The human flying reality of war in the air. I also have a page of Air Power quotations. That’s politics and strategy, this is the more personal flying fighting reality:

Good flying never killed an enemy.

Attributed to Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock, RAF, ranking British fighter ace of WWI, credited with 61 victories. Cited in 2008 book Mannock: The Life and Death of Major Edward Mannock VC, DSO, MC, RAF.

First and foremost I had to learn to fly; learn, and then cast the thought of flying away into the background. Flying in itself is wholly unpredominant: to have a perfect pair of hands is important, but it is only a question of degree, not the end-all and be-all. Smooth landings do not affect the success of an operation; it is finding the right way to the right place that matters. In other words, flying must be subconscious.

Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, in his book Bomber Pilot, 1943.

Men were going to die in the air as they had died for centuries on the ground and on the seas, by killing each other. The conquest of the air war truly accomplished.

René Chambe, Au Temps des Carabines, 1955.

Au Temps des Carabines

Up there the world is divided into bastards and suckers. Make your choice.

Derek Robinson, RAF fighter pilot, Piece of Cake, 1983.

They fall into two broad categories; those who are going out to shoot and those who secretly and desperately know they will be shot at, the hunters and the hunted.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF, regards fighter pilots. He was the highest scoring Western Allied fighter ace against the German Luftwaffe, making him one of the hunters. Wing leader, 1956.

J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson

You lived and died alone, especially in fighters. Fighters. Somehow, despite everything, that word had not become sterile. You slipped into the hollow cockpit and strapped and plugged yourself into the machine. The canopy ground shut and sealed you off. Your oxygen, your very breath, you carried into the chilled vacuum, in a steel bottle.

James Salter, The Hunters, 1956.

I belong to a group of men who fly alone. There is only one seat in the cockpit of a fighter airplane. There is no space alotted for another pilot to tune the radios in the weather or make the calls to air traffic control centers or to help with the emergency procedures or to call off the airspeed down final approach. There is no one else to break the solitude of a long cross-country flight. There is no one else to make decisions.
I do everything myself, from engine start to engine shutdown. In a war, I will face alone the missiles and the flak and the small-arms fire over the front lines.

If I die, I will die alone.

Richard Bach, Stranger to the Ground, 1963.

The heavens are their battlefield. They are the Cavalry of the Clouds. High above the squalor and the mud, so high in the firmament that they are not visible from earth, they fight out the eternal issues of right and wrong. They are struggling there by day, yea and by night in that titanic conflict between the great foes of light and of darkness. They fight the foe high up and they fight low down. They skim like armed swallows along the front, taking in their flights men armed with rifle and machine gun. They scatter infantry on the march, they destroy convoys, the scatter dismay. Every flight is romance, every record is an epic. They are the knight errants of this war, without fear and without reproach. They recall the old legends of chivalry, not merely by the daring of individual exploits, but by the nobility of their spirit and amongst the multitudes of heroes, we must continuously thank the cavalry of the air

David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, speech to the House of Commons in movement of a motion of thanks to the armed services, 29 October 1917.

I scooted for our lines, sticky with fear. I vomited brandy and milk and bile all over my instrument panel. Yes, it was very romantic flying, people said later, like a knight errant in the clean blue sky of personal combat, in whipcord breeches and a British tunic with long Bond-Street-cut tails.

W. W. Windstaff, the publishing pseudonym of a wealthy American pilot flying with the British RFC in WWI. His true identity remains a secret. Written to be privately published in 1929. Eventually published as the 1993 book Lower Than Angels: A Memoir of War & Peace

The more mechanical become the weapons with which we fight, the less mechanical must be the spirit which controls them.

Field Marshal Archibald P. Wavell, British Army, in his 1936 book Generalship, its Diseases and their Cure.

I go forth into battle light of heart … I regard it as a privilege to fight for all those things that make life worth living—freedom, honour and fair play … Flying has meant the companionship of men, the intoxication of speed, the rush of air and the pulsating beat of the motor awaken some answering chord deep down which is indescribable.

William 'Bill' Millington, RAF. Letter to his parents from hospital, after his Hurricane was set alight in combat with Me109’s during the Battle of Britian. Quoted by Peter Townsend in the 2015 book The Few: Fight for the Skies.

Bill Millington

I mean, I had fast motor cars and fast motor bikes, and when I wasn’t crashing airplanes, I was crashing motor bikes. It’s all part of the game.

Attributed to Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry 'Broady' Broadhurst, RAF, 13 victories WWII.

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harms way.

Captain John Paul Jones, Continental Navy, letter to Le Ray de Chaumont, 16 November 1778. Quoted in the 1890 book The Naval History of the United States.

The hunters are the ones who go out and kill. Maybe one out of ten good fighter pilots will be one of the hunters.

Attributed to Jack Ilfrey, USAAF, 8 victories WWII.

To the aircraft I aim, not the man.

Francesco Baracca, Corpo Aeronautico Militare, Italy’s leading ace of WWI with 34 victories. Original Italian “è all'apparecchio che io miro, non all'uomo”. The prancing horse emblem he sported on his aircraft was later used by Enzo Ferrari on his cars. Quoted in the 2016 book Umili Eroi.

Francesco Baracca

You don’t think much of the individual, because you don’t think you’ve hit him and you hope that he will bail out or something; it's the aeroplane you’ve hit … normally it was more of a game if you like, you were outwitting and shooting down another aircraft, you were simply hitting metal.

Wing commander Pete Malam Brothers, RAF, 16 victories WWII. Imperial War Museum Sound Archive, 1917.

I hate to shoot a Hun down without him seeing me, for although this method is in accordance with my doctrine, it is against what little sporting instincts I have left.

Major James 'Mac' McCudden, RFC and RAF, 57 victories WWI. Flying Fury: Five Years In The Royal Flying Corps, 1918.

