Profanity-laden, action-filled biography of legendary Air Force pilot, instructor, and aircraft design theorist John Richard “Forty-Second” Boyd.
Veteran journalist, novelist, and nonfiction author Coram (Caribbean Time Bomb, 1993, etc.) portrays Boyd as a visionary whose no-quarter-taken pursuit of weapons improvement so infuriated the bureaucrats that he was denied a generalship despite being recognized as a near genius. After two years as an Air Force mechanic, Boyd made his mark as a pilot in Korea and became a legend teaching others to fly, using his unique acrobatics to get on the tail and “hose” a mock enemy fighter in less than 40 seconds, a feat that taxed both pilot and aircraft. The highly inquisitive Boyd persuaded the Air Force to finance his engineering studies at Georgia Tech, where he learned thermodynamics and formulated his revolutionary theory on design factors that would quicken a fighter pilot’s ability to get the better of an enemy. Real information (potential and kinetic energy from engine thrust, aircraft lift and drag, g-forces endurable, etc.) replaced conventional reliance on the often-inflated aircraft speed and range claims of bureaucrats who believed that the more complex a weapon, the more gizmos it carried, and the greater its cost, the better. Higher costs meant added layers of command and accelerated promotions for the spear-carriers, who cared far less about actual performance vis-à-vis that of prospective enemies’ weapons. But Boyd’s graphs of the swept-wing F-111 fighter and the acclaimed B-1 bomber showed that neither could withstand an onslaught from an ordinary MIG fighter. Soon his theories swept the government, the defense industry, and Congress; the crafts he designated “lemons” never saw combat. Nonetheless, Boyd died in poverty as a retired colonel, best remembered by a handful of supporters he called “Acolytes.”
Required reading for frustrated innovators, aviation buffs, and Horatio Algers intent on improving the world against the best efforts of ever-prevailing deal-busters and naysayers.