Home History The Air Force’s Only Ace Pilot of the Vietnam War Might Well Be the Last Ace Pilot Ever

The Air Force’s Only Ace Pilot of the Vietnam War Might Well Be the Last Ace Pilot Ever

by Enochadmin

Fifty years in the past in August 1972, fighter pilot Capt. R. Steve Ritchie achieved his fifth aerial victory and ace standing. Given the restrictions of a twenty first century dominated by guerrilla warfare and remote-controlled digital surveillance plane, he might be the final.

Air Power Cross medal
(U.S. Air Power)

Richard Steven Ritchie, born in Reidsville, North Carolina, on June 25, 1942, graduated from the Air Power Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 3, 1964, and acquired his wings at Laredo Air Power Base, Texas. In his first Vietnam fight tour in 1968, Ritchie flew 95 ahead air controller missions directing artillery or airstrikes from an F-4 Phantom II out of Da Nang Air Base with the 480th and 489th Tactical Fighter squadrons of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. In 1969 he returned stateside to attend the Air Power Fighter Weapons College at Nellis Air Power Base, Nevada.

Again in Vietnam in January 1972, Ritchie was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Base. North Vietnam invaded the South on March 30 and as one response President Richard Nixon launched Operation Linebacker, an all-out air offensive towards the North on Might 10. That day was marked by a number of ferocious engagements for the U.S. Air Power, U.S. Navy air wings and their opponents, the North Vietnamese air power.

Ritchie flew an F-4D the morning of Might 10 as deputy chief of Oyster Flight (name signal Oyster Three) with Capt. Charles Barbin DeBellevue within the again seat as his weapons methods operator, or WSO. Maj. Robert A. Lodge and WSO Capt. Roger C. Locher led the flight.

At 9:42 a.m. the flight ambushed 4 MiG-21MFs of North Vietnam’s 921st Fighter Regiment north of Hanoi. Lodge used AIM-7E-2 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missiles to destroy one MiG, his third victory of the battle. Then 1st Lt. John D. Markle and Capt. Steve D. Eaves claimed one other. Both MiG might need been piloted by Nguyen Cong Huy, who returned to Noi Bai air base together with his aircraft badly broken.

When Ritchie fired his first AIM-7 it didn’t explode, however his second missile did. DeBellevue, seeing a yellow parachute, shouted, “Oyster three’s a splash!” The struck pilot was in all probability Cao Son Khao, who ejected however died from accidents later.

Lodge, aiming for his fourth kill, was closing on the remaining MiG-21 when his F-4 was attacked by a Shenyang J-6, a Chinese language-built MiG-19, of the 925th Fighter Regiment. Lodge was killed, however Locher was in a position to eject. The enemy victor, Nguyen Manh Tung, overshot the runway at Yen Bai. His J-6 exploded, killing him. Locher evaded seize for 23 days, a file for a pilot in the course of the battle, and was lastly rescued by helicopter on June 2.

On Might 31, Ritchie and 1st Lt. Lawrence H. Pettit, flying an F-4D, destroyed a MiG-21MF about 30 miles south of the Chinese language border, killing Senior Lt. Nguyen Van Lung of the 921st Regiment and giving Ritchie his second shootdown.

On July 8 Ritchie teamed up with DeBellevue in a cannon-armed F-4E to assault MiG-21PFMs threatening an EC-121K radar-equipped airborne early warning plane. Getting behind the enemy, Ritchie loosed two AIM-7s that destroyed the No. 2 MiG. He launched a 3rd missile to blow aside the chief. Senior Lt. Nguyen Ngoc Hung and Lt. Vu Van Hop of the 927th Fighter Regiment had been killed. Ritchie was one MiG away from ace standing.

On Aug. 28 the captain was again in his earlier F-4D with DeBellevue once they discovered MiG-21s approaching head-on. Maneuvering behind them in a steep, climbing flip, Ritchie launched two AIM-7s at excessive vary, then his remaining two. Quantity three was additionally a miss, however the final one struck house. Ritchie had grow to be the Air Power’s solely ace pilot of the Vietnam Struggle.

 In April 1974 Ritchie resigned his common Air Power fee however remained with the Reserves. On April 8, 1994, he was promoted to brigadier common. In the midst of his profession Ritchie obtained an Air Power Cross, 4 Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 25 Air Medals. Phantom F-4D 66-7463, during which Ritchie scored each his first and fifth victories, is on outside show on the Air Power Academy.

This text appeared within the Autumn 2022 challenge of Vietnam journal.

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