My habit of attacking Huns dangling from their parachutes led to many arguments in the mess. Some officers, of the Eton and Sandhurst type, thought it was ‘unsportsmanlike’ to do it. Never having been to a public school, I was unhampered by such considerations of form. I just pointed out that there was a bloody war on, and that I intended to avenge my pals.

Captain James Ira Thomas 'Taffy' Jones, RFC, 37 victories in 3 months WWI. Quoted in the 2007 book Fighter Aces of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.

A glorious death. Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of benzen — to the last beat of the heart and the last kick of the motor: a death for a knight — a toast for his fellow, friend and foe.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte. Toast to Boelche, Jagdstaffel 2 mess. Quoted in the 1927 book The Red Knight of Germany.

von Richthofen

Fighting in the air is not sport. It is scientific murder.

Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker, USAS, Fighting the Flying Circus, 1919.

The first time I ever saw a jet, I shot it down.

General Charles 'Chuck' Yeager, USAF. Eleven victories in WWII, here describing his 6 November 1944 sighting of a German jet. In a twitter post on 8 November 2018 he continues:

“I was first in my group to shoot down an Me262. He was on final — not very sportsmanlike — but what the hell?”

It was my view that no kill was worth the life of a wingman, many of whom were young and inexperienced boys. Pilots in my unit who lost wingmen on this basis were prohibited from leading a Rotte. The were made to fly as wingman, instead.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe and GAF. 352 victories, the most successful fighter ace in history. Quoted in the 2014 book Luftwaffe War Diary: Pilots & Aces: Uniforms & Equipment.

The wingman is absolutely indispensable. I look after the wingman. The wingman looks after me. It’s another set of eyes protecting you. That the defensive part. Offensively, it gives you a lot more firepower. We work together. We fight together. The wingman knows what his responsibilities are, and knows what mine are. Wars are not won by individuals. they’re won by teams.

Attributed to Lt. Col. Francis S. 'Gabby' Gabreski, USAF, 28 victories in WWII and 6.5 MiGs over Korea. For example by USAF at and in the 2011 book Viper Force: 56th Fighter Wing — To Fly and Fight the F-16.

There is a peculiar gratification on receiving congratulations from one’s squadron for a victory in the air. It is worth more to a pilot than the applause of the whole outside world. It means that one has won the confidence of men who share the misgivings, the aspirations, the trials and the dangers of aeroplane fighting.

Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker, USAS. 26 victories in WWI. Fighting the Flying Circus, 1919.

Once committed to an attack, fly in at full speed. After scoring crippling or disabling hits, I would clear myself and then repeat the process. I never pursued the enemy once they had eluded me. Better to break off and set up again for a new assault. I always began my attacks from full strength, if possible, my ideal flying height being 22,000 ft because at that altitude I could best utilize the performance of my aircraft. Combat flying is based on the slashing attack and rough maneuvering. In combat flying, fancy precision aerobatic work is really not of much use. Instead, it is the rough maneuver which succeeds.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe, the world's leading ace, with 352 victories in WWII. Cited in 2000 book Aces.

And I have yet to find one single individual who has attained conspicuous success in bringing down enemy aeroplanes who can be said to be spoiled either by his successes or by the generous congratulations of his comrades. If he were capable of being spoiled he would not have had the character to have won continuous victories, for the smallest amount of vanity is fatal in aeroplane fighting. Self-distrust rather is the quality to which many a pilot owes his protracted existence.

Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker, USAS. 26 victories in WWI. Fighting the Flying Circus, 1919.

In every squadron there were, perhaps, four or five pilots who exuded confidence. They knew that they were going out to shoot. The rest knew sub-consciously, that they would make up the numbers, mill about, and get shot at.

Lynn Garrison, quoted in 2003 book Fighter Command Air Combat Claims, 1939–45.

The hours I spent more than thirty thousand feet in the bitterly cold air over that alien land were the most productive of self-study. Nothing makes a man more aware of his capabilities and of his intrinsic limitations than those moments when he must push aside all the familiar defenses of ego and vanity, and accept reality by staring, with the fear that is normal to a man in combat, into the face of Death.

Major Robert S. Johnson, USAAF. Thunderbolt!: The Extraordinary Story of a World War II Ace, 1958.


The duty of the fighter pilot is to patrol his area of the sky, and shoot down any enemy fighters in that area. Anything else is rubbish.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte, 1917. Richtofen would not let members of his Staffel strafe troops in the trenches. Quoted in the 2016 book History’s Greatest Pilots Close Up.

Anybody who doesn’t have fear is an idiot. It’s just that you must make the fear work for you. Hell, when somebody shot at me, it made me madder than hell, and all I wanted to do was shoot back.

Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF. Undated, cited by USAF at

The most important thing in fighting was shooting, next the various tactics in coming into a fight and last of all flying ability itself.

Lt. Colonel W. A. 'Billy' Bishop, RFC. Officially credited with 72 victories, making him the top Canadian and British Empire ace of WWI. Winged Warfare, 1918.

To be able to fight well, a pilot must be able to have absolute control over his machine. He must know by the ‘feel’ of it exactly how the machine is, what position it is in, and how it is flying, so that he may manoeuvre rapidly, and at the same time watch his opponent or opponents. He must be able to loop, turn his machine over on its back and do various over flying ‘stunts,’ not that these are actually neccessary during a combat, but from the fact that he has done these things several times he gets the absolute confidence and when the fight comes along he is not worrying about how the machine will act. He can devote all his time to fighting the other felllow; the flying part of it coming instinctively. Thus the flying part, although perhaps the hardest to train a man for, is the least important factor in aerial fighting.

Major W. A. 'Billy' Bishop. Winged Warfare, 1918.

