Scream of Eagles : The Dramatic Account of the U.S. Navy's Top Gun Fighter Pilots and How They Took Back the Skies Over Vietnam
Become the most skilled, highly-trained, and deadliest
fighter pilots in the world.
The place: TOP GUN
In the darkest days of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Navy's kill ratio had fallen to 2:1 -- a deadly decline in pilot combat effectiveness. To improve the odds, a corps of hardened fighter pilots founded the Fighter Weapons School, a.k.a. TOP GUN. Utilizing actual enemy fighter planes in brutally realistic dogfights, the Top Gun instructors dueled their students and each other to achieve a lethal new level of fighting expertise. The training paid off. Combining the latest weaponry and technology, mental endurance, and razor-sharp instincts, the Top Gunners drove the Navy's kill ratio up to an astounding 12:1, dominating the skies over Vietnam.
This gripping account takes you inside the cockpit for an adventure more explosive than any fiction -- in a dramatic true story of the legendary military school that has created the most dangerous fighter pilots the world has ever seen.
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July 19, 2005
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Excerpt from Scream of Eagles by Robert K. Wilcox
Dan Arthur Pedersen could see the contrails of two jet engines as far as eighty miles away, at the edge of the high desert east of Los Angeles. The vapor streaks led up, and then curled back down. Nothing horizontal, as you'd see in airline flight. Those jets were fighting ' hassling ' he was sure of it. He banked his jet, and accelerated toward them.
It was a week before Christmas, 1958, one of those cold, clear winter afternoons when visibility was unlimited. Pedersen, 23, who would, almost a decade later, create and command a brand-new Navy fighter-pilot school known as Top Gun, was just a green ensign, not yet two years out of flight school, tooling around in his hot F4D Skyray.
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The Skyray was one of the Navy's first supersonic jet fighters. It flew faster than the speed of sound, setting a world record of 753.4 miles per hour in 1953. What distinguished the Skyray from other fighters was its swept-back full-delta wing ' an innovation influenced by World War II German Luftwaffe planes ' and a powerful 10,000-pound thrust Pratt and Whitney engine with afterburner. Dubbed "manta-like" and "batwinged," the Skyray, with its afterburner kicked in, could shoot to 10,000 feet in fifty-six seconds; 50,000 feet in two and a half minutes. Ensign Pedersen was driving a rocket. And the plane's aerodynamics, especially the delta-wings, gave it great maneuverability.
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Born in Moline, Illinois, the grandson of Danish immigrants, Pedersen had all the attributes of a good fighter pilot: keen eyes, good eye-hand coordination, split-second judgment, love of flying, the body strength to handle the incredible physical forces his plane encountered as it roared and churned through the atmosphere, and the mental toughness to steel himself against the fear and stress that were always a fighter pilot's enemy. At 6'3", he had the big-boned frame and rugged good looks of a young Johnny Unitas. His size also gave him a certain swagger; it wasn't so much cockiness as a way of standing forthright, sizing you up with a steady, measuring gaze, a hint of challenge on his face. The stare was usually followed by a big, lip-curling grin. And a voice that sounded at times like John Wayne's.
Pedersen had earned his jet fighter wings in the midst of a revolutionary era in fighter techniques. Missiles were replacing guns, especially in the Navy. Gone were the days, said experts in the Pentagon, of close-in, turning fights ' what were commonly called "dogfights"; planes swirling at each other's tails, looking for a deadly "six o'clock" shot (a shot of an opposing plane's six o'clock position ' his tailpipe). Korea had seen the last of the dogfighters, went the conventional wisdom. Jets were now too fast and too sophisticated for swirling, close-range machine-gun battles. This new era would see supersonic jets firing air-to-air missiles at bogeys that were often so far away they could be seen only on radar scopes. You didn't have to be close. In fact, you had to be far enough away for the missile to track and arm its target. Once the missile was launched, the "interceptor," as some fighter planes were now being called, would most probably streak away and its crew watch impact on a tiny onboard screen, or hear about it from a ground control center. Air combat maneuvering, or ACM, as they later called a high-speed turning fight in the textbooks, was nearly dead, relegated to a few approach-and-retreat maneuvers.