A seasoned airman shares his legacy as a Navy fighter pilot.
Pedersen, a distinguished military veteran known as the “Godfather of Topgun,” is credited with establishing the Navy Fighter Weapons School. His memoir, a collection of captivating, action-packed anecdotes and pivotal events in his naval career, moves briskly through time spent with committed men dedicated to their “monastic calling.” The author enlisted in 1956, and he covers his early years before moving into tales of Vietnam. As mounting losses and ineffective artillery, tactics, and leadership weakened America’s defensive strategies in the 1960s, Pedersen recalls craving a fresh master plan to even the odds. Recognizing Pedersen’s excellence in aerial gunnery and overall flight and defensive precision, the Navy selected him, then stationed at Miramar, California (“Fightertown USA”), to head up an air combat graduate school featuring eight other passionate and talented officers known as the “Original Bros.” In describing the founding days of Topgun, the author details his selection of veteran pilots and a procedural curriculum to utilize the new MiG fighter jets. He also highlights the toll their call of duty took on marriages and families; regrets aside, “for us, flying always came first.” Throughout the book, Pedersen ably conveys the immense camaraderie among the courageous brotherhood of American fighter pilots and conjures the excitement of daring aerial combat and weaponry maneuvers. He proudly notes that, at its 50th anniversary, the Topgun course remains the standard of excellence for providing air combat and weapons systems training. With the hot-seat velocity and cockpit realism of a military combat thriller, the author delivers exacting details and emotional acuity. Now 83, he admits to still experiencing the same visceral rush when seeing fighter aircraft zooming overhead as he did when he was a wartime naval aviator: “I can’t fly anymore,” he writes, “but my heart is still up there.” Pedersen also includes a helpful glossary of terms and acronyms.
A noble, thrillingly realized combat aviation memoir from one of America’s finest.