Billy Bishop

In nearly all cases where machines have been downed, it was during a fight which had been very short, and the successful burst of fire had occurred within the space of a minute after the beginning of actual hostilities.

W. A. 'Billy' Bishop, RFC. Shooting Stars, The Saturday Evening Post, 1 June 1918.

You must take the war to the enemy. You must attack and go on attacking all the time.

Major Willy Omer François Jean Coppens de Houthulst, Belgian Air Service, 37 victories WWI.

A fixed determination to attack and win will be the surest road to vistory.

RFC Training Manual, 1913. Cited in 2018 book The Birth of the RAF.

It is quite simple. I fly close to my man, aim well and then of course he falls down.

Lieutenant Oswald Boelcke, probably the world’s first ace, spoken to the future 'Red Baron' in a dining car on a train. Quoted in the chapter How I Med Boelcke by Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen in his 1917 book The Red Battle Flyer.


Aerial gunnery was 90 percent instinct and 10 percent aim.

Captain Frederick C. Libby, RFC. 14 victories WWI. Quoted in 1979 book Fighter Aces of the U.S.A.

I had no system of shooting as such. It is definitely more in the feeling side of things that these skills develop. I was at the front five and a half years, and you just got a feeling for the right amount of lead.

Lt. General Guenther Rall, GAF. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

When one has shot down one’s first, second and third opponent, then one begins to find out how the trick is done.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte. My Air Victories, Pearson’s Magazine, July 1918.

Published in the US soon after his death, it was reportedly written “just after his fiftieth victory”, and reveals the writer, said the editor, “as somewhat callous, not to say cruel, with no pity for the vanquished and no compassion for the suffering he had brought upon the innocent”.

My Air Victories

I put my bullets into the target as if I placed them there by hand.

Capitaine René Paul Fonck, French Air Service, 75 victories WWI. Quoted in the 1968 book The Great Air War: The Men, the Planes, the Saga of Military Aviation, 1914 - 1918.

You can have computer sights of anything you like, but I think you have to go to the enemy on the shortest distance and knock him down from point-blank range. you’ll get him from in close. At long distance, it's questionable.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

I am not a good shot. Few of us are. To make up for this I hold my fire until I have a shot of less than 20 degrees deflection and until I’m within 300 yards. Good discipline on this score can make up for a great deal.

General John C. Meyer, USAAF and USAF. 24 victories in WWII, later became commander-in-chief of Strategic Air Command. Originally quoted as part of The Long Reach, an internal Eighth Air Force VIII Fighter Command publication for fighter pilots, printed in May 1944. Published in 2000 as Long Reach VIII Fighter Command at War.

Go in close, and when you think you are too close, go in closer.

Major Thomas B. 'Tommy' McGuire, USAAF. Quoted in the 1965 book Seven Heros: Medal of Honor Stories of the War in the Pacific.

My only tactic was to wait until I had the chance to attck the enemy and then close in at high speed. I opened fire only when the whole windshield was black with the enemy. Wait! Wait!— until the enemy covers your windshield. Then not a single shot goes wild … it doesn't matter what your angle is to him and whether or not you are in a turn or any other maneuver. When all your guns hit him like this, he goes down!

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe, 352 victories WWII. Quoted in 1968 book Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe.

As long as I look right into the muzzles, nothing can happen to me. Only if he pulls lead am I in danger.

Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille, the 'Star of Africa', Luftwaffe, 158 victories WWII. Quoted in the 2007 book Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe in World War II.

Everything in the air that is beneath me, especially if it is a one-seater, a chaser, is lost, for it cannot shoot to the rear.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte, top scoring ace of WWI with 80 victories. The Red Fighter Pilot, 1917.

I started shooting when I was much too far away. That was merely a trick of mine. I did not mean so much as to hit him as to frighten him, and I succeeded in catching him. He began flying curves and this enabled me to draw near.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte, top scoring ace of WWI with 80 victories. The Red Fighter Pilot, 1917.

A fighter without a gun … is like an airplane without a wing.

Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF. Quoted in the 1977 book F-4 Phantom.

I’m waiting to be told how cobras, hooks, or vectored thrust help in combat. they’re great at air shows, but zero energy is a fighter pilot’s nightmare. Shoot your opponent down and his number two will be on your tail thinking it's his birthday — a target hanging there in the sky with zero energy.

Ned Firth, Eurofighter

See - Decide - Attack - Reverse.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe. The most successful fighter ace in the history of aerial warfare. The Blond Knight of Germany: A biography of Erich Hartmann.

Erich Hartmann

So it was that the war in the air began. Men rode upon the whirlwind that night and slew and fell like archangels. The sky rained heroes upon the astonished earth. Surely the last fights of mankind were the best. What was the heavy pounding of your Homeric swordsmen, what was the creaking charge of chariots, besides this swift rush, this crash, this giddy triumph, this headlong sweep to death?

H. G. Wells, The World Set Free, 1914.

I know that flying over the Soviet Union without permission was spying. I knew that it was. But I really didn’t think that in the true sense of the word spy I ever considered myself a spy. I was a pilot flying an airplane and it just so happened that where I was flying made what I was doing spying.

Francis Gary Power, U-2 reconnaissance pilot held by the Soviets for spying, in an interview after he was returned to the US. Quoted in the 1988 book Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair.

My pilot pointed to his left front and above, and looking in the direction he pointed, I saw a long dark brown form fairly streaking across the sky. We could see that it was a German machine, and when it got above and behind our middle machine, it dived on it for all the world like a huge hawk on a hapless sparrow.

James McCudden, VC, RFC. Flying Fury: Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps, 1918.

A fixed determination to attack and win will be the surest road to victory.

RFC Training Manual, 1913. Quoted in the 2018 book The Birth of the RAF.

