Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Richard Stephen Ritchie

Brigadier General Richard Stephen "Steve" Ritchie (born June 25, 1942 in Reidsville, North Carolina) was an officer in the United States Air Force and the Colorado Air National Guard, and a general officer in the Air Force Reserve. Ritchie joined Navy Commander Randy Cunningham as the only pilots among the five American aces during the Vietnam War. Ritchie is a recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Air Force.

Ritchie was born in Reidsville, North Carolina, the son of an American Tobacco Company executive. He was a star quarterback for Reidsville High School, despite breaking his leg twice. In 1964, he graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, where, as a "walk-on", he became the starting halfback for the Falcons varsity football team in 1962 and 1963.

Ritchie was described by his peers as being a jock, and by General Robin Olds, who admired him greatly, as being "brilliant" but thinking himself "God's gift" (cocky and egotistical). According to one of the intelligence officers of the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Ritchie was often lacking in self-discipline, with a personal trademark of using too much Old Spice cologne. (Ritchie's retort was that the pilots' locker room was too odoriferous.)

Professionally, Ritchie was a gifted and dedicated flyer who constantly maintained his skills by flying every two or three days. With consistently high performance evaluations, high scores in pilot training courses, and achieving a thorough understanding of the weapons systems he used, he earned opportunities to place himself in the forefront of USAF fighter pilots, where he became known for his "intelligent aggression".

Ritchie entered pilot training at Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, and finished first in his class. His first operational assignment was with Flight Test Operations at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where he flew the F-104 Starfighter. Two years later he transitioned into the F-4 Phantom II at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, in preparation for his first tour in Southeast Asia.

Assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam in 1968, Ritchie flew the first "Fast FAC" mission in the F-4 forward air controller program and was instrumental in the spread and success of the program. He completed 195 combat missions.

In 1969, he was selected to attend the Fighter Weapons Course at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, becoming, up to that point, the Air Force Fighter Weapons School's youngest-ever instructor at age 26. He taught air-to-air tactics from 1970 to 1972 to the best USAF pilots, including Major Robert Lodge, who later became his flight leader in Thailand and himself shot down three MiGs.

Ritchie volunteered for a second combat tour in 1972 and was assigned to the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. Flying F-4 Phantom IIs with the famed 555th ("Triple Nickel") Tactical Fighter Squadron he shot down his first Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 on 10 May 1972, scored a second victory on May 31, a third and fourth on July 8, and a fifth on August 28. All of the aircraft he shot down were MiG-21s, and all were shot down by the much-maligned AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided air-to-air missile. Ritchie became the United States Air Force's first and only pilot ace of the Vietnam War.

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