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Book Review : Scream of Eagles : The Dramatic Account of the U.S. Navy's Top Gun Fighter Pilots and How They Took Back the Skies Over Vietnam

by Robert K. Wilcox

I first came across this book in 1990 when it was just published. At that time, I was fascinated by the movie TOP GUN, shown a few years earlier; and it was the same movie that inspired Robert Wilcox to write the true story of the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, or TOP GUN. The book is an account of the men who, from a small trailer in Miramar, taught dogfight tactics to a group of navy pilots that went on to score kills in Vietnam.

In writing the book, Wilcox was able to interview many of those involved who directly and indirectly helped to create the most famous fighter pilot school in the world. The first few chapters touched on the various instructors that formed the school at its founding, describing their background and flying experiences. The second part of the books explores the various circumstances that called for the creation of a school to disseminate air-to-air expertise among the U.S. Navy fighter squadrons, including the publication of the Ault report. Due to poor showing by U.S. Navy pilots in Vietnam, the Naval Air Systems Command got Captain Frank Ault to performed an extensive analysis of aerial combat in Southeast Asia. The most important contribution in the Ault Report suggested the creation of a school to teach the proper employment of fighter weapons systems. The author then went on to meticulously detail the difficulties faced by the instructors while setting up the school--how they tried to obtain classified information on the MiGs that their students will be fighting against, how they developed tactics to deal with these enemy aircraft, and even down to how they wrote the syllabus.

The most interesting part of this book is about how the TOP GUN instructors engaged in dogfights with real MiGs over the Nevada desert. The book also described how the school benefitted from two top secret programs in the 60s: Have Drill and Have Doughnut. Wilcox narrates in vivid details the dogfights between Navy test pilots in their MiGs and the TOP GUN instructors in their Phantoms. It was through these secret encounters that tactics were developed and tested, tactics that gave the F-4 Phantom an advantage against the MiGs which the graduates later encountered over the skies of Vietnam.

The book contains accounts of the dog fights in which the following pilots, instructors and students of TOP GUN who have achieved air to air kills in Vietnam participated:

John SmithInstructor
Jerome BeaulierGraduate
Randall CunninghamiTemporary Duty at Top Gun, Post Vietnam Instructor
William DriscollPost Vietnam Instructor
Ronald McKeownVX-4 pilot
Foster TeagueVX-4 pilot
Victor KovaleskiGraduate
James WiseGraduate
Lee LassiterGraduate
John CummingsGraduate
Curt DoseGraduate
Kenneth PettigrewGraduate

I tried to obtain another copy of the book 2 years ago after my original copy came apart over the years. The book was out of print by that time, but I managed to get a used copy in fairly good condition from Amazon. So I was excited when I saw that the book was being republished this year. The contents are the same except for the addition of a new foreword by the author, which updates the reader on events that took place after the book was first published. Scream of Eagles captured vividly the process of how U.S. Navy fighter pilots regained their dogfight skills and triumphed over the skies of Vietnam. There is no other book out there that rivals it on the history of TOP GUN. I have 3 copies of this book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in aerial combat.