One thing was to know how to fly the airplane. He has to know it, to love to fly, to be aggressive and to have good eyeballs and to know how to use them. I’d say he has to have an instinctive capability for air fighting. …Fighting spirit one must have. Even if a man lacks some of the other qualifications, he can often make up for it in fighting spirit.

Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF. Trriple ace, with 17 victories in WWII and the Vietnam War. Quoted in the 1972 book Fighter Tactics and Strategy 1914 - 1970. At the time he said this, he was Comandant of Cadets at the Air Force Academy, after commanding the 8th Wing at Ubon, Thailand, during the Vietnam War.

Robin Olds

I never went into the air thinking I would lose.

Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, USN. Only Navy ace of Vietnam, later a Top Gun instructor and Commander of adversary squadron VF-126. Quoted in 1974 book And Kill MiGs, Air to Air Combat in the Vietnam War.

Randy 'Duke' Cunningham

Speed is life.

Anon., popularized by Samuel Flynn, Jr., USN.

Speed is the cushion of sloppiness.

Commander William P. 'Willie' Driscoll, USNR.

It is probable that future war will be conducted by a special class, the air force, as it was by the armored Knights of the Middle Ages.

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, Winged Defense, 1924.

Most healthy young men or women from sixteen to forty years of age can be taught to fly an ordinary airplane. A great majority of these may become very good pilots for transport- or passenger-carrying machines in time of peace; but the requirements for a military aviator call for more concentrated physical and mental ability in the individual than has ever been necessary in any calling heretofore.

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, Skyways, 1930.

Their element is to attack, to track, to hunt, and to destroy the enemy. Only in this way can the eager and skillful fighter pilot display his ability. Tie him to a narrow and confined task, rob him of his initiative, and you take away from him the best and most valuable qualities he posses: aggressive spirit, joy of action, and the passion of the hunter.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII. The First and the Last, 1954.

Aggressiveness was a fundamental to success in air-to-air combat and if you ever caught a fighter pilot in a defensive mood you had him licked before you started shooting.

Captain David McCampbell, USN. 34 victories in WWII, the most of any US Navy pilot, ever. Quoted at very start of the 2019 biography David McCampbell: Top Ace of U.S. Naval Aviation in World War II.

Captain David McCampbell

Fly with the head and not with the muscles. That is the way to long life for a fighter pilot. The fighter pilot who is all muscle and no head will never live long enough for a pension.

Colonel Wilhelm 'Willie' Batz, Luftwaffe and GAF. 237 victories in WWII. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

Colonel Wilhelm 'Willie' Batz

The air battle is not necessarily won at the time of the battle. The winner may have been determined by the amount of time, energy, thought and training an individual has previously accomplished in an effort to increase his ability as a fighter pilot.

Colonel Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington, USMC, 26 victories, WWII.

The experienced fighti ng pilot does not take unnecessary risks. His business in to shoot down enemy planes, not to get shot down. His trained hand and eye and judgment are as much a part of his armament as his machine-gun, and a fifty-fifty chance is the worst he will take or should take, except where the show is of the kind that that either for offense or defense justifies the sacrifice of plane and pilot.

Captain Edward V. 'Eddie' Rickenbacker. The Men Who Cleared the Clouds, Chapter XIX of Supplementary Volume to the Great War History, 1920.

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind … Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.

Joseph Heller, First mention of Catch-22 in his novel Catch-22. Heller first started writing it in 1953, but the book wasn’t published until 1961.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Muhammad Ali (nee Cassius Clay).

A good fighter pilot, like a good boxer, should have a knockout punch … You will find one attack you prefer to all others. Work on it till you can do it to perfection … then use it whenever possible.

Captain Reade Tilley, USAAF.

He must have a love of hunting, a great desire to be the top dog.

Attributed to Sergei Dolgushin, Russian Air Force, 24 victories WWII.

Know and use all the capabilities in your airplane. If you don’t, sooner or later, some guy who does use them all will kick your ass.

Dave 'Preacher' Pace, USN. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

You fight like you train.

U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN.

Fight to fly, fly to fight, fight to win.

U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, TOPGUN.

The first rule of all air combat is to see the opponent first. Like the hunter who stalks his prey and maneuvers himself unnoticed into the most favourable position for the kill, the fighter in the opening of a dogfight must detect the opponent as early as possible in order to attain a superior position for the attack.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII. The First and the Last, 1954.

If you’re in a fair fight, you didn’t plan it properly.

Nick Lappos, Chief R&D Pilot, Sikorsky Aircraft.

The British were sporting. They would accept a fight under almost all conditions.

Attributed to Gunther Rall, Luftwaffe, 275 victories in WWII.

It's just like being in a knife fight in a dirt-floor bar. If you want to fix a fella, the best way to do it is to get behind him and stick him in the back. It's the same in an air fight. If you want to kill that guy, the best thing to do is get around behind him where he can’t see you … . and shoot him.

Captain William O’Brian, 357th Fighter Group, USAAF. Quoted in the 2017 book Lone Eagle: The Fighter Pilot Experience — From World War I and World War II to the Jet Age.

A squadron commander who sits in his tent and gives orders and does not fly, though he may have the brains of Soloman, will never get the results that a man will, who, day in and day out, leads his patrols over the line and infuses into his pilots the 'espirit de corps.'

Brigadier General William 'Billy' Mitchell, USAS, in a report on the success of Eddie Rickenbacker. Quoted in the 1960 book The Aces.

The Aces

The greater issues were beyond us. We sat in a tiny cockpit, throttle lever in one hand, stick in the other. At the end of our right thumb was the firing button, and in each wing were four guns. We aimed through an optical gun sight, a red bead in the middle of a red ring. Our one concern was to boot out the enemy.

Group Captain Peter Townsend, RAF. Nine victories WWII. Quoted in the 2018 book High Fliers: Airmen of Achievement in Wartime.

Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the change in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.

Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921.

I saw the lightnings gleaming rod.
Reach forth and write upon the sky
The awful autograph of God.

Joaquin Miller, The Ship In The Desert, 1875.

Though I Fly Through the Valley of Death I Shall Fear No Evil For I am 80,000 feet and Climbing.

Sign over the entrance to the SR-71 operating location on Kadena AB Okinawa.

We were stripped down, even the turrets were removed. You were light and real fast, though. Our 12th squadron motto was ‘Alone Unarmed Unafraid.’ As you can imagine, this actually translated into something more like, ‘Alone Unarmed and Scared Shitless.’

Theodore R. 'Dick' Newell, Korean War pilot, 12th TAC Reconnaissance Squadron, on flying the reconnaissance version of the B-26.

We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write “fuck” on their airplanes because? It’s obscene!

Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now.

Yea though I fly through the valley of the shadow of death … I fear no evil … for I fly the biggest, baddest, meanest, fastest motherfucker in the whole damn valley.


In blossom today, then scattered:
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance
To last forever?

Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi, Kamikaze Special Attack Force. Poem composed two months before he committed ritual suicide on the day after Japan’s surrender. June 1945.

No guts, no glory. If you are going to shoot him down, you have to get in there and mix it up with him. If he’s damn good, you are immediately going to be confronted with a problem we sincerely hope you will have solved during your training mission.

General Frederick C. 'Boots' Blesse, USAF. Ten victories, Korean War. ACM text No Guts, No Glory, cited by US Navy safety Center in ACM Perspectives, Approach, January 1989.

I don’t mind being called tough, because in this racket it’s the tough guys who lead the survivors.

General Curtis LeMay, USAF. Quoted in the 2006 book Aviation Century: War and Peace in the Air.

Watching the Dallas Cowboys perform, it is not difficult to believe that coach Tom Landry flew four-engines bombers during World War II. He was in B-17 Flying Fortresses out of England, they say. His cautious, conservative approach to every situation and the complexity of the plays he sends in do seem to reflect the philosophy of a pilot trained to doggedly press on according to plans laid down before takeoff. I sometimes wonder how the Cowboys would have fared all this years had Tom flown fighters in combat situations which dictated continuously changing tactics.

Len Morgan, View from the Cockpit, 1985.

Everything I had ever learned about air fighting taught me that the man who is aggressive, who pushes a fight, is the pilot who is successful in combat and who has the best opportunity for surviving battle and coming home.

Major Robert S. Johnson, USAAF. 27 victories in WWII. Thunderbolt!: The Extraordinary Story of a World War II Ace, 1958.

Robert Johnson

I think that the most important features of a fighter pilot are aggressiveness and professionalism. They are both needed to achieve the fighter pilot’s goal: the highest score within the shortest time, with the least risk to himself and his wingman.

Colonel Gidi Livni, Israeli Air Force.

The aggressive spirit, the offensive, is the chief thing everywhere in war, and the air is no exception.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte.

Eyesight and seeing the enemy first, or at least in time to take correct tactical maneuvers was very important. However, most important is the guts to plough through an enemy or enemies, and fight it out. There are no foxholes to hide in … there is no surrendering.

Richard H. May, USN. Quoted in the 2001 book Fly Navy: Naval Aviators and Carrier Aviation, a History.

There are only two types of aircraft — fighters and targets.

Major Doyle 'Wahoo' Nicholson, USMC. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

Do unto the other feller the way he’d like to do unto you, an’ do it fust.

E. N. Westcott, David Harum; A Story of American Life, 1898.

If I were, to pick out the most valuable personal traits of a fighter pilot, aggressiveness would rate high on the list. Time and again, I have seen aggressive action, even from a disadvantageous position, completely rout a powerful Nip formation.

Charles H. MacDonald, USAAF, 27 victories, WWII, quoted in the 1958 book Five Down and Glory.

The essence of leadership in the Royal Air Force was, and is, that every leader from flight commander to group commander should know and fly his airplanes.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF. Full Circle: The Tactics of Air Fighting 1914-1964, 1964.

A speck of dirt on your windscreen could turn into an enemy fighter in the time it took to look round and back again. A little smear on your goggles might hide the plane that was coming in to kill you.

Derek Robinson, RAF fighter pilot, Piece of Cake, 1983.

There are pilots and there are pilots; with the good ones, it is inborn. You can’t teach it. If you are a fighter pilot, you have to be willing to take risks.

Attributed to General Robin Olds, USAF.

An excellent weapon and luck had been on my side. To be successful, the best fighter pilot needs both.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII. The First and the Last, 1954.

One of the secrets of air fighting was to see the other man first. Seeing airplanes from great distances was a question of experience and training, of knowing where to look and what to look for. Experienced pilots always saw more than the newcomers, because the later were more concerned with flying than fighting… . The novice had little idea of the situation, because his brain was bewildered by the shock and ferocity of the fight.

Air Vice-Marshal J. E. 'Johnnie' Johnson, RAF.

Only the spirit of attack borne in a brave heart will bring a success to any fighter aircraft, no matter how highly developed it may be.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII. The First and the Last, 1954.

The man who enters combat encased in solid armor plate, but lacking the essential of self-confidence, is far more exposed and naked to death than the individual who subjects himself to battle shorn of any protection but his own skill, his own belief in himself and in his wingman. Righteousness is necessary for one’s peace of mind, perhaps, but it is a poor substitute for agility … and a resolution to meet the enemy under any conditions and against any odds.

Major Robert S. Johnson, USAAF.

To be a good fighter pilot, there is one prime requisite — think fast, and act faster.

Major John T. Godfrey, USAAF.

Mark Twain said, “Courage is the mastery of fear, resistance to fear, not the absence of fear.” At times the nearness of death brings an inexplicable exhilaration which starts the adrenaline flowing and results in instant action. The plane becomes an integral part of the pilot’s body, it is strapped to his butt, and they become a single fighting machine.

