station. USN Phantoms never employed a gun on any of the USN models. The only exception to this change to thinking on air-to-air combat were the pilots of the other premier air-to-air fighter of the USN: the F-8 Crusader, known as The Last of the Gunfighters. F-8 Crusaders did not possess BVR kill capability, so all of their air-to-air kills occurred in the WVR arena, and hence, all of their air-to-air training continued to focus on dogfighting, something the Crusader pilots were very good at. Similarly, USAF F-100 and F-105 pilots still practiced dogfighting, however those two aircraft were primarily ground attack aircraft as fighter-bombers, and any air-to-air fighting was a secondary role. All of these aircraft, the F-8 and F-100/F-105, all had a gun or guns on their aircraft, a tool extremely useful for WVR fighting and a tool the Phantom lacked.

As a result of this training, combined with the ROE requirements, US air-to-air losses during the Rolling Thunder campaign were near the 3 to 1 mark, destroying only 3 enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat for every 1 US fighter lost, a very poor showing. In 1968, the USN directed Capt Frank Ault, a career attack pilot, to complete an in-depth study on air-to-air weaponry and tactics. Ault's report identified over 240 discrepancies and key flaws is air-to-air combat training within the USN as a whole and reasons as to the poor showing in air combat that Naval aircrews were experiencing in Vietnam. Namely, USN F-4 crews not being able to effectively employ their jets in a WVR arena against a dissimilar aircraft such as the MiG-17 that had excellent horizontal-fight performance, and the MiG-21 which utilized hit and run attack tactics. The F-4 crews needed to be learning how to play to their aircrafts strengths against these enemy aircraft in a dogfight, and how to cover for any weaknesses of their own aircraft....such as horizontal turn rate/radius ability. At the same time, exploiting the weaknesses of the enemy in both his training as well as his platform he was flying, was also priority to learn. The lack of dogfight training, the unreliability of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile, the lack of an internal gun, and the entirely of air-to-air tactics, techniques and procedures, were all given a hard look. in 1969, TOPGUN was created at NAS Miramar as a school to address these factors found in the Ault report. TOPGUN addressed the root of the problem: training, tactics, and proper employment of the F-4 Phantom (and F-8 Crusader) to exploit the strengths of these airframes...especially against the MiG-17/19/21, all of which could outmaneuver an F-4 Phantom in a horizontal fight. All whilst understanding the enemy's tactics, employment, and platform limitations.: specifically the lack of training and the lack of some of the airframes to be able to fight effectively in a vertical fight, something the F-4 could do well with a good trained pilot at the controls. TOPGUN started the year after the bombing halt of North Vietnam started, with the ending of the Rolling Thunder air campaign. In 1972, when the bombing of North Vietnam resumed during the Linebacker I/II campaigns, USN Phantom crews mustered a 12 to 1 kill ratio against NVA MiGs. By contrast, the air-to-air combat rate of the F-8 Crusader was 19 MiG kills for 3 air-to-air losses to MiGs. And for the USAF F-105, 31 MiG kills for 18 air-to-air losses to MiGs. During LB I/II, the USAF still had a dismal air-to-air success. And it wasn't until 1975 that they created their own combat training program: Red Flag.

Original VF-121 squadron photo and 2019 reunion photo below. Credit: TopGun association.


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Pilot Fighter

Well-Known Member
2019 is the 50th anniversary of the US Navy school that revolutionized air combat for Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews.

During the 1960s portion of the Vietnam air war, the Rolling Thunder campaign over North Vietnam, both USN as well as USAF fighter crews were having a difficult time in air-to-air combat against Soviet-built MiG fighters supplied to the VPAF, or Vietnam People's Air Force (North Vietnam). The MiGs, crewed by North Vietnamese pilots, as well as Soviet and East German advisors, were holding their own against US fighter aircraft in Within-Visual-Range (WVR) dogfighting. While the ability to kill the enemy aircraft at Beyond-Visual-Range (BVR) existed with the primary air-to-air fighter of the USN, USMC, and USAF, the F-4 Phantom, using it's AIM-7 Sparrow medium range missiles; unfortunately the Rules of Engagement for the war did not allow for BVR kills. The ROE required a visual ID before engaging an enemy aircraft, thus bringing any air-to-air fight into the WVR arena and resultant dogfight. As US aircrews from all services had begun to rely on the BVR kill with the advent of medium range missiles, the art of dogfighting in a WVR environment had slowly gone by the wayside, as evidenced by the F-4 Phantoms of all services being built without an internal gun: the exception being the later F-4E model of the USAF. F-4 Phantoms of the USN and USMC did carry external gun pods, but these early pods were cumbersome and jam-prone, and took up a centerline weapons station. USN Phantoms never employed a gun on any of the USN models. The only exception to this change to thinking on air-to-air combat were the pilots of the other premier air-to-air fighter of the USN: the F-8 Crusader, known as The Last of the Gunfighters. F-8 Crusaders did not possess BVR kill capability, so all of their air-to-air kills occurred in the WVR arena, and hence, all of their air-to-air training continued to focus on dogfighting, something the Crusader pilots were very good at. Similarly, USAF F-100 and F-105 pilots still practiced dogfighting, however those two aircraft were primarily ground attack aircraft as fighter-bombers, and any air-to-air fighting was a secondary role. All of these aircraft, the F-8 and F-100/F-105, all had a gun or guns on their aircraft, a tool extremely useful for WVR fighting and a tool the Phantom lacked.

