Author Topic: Before Top Gun's Maverick, There Were the Real Ace Aggressor Pilots  (Read 628 times)

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Before Top Gun's Maverick, There Were the Real Ace Aggressor Pilots

To prepare fighter pilots for combat, you need a convincing stand-in for the enemy. That's the aggressor squadron.
By Eric Tegler   
Jun 13, 2021

In all the dogfights of World War I, one pilot earned the respect and fear of his adversaries: Manfred von Richthofen. The Red Baron.

A war hero in Germany, Richthofen eventually claimed upwards of 80 confirmed victories, making him the war’s deadliest pilot. But it was his personal mantra that long survived after his death in action in 1918. It's a simple dictum that helped guide fighter pilot training for decades beyond: “The quality of the box matters little. Success depends upon the man who sits in it.”

Richthofen’s wisdom echoed through the ages, and on one particular day in the mid-1990s, it entered the mind of retired U.S. Navy captain Jim “Guido” DiMatteo. An aggressor pilot and instructor at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School, popularly known as Topgun, DiMatteo was in a morning briefing with a pair of Topgun students who were about to fly their F-14 against DiMatteo. The cocky Tomcat pilot asked him which airplane he’d be flying. When he replied he’d be in an A-4 Skyhawk, the student cheekily said he’d “shut down one of his engines to make it a fair fight.”

“I took that as extra motivation,” DiMatteo says.