Robert M. Littlefield, Double Nickel — Double Trouble, 1993.

Being a stealth pilot is one of the most labor intensive and time constrained types of flying that I know. We have very strict timing constraints: to be where you are supposed to be all the time, exactly on time, and that has to be monitored by the pilot. For example, during a bomb competition in training in the US, I dropped a weapon that landed 0.02 seconds from the desired time, and finished third!

Lt. Col. Miles Pound, USAF

Stealth Equals Death.
When it absolutely, positively has to be taken out overnight.

The two phrases stamped on the key ring that every new 'Bandit' (a pilot who has soloed an F-117 Stealth Fighter) received.

Ode To The P-38

Oh, Hedy Lamarr is a beautiful gal, and Madeleine Carroll is too,
But you’ll find if you query, a different theory amongst any bomber crew
For the loveliest thing of which one could sing (this side of the pearly gates)
Is no blonde or brunette of the Hollywood set -
But an escort of P-38s.

Yes, in the days that have passed,
when the tables were massed with glasses of scotch and champagne,
It's quite true that the sight was a thing of delight us,
intent on feeling no pain.
But no longer the same, nowadays is this game
When we head north for Messina Straits
Take the sparkling wine-every time,
just make mine an escort of P-38s.

Byron, Shelley and Keats ran a dozen dead heats
Describing the views from the hills,
of the valleys in May when the winds gently sway
In the air it’s a different story;
We sweat out our track through the fighters and flak
we’re willing to split up the glory
Well, they wouldn’t reject us, so heaven protect us
and, until all this shooting abates,
Give us courage to fight 'em — one other small item -
an escort of P-38s.

Frederic Arnold, Kohn's War.

I didn't turn with the enemy pilots as a rule. I might make one turn — to see what the situation was — but not often. It was too risky.

General John C. Meyer, Vice-Chief of Staff, USAF.

It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed.

Attributed to a USAF Manual.

Nothing is true in tactics.

Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, USN, first American ace in Vietnam. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

We were too busy fighting to worry about the business of clever tactics.

Harold Balfour, RAF. WWI fighter pilot and later the British Under-Secretary of State for War. Quoted in the 1983 book Fighter Pilot Tactics: The Techniques of Daylight Air Combat.

Beware the lessons of a fighter pilot who would rather fly a slide rule than kick your ass!

Attributed to Commander Ron 'Mugs' McKeown, USN, Two victores in Vietnam. First commanding officer of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, and undefeated light-heavyweight boxing champion of the Brigade of Midshipman for three years.


For most of the time carrier aviation is more challenging than flying in a spacecraft.

Astronaut James Lovell.

Fighter pilots, above all else, know who among their peers are hunters and who are hunted. They absolutely will not fly into a tough combat situation with a wingman they don’t trust and not all men make the cut. Where we work is a vicious place. I'll attempt to describe it, but the full comprehension comes only in a sky full of hot metal and smart missiles that all seem to be looking at you. You're in a machine that is so fast and powerful that you intuitively know that if death comes, it will be full of hot fire. Frail human that you are, you will be shredded to pieces. Worst of all, you'll be alone in a fierce place where your comrades cannot hold you while you die. That is the real environment of a fighter pilot.

Jerry R Caddick

Physical address, high training, entire fearlessness, iron nerve and fertile resourcefulness are needed in a combination and to a degree hitherto unparalled in war. The ordinary air fighter is an extraordinary man and the extraordinary air fighter stands as one in a million among his fellows.

Theodore Roosevelt, letter to Henry Bordeaux, 27 June 1918. The letter was used as the preface in an Engish translation of Mr. Bordeaux’s 1918 book Guynemer: Knight of the Air.

Guynemer: Knight of the Air

A fighter pilot must be free to propose improvements [in tactics] or he will get himself killed.

Commander Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, USN.

He who can handle the quickest rate of change survives.

John Byrd, last line of his classic USAF document New Conception For Air-To-Air Combat, 4 August 1976.

When I took over my wing [in Vietnam], the big talk wasn’t about the MIG’s, but about the SAM’s … I’d seen enemy planes before, but those damn SAM’s were something else. When I saw my first one, there were a few seconds of sheer panic, because that’s a most impressive sight to see that thing coming at you. You feel like a fish about to be harpooned. There’s something terribly personal about the SAM; it means to kill you and I’ll tell you right now, it rearranges your priorities … We had been told to keep our eyes on them and not to take any evasive move too soon, because they were heat-seeking and they, too would correct, so I waited until it was almost on me and then I rolled to the right and it went on by. It was awe inspiring … The truth is you never do get used to the SAM’s; I had about two hundred fifty shot at me and the last one was as inspiring as the first. Sure I got cagey, and I was able to wait longer and longer, but I never got overconfident. I mean, if you’re one or two seconds too slow, you’ve had the schnitzel.

General Robin Olds, USAF. Quoted in the 2006 book Aviation Century: War and Peace in the Air

Every day kill just one, rather than today five, tomorrow ten … that is enough for you. Then your nerves are calm and you can sleep good, you have your drink in the evening and the next morning you are fit again.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

The closest modern equivalent to the Homeric hero is the ace fighter pilot.

W. H. Auden, Introduction to the Potable Greek Reader, 1948.

To become an ace a fighter must have extraordinary eyesight, strength, and agility, a huntsman’s eye, coolness in a pinch, calculated recklessness, a full measure of courage—and occasional luck! .

General Jimmy Doolittle, USAAF. Quoted in 2007 Smithsonian book Extreme Aircraft.

The most important thing for a fighter pilot is to get his first victory without too much shock.