As a result of this training, combined with the ROE requirements, US air-to-air losses during the Rolling Thunder campaign were near the 3 to 1 mark, destroying only 3 enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat for every 1 US fighter lost, a very poor showing. In 1968, the USN directed Capt Frank Ault, a career attack pilot, to complete an in-depth study on air-to-air weaponry and tactics. Ault's report identified over 240 discrepancies and key flaws is air-to-air combat training within the USN as a whole and reasons as to the poor showing in air combat that Naval aircrews were experiencing in Vietnam. Namely, USN F-4 crews not being able to effectively employ their jets in a WVR arena against a dissimilar aircraft such as the MiG-17 that had excellent horizontal-fight performance, and the MiG-21 which utilized hit and run attack tactics. The F-4 crews needed to be learning how to play to their aircrafts strengths against these enemy aircraft in a dogfight, and how to cover for any weaknesses of their own aircraft....such as horizontal turn rate/radius ability. At the same time, exploiting the weaknesses of the enemy in both his training as well as his platform he was flying, was also priority to learn. The lack of dogfight training, the unreliability of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile, the lack of an internal gun, and the entirely of air-to-air tactics, techniques and procedures, were all given a hard look. in 1969, TOPGUN was created at NAS Miramar as a school to address these factors found in the Ault report. TOPGUN addressed the root of the problem: training, tactics, and proper employment of the F-4 Phantom (and F-8 Crusader) to exploit the strengths of these airframes...especially against the MiG-17/19/21, all of which could outmaneuver an F-4 Phantom in a horizontal fight. All whilst understanding the enemy's tactics, employment, and platform limitations.: specifically the lack of training and the lack of some of the airframes to be able to fight effectively in a vertical fight, something the F-4 could do well with a good trained pilot at the controls. TOPGUN started the year after the bombing halt of North Vietnam started, with the ending of the Rolling Thunder air campaign. In 1972, when the bombing of North Vietnam resumed during the Linebacker I/II campaigns, USN Phantom crews mustered a 12 to 1 kill ratio against NVA MiGs. By contrast, the air-to-air combat rate of the F-8 Crusader was 19 MiG kills for 3 air-to-air losses to MiGs. And for the USAF F-105, 31 MiG kills for 18 air-to-air losses to MiGs. During LB I/II, the USAF still had a dismal air-to-air success. And it wasn't until 1975 that they created their own combat training program: Red Flag.

Original VF-121 squadron photo and 2019 reunion photo below. Credit: TopGun association.


View attachment 48070




View attachment 48071
Ault had a pretty interesting career.

 

Kingairer

'Tiger Team' Member
2019 is the 50th anniversary of the US Navy school that revolutionized air combat for Navy and Marine Corps fighter crews.

