Fire In the Sky – A Beacon of Hope - Part 1

Fire In the Sky – A Beacon of Hope - Part 1

[caption id="attachment_526" align="alignleft" width="201"]Brigadier General Steve Ritchie Brigadier General Steve
Ritchie[/caption]

Would you bring a sparrow to a dogfight? Brigadier General Steve Ritchie would – so long as it’s a Sparrow missile. It was 1972 in Southeast Asia where the US was deeply embroiled in the brutal and protracted Vietnam War. Flying an F4 Phantom fighter jet, Captain Richard “Steve” Ritchie shot down his first MiG-21 on May 10th and his second soon after on May 31st. These first two kills, scored right at the onset of his second combat tour, set the tone for the remainder of his final tour of duty.

Dogfight in the Southeast Asian Sky

Perhaps Ritchie’s most thrilling dogfight occurred on July 8, 1972, during what started out as a typical combat flight. He had completed flights like this well over 300 times. The sun was just emerging over the Southeast Asian horizon, bathing the countryside in an orange-golden glow. As he jetted across the Vietnamese border and approached Hanoi from the southwest, Ritchie caught sight of a MiG-21 about two miles to the north. He turned to meet the enemy head-on. As he streaked past the MiG-21, he observed a second MiG, which he also passed nose-on before making a hard left to engage.

The second MiG took evasive measures to avoid attack, but Ritchie relentlessly pursued the fleeing enemy jet and fired two AIM-7 Sparrow missiles that performed perfectly to eliminate the target. The first MiG had maneuvered back around to attack the last jet in Ritchie’s formation. After aggressively pursuing an advantageous position on the MiG, he fired a single Sparrow at maximum parameters, fully expecting it to miss. It did not. The second MiG-21 exploded just 42 seconds after Ritchie brought down the first. Ritchie’s overall success with the AIM-7 was a remarkable 55 percent.

August 28, 1972, Ritchie became the only Air Force Pilot Ace in the Vietnam War after scoring his fifth MiG-21 kill on the outskirts of Hanoi as he led his flight back to base in Thailand. While the media fanned the flames of social discord and petty squabbles over the war, he logged over 800 combat hours and completed 339 missions. Ritchie is one of the most highly decorated pilots ever, having received the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 25 Air Medals, as well as many other honors and awards.

But that’s not the whole story. . . Part 2.