Colonel Werner Möelders, Luftwaffe. He got his first victory, and 114 others. Quoted as his credo by Hartmann Grasser in the 2007 book Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe in World War 2.

It is true to say that the first kill can influence the whole future career of a fighter pilot. Many to whom the first victory over the opponent has been long denied either by unfortunate circumstances or by bad luck can suffer from frustration or develop complexes they may never rid themselves of again.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII.

It is wonderful how cheered a pilot becomes after he shoots down his first machine; his morale increases by at least 100 percent.

Captain James Ira Thomas 'Taffy' Jones, RFC, 37 victories in 3 months of WWI. Quoted in the 1985 book Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.

I gained in experience with every plane shot down, and now was able to fire in a calm, deliberate manner. Each attack was made in a precise manner. Distance and deflection were carefully judged before firing. This is not something that comes by accident; only by experience can a pilot overcome feelings of panic. A thousand missions could be flown and be of no use if the pilot has not exchanged fire with the enemy.

Major John T. Godfrey, USAAF.

As a fighter pilot I know from my own experiences how decisive surprise and luck can be for success, which in the long run comes only to the one who combines daring with cool thinking.

General Adolf Galland, Luftwaffe. 104 victories in WWII. The First and the Last, 1954.

The most important thing to a fighter pilot is speed; the faster an aircraft is moving when he spots an enemy aircraft, the sooner he will be able to take the bounce and get to the Hun. If you have any advantage on him, keep it and use it. When attacking, plan to overshoot him if possible, hold fire until within range, then shoot and clobber him down to the last instant before breaking away. It's like sneaking up behind someone and hitting them with a baseball bat.

Duane W. Beeson, P-51 pilot, 4th Fighter Group.

Months of preparation, one of those few opportunities, and the judgment of a split second are what makes some pilot an ace, while others think back on what they could have done.

Colonel Gregory 'Pappy' Boyington, USMC. Baa Baa Black Sheep, 1958.

How this can happen is a mystery to us.

Lieutenant-General Ray Henault, Canada’s Chief of Defence staff, regards the friendly fire deaths of four Canadian soldiers by a USAF F-16 in Afghanistan, 18 April 2002.

Success flourishes only in perseverance — ceaseless, restless perseverance.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte. Quoted in 1962 book Fighter Pilot.

If he is superior then I would go home, for another day that is better.

Colonel Erich 'Bubi' Hartmann, Luftwaffe.

If I should come out of this war alive, I will have more luck than brains.

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte. 1914 letter to his mother upon being decorated with the Iron Cross. Quoted in the 1927 book The Red Knight of Germany.

I was struck by the joy of those pilots in committing cold-blooded murder … Frankly, this is not cojones. This is cowardice.

Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the UN, 1996, regards Cuban fighters shooting down unarmed American Cessnas. Quoted in Los Angeles Times newspaper, 28 february 1996.

There’s something wonderfully exciting about the quiet sing song of an aeroplane overhead with all the guns in creation lighting out at it, and searchlights feeling their way across the sky like antennae, and the earth shaking snort of the bombs and the whimper of shrapnel pieces when they come down to patter on the roof.

John Dos Passos, letter written in Bossano, Italy while serving in the American Red Cross Ambulance Service to his friend Rumsey Marvin. 18 February 1918.

It was no picnic despite what anyone might say later … . Most of us were pretty scared all the bloody time; you only felt happy when the battle was over and you were on your way home, then you were safe for a bit, anyway.

Group Captain Colin Gray, RAF, 27 victories WWII. Quoted in the 1989 book Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain Remembered.

There is no question about the hereafter of men who give themselves in such a cause. If I am called upon to make it, I shall go with a grin of satisfaction and a smile.

Lieutenant David Endicott Putnam, America’s first ‘Ace of Aces’, in a letter to his mother, 12 September 1918.

Won’t it be nice when all this beastly killing is over, and we can enjoy ourselves and not hurt anyone? I hate this game.

Captain Albert Ball, RFC, 44 victories in WWI. Ball was the first British ace idolized by the public. Letters to his father and fiancée, 6 May 1917.

After a scrap I usually drink my tea through a straw.

Derek Robinson, RAF fighter pilot, Piece of Cake, 1983.

For me flying is the greatest of all sports The heavens were the grandstands and only the gods were spectators … The stake was the world, the forfeit was the player’s place at the table, and the game had no recess. It was freeze-out and not even the sky was the limit. Imagine men stalking each other through the clouds day after day! Imagine children of seventeen matching their skill with nerveless veterans who fought on begging for death because they could not check the speed of their lives!

It was the most dangerous of all sports and the most fascinating. It got in the blood like wine. It aged men forty years in forty days. It ruined nervous systems forever in an hour. Men came out of the trenches after three years of hell and became pilots. After their first fight in the air they felt the same grip on their hearts as the downy-faced youngsters facing their first adversary.

No words can describe the thrill of hiding in the clouds, waiting on human prey.

Elliott White Springs, 13 victories WWI. Vertical Sport, US Air Services, June 1928.

Vertical Sport

It is as though horror has frozen the blood in my veins, paralyzed my arms, and torn all thought from my brain with the swipe of a paw. I sit there, flying on, and continue to stare, as though mesmerised, at the Cauldron on my left.

Ernst Udet, My life as Aviator, 1935.

I’m not allowed to saw how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out and I counted them all back.

Brian Hanranan, carefully worded broadcast from HMS Hermes, in the Falklands Islands region, regards the number of British aeroplanes involved in (and potentially lost in) the raid on Port Stanley. BBC news, 1 May 1982.

I suppose I’m as good as the next guy, but that's about all. Only reason I’m still flying while a lot of other great guys are gone is because I’ve had the breaks so far. I believe though, that the breaks are going to continue my way. The minute a flyer gets the notion that his number is up, he's finished. I start out, and know I’m coming back, and that's all there is to it.