During the 1960s portion of the Vietnam air war, the Rolling Thunder campaign over North Vietnam, both USN as well as USAF fighter crews were having a difficult time in air-to-air combat against Soviet-built MiG fighters supplied to the VPAF, or Vietnam People's Air Force (North Vietnam). The MiGs, crewed by North Vietnamese pilots, as well as Soviet and East German advisors, were holding their own against US fighter aircraft in Within-Visual-Range (WVR) dogfighting. While the ability to kill the enemy aircraft at Beyond-Visual-Range (BVR) existed with the primary air-to-air fighter of the USN, USMC, and USAF, the F-4 Phantom, using it's AIM-7 Sparrow medium range missiles; unfortunately the Rules of Engagement for the war did not allow for BVR kills. The ROE required a visual ID before engaging an enemy aircraft, thus bringing any air-to-air fight into the WVR arena and resultant dogfight. As US aircrews from all services had begun to rely on the BVR kill with the advent of medium range missiles, the art of dogfighting in a WVR environment had slowly gone by the wayside, as evidenced by the F-4 Phantoms of all services being built without an internal gun: the exception being the later F-4E model of the USAF. F-4 Phantoms of the USN and USMC did carry external gun pods, but these early pods were cumbersome and jam-prone, and took up a centerline weapons station. USN Phantoms never employed a gun on any of the USN models. The only exception to this change to thinking on air-to-air combat were the pilots of the other premier air-to-air fighter of the USN: the F-8 Crusader, known as The Last of the Gunfighters. F-8 Crusaders did not possess BVR kill capability, so all of their air-to-air kills occurred in the WVR arena, and hence, all of their air-to-air training continued to focus on dogfighting, something the Crusader pilots were very good at. Similarly, USAF F-100 and F-105 pilots still practiced dogfighting, however those two aircraft were primarily ground attack aircraft as fighter-bombers, and any air-to-air fighting was a secondary role. All of these aircraft, the F-8 and F-100/F-105, all had a gun or guns on their aircraft, a tool extremely useful for WVR fighting and a tool the Phantom lacked.

As a result of this training, combined with the ROE requirements, US air-to-air losses during the Rolling Thunder campaign were near the 3 to 1 mark, destroying only 3 enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat for every 1 US fighter lost, a very poor showing. In 1968, the USN directed Capt Frank Ault, a career attack pilot, to complete an in-depth study on air-to-air weaponry and tactics. Ault's report identified over 240 discrepancies and key flaws is air-to-air combat training within the USN as a whole and reasons as to the poor showing in air combat that Naval aircrews were experiencing in Vietnam. Namely, USN F-4 crews not being able to effectively employ their jets in a WVR arena against a dissimilar aircraft such as the MiG-17 that had excellent horizontal-fight performance, and the MiG-21 which utilized hit and run attack tactics. The F-4 crews needed to be learning how to play to their aircrafts strengths against these enemy aircraft in a dogfight, and how to cover for any weaknesses of their own aircraft....such as horizontal turn rate/radius ability. At the same time, exploiting the weaknesses of the enemy in both his training as well as his platform he was flying, was also priority to learn. The lack of dogfight training, the unreliability of the AIM-7 Sparrow missile, the lack of an internal gun, and the entirely of air-to-air tactics, techniques and procedures, were all given a hard look. in 1969, TOPGUN was created at NAS Miramar as a school to address these factors found in the Ault report. TOPGUN addressed the root of the problem: training, tactics, and proper employment of the F-4 Phantom (and F-8 Crusader) to exploit the strengths of these airframes...especially against the MiG-17/19/21, all of which could outmaneuver an F-4 Phantom in a horizontal fight. All whilst understanding the enemy's tactics, employment, and platform limitations.: specifically the lack of training and the lack of some of the airframes to be able to fight effectively in a vertical fight, something the F-4 could do well with a good trained pilot at the controls. TOPGUN started the year after the bombing halt of North Vietnam started, with the ending of the Rolling Thunder air campaign. In 1972, when the bombing of North Vietnam resumed during the Linebacker I/II campaigns, USN Phantom crews mustered a 12 to 1 kill ratio against NVA MiGs. By contrast, the air-to-air combat rate of the F-8 Crusader was 19 MiG kills for 3 air-to-air losses to MiGs. And for the USAF F-105, 31 MiG kills for 18 air-to-air losses to MiGs. During LB I/II, the USAF still had a dismal air-to-air success. And it wasn't until 1975 that they created their own combat training program: Red Flag.

Original VF-121 squadron photo and 2019 reunion photo below. Credit: TopGun association.


View attachment 48070




View attachment 48071
Hey look! Duke Cunningham is out of prison.
 

Lawman

Well-Known Member
Although they never flew F-8's, they flew a few you wouldn't expect including F-106's and at least one A-6.
Speaking of the 106, what an odd divergence from roads our fighter technology could have gone down...

The result of the F-15 was arguably driven entirely by the experiences of F-4 pilots over Vietnam jousting with small light MiGs and having a background of a radar heavy bomber interceptor mindset. Couple that with the irrational fear of the MIG-25 before we could understand what it really was and you get the F-15.

Now imagine for a minute if instead of Phantoms the Air Force has elected to use 106s in the same role over Vietnam. Your cadre of professional experience would have been given the same weight but come at it with an entirely different mentality of what makes a good fighter.


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