Fear? You bet your life. But it's always on the way up. Then you get to thinking about a lot of things, but that all leaves you as you reach combat. Then there's a sense of great excitement, a thrill you can't duplicate anywhere. Then there can be no fear, no thought of life or death, no dream of yesterday or tomorrow.

What you have at that moment is — well, it may sound strange, but it's actually fun. The other guy has his chance, too, and you’ve got to get him before he gets you. Yes, I think it is the most exciting fun in the world.

Lt. Col. Robert B. 'Westy' Westbrook, USAAF, one of the leading aces of the Pacific, quoted in the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper, 20 June 1944.

It got more exciting with each war. I mean the planes were going faster than hell when I was flying a Mustang, but by the time I got to Nam, it scared the piss out of a lot of guys just to fly the damn jets at full speed. Let alone do it in combat.

Attributed to Brigadier General Robin Olds, USAF.

He who has the height controls the battle.
He who has the sun achieves surprise.
He who gets in close shoots them down.


Mannock’s Rules on Air Combat

Always Above, seldom on the same level; never underneath.

Pilots must dive to attack with zest, and must hold their fire until they get within one hundred yards of the target.

Achieve surprise by approaching from the East (From the German side of the front.)

Utilize the sun’s glare and clouds to achieve surprise.

Pilots must keep physically fit by exercise and the moderate use of stimulants.

Pilots must sight their guns and practice as much as possible as targets are normally fleeting.

Pilots must practice spotting machines in the air and recognizing them at long range, and every aeroplane is to be treated as an enemy until it is certain it is not.

Pilots must learn where the enemy’s blind spots are.

Scouts must attacked from above and two-seaters from beneath their tails to take advantage of hte observer’s blindspot.

Pilots must practice quick turns, as this manoeuvre is used more than any other in a fight.

Formation flying at 25 yards must be practised.

Pilots must practice judging distances in the air as these are very deceptive.

Decoys must be guarded against — a single enemy is often a decoy — therefore the air above should be searched before attacking.

If the day is sunny, machines should be turned with as little bank as possible; otherwise the sun glistening on the wings will give away their presence at a long range.

Pilots must keep turning in a dogfight and never fly straight except when firing.

Pilots must never, under any circumstances, dive away from an enemy, as he gives his opponent a non-deflection shot — bullets are faster than aeroplanes.

Pilots must keep an eye on their watches during patrols, and on the direction and strength of the wind.

Flight commander Edward 'Mick' Mannock, RFC and RAF. 61 victories WWI. Mannock was a pioneer of fighter aircraft tactics in aerial warfare, these rules were first issued to the pilots under his command in June 1917.

There are several versions of the 15 rules published, with slightly differing language. This version is from “Always Above”: Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock in World War I, published in the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, Air Power History, Vol. 53, No. 1, Spring 2006, pp. 28-43.

Mannock's Rules on Air Combat

Dicta Boelcke

Try to secure advantages before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you.

Always carry through an attack when you have started it.

Fire only at close range, and only when your opponent is properly in your sights.

Always keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses.

In any form of attack it is essential to assail your opponent from behind.

If your opponent dives on you, do not try to evade his onslaught, but fly to meet it.

When over the enemy's lines never forget your own line of retreat.

For the Staffel: attack on principle in groups of four or six. When the fight breaks up into a series of single combats, take care that several do not go for one opponent.

Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke, Luftstreitkräfte, written in early October 1916. According to Boelcke’s first biographer, Professor Johannes von Werner, the eight dicta were written for Colonel Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen.

Whatever Boelcke told us was taken as Gospel!

Captain Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', Luftstreitkräfte.

I will be like Boelcke.

German pilots’ motto, WWI.

Ten of My Rules for Air Fighting

Wait until you see the whites of his eyes.

Fire short bursts of 1 to 2 seconds and only when your sights are definitely 'ON.'

Whilst shooting think of nothing else; brace the whole of the body; have both hands on the stick; concentrate on your ring sight.

Always keep a sharp lookout. “Keep your finger out"!

Height gives you the initiative.

Always turn and face the attack.

Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.

Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.

When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as top guard.

INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE, and TEAM WORK are words that MEAN something in Air Fighting.

Go in quickly — Punch Hard — Get out!

Flight Lieutenant Adolphus G. 'Sailor' Malan, RSAAF, commander of No. 74 Squadron RAF, August 1941. These rules were printed on a small poster, and found in nearly every RAF orderly room by the end of the war.

Ten Rules

Navy Aviators live on the line between bravery and stupidity, science and idiocy. One day you’re planning a complicated twenty-eight-jet air strike over Afghanistan, the next your buddies are urging you to take a shit on a Dubai boulevard after your tenth Jack Daniels. It has always been that way, fly hard, get drunk, and chase skirt… . naval aviators had the capacity to instantly toggle between the heroic and the moronic.

Stephen Rodrick, The Magical Stranger, published May 2013.

Because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a ‘PlayStation’ mentality to killing.

Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, regards drone pilots. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, 2 June 2010.

There are no words with which I can do justice to the aircrew who fought under my command. There is no parallel in warfare to such courage and determinaiton in the face of danger over so prolonged a period, of danger which at times was so great that scarcely one man in three could expect to survice his tour of thirty operations … It was, moreover, a clear and highly conscious courage, by which the risk was taken with calm forethought, for their aircrew were all highly skilled men, much above the average in education, who had to understand every aspect and detail of their task. It was, furthermore, the courage of the small hours, of men virtually alone, for at his battle station the airman is virtually alone. It was the courage of men with long-drawn apprehensions of daily “going over the top”.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, RAF, tribute to WWII bomber crews, crediting their lonely courage and ending by invoking the language of WWI, Bomber Offensive, 1947.

362 Squardron Bomber Command


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