In 1968, when American fighter jets in Vietnam were being downed at an unprecedented rate during Operation Rolling Thunder, the U.S. Navy undertook a wholesale reevaluation of American military strategy. Its leaders turned to a young lieutenant commander, Dan Pedersen, to devise a way to reverse the casualties—and his solution later earned him the nickname “the godfather of Topgun.”
Pedersen, who with his signature Ray-Ban sunglasses was the Hollywood image of a fighter pilot, was charged with a mission to determine the weapons systems and tactics that would reclaim the force of American air power in Vietnam. To do so, he picked eight of the finest pilots to help train a new generation to fly jets like the F-4 Phantom and learn techniques for a new kind of dogfighting. His Navy Fighter Weapons School was credited with producing skilled pilots who raised the air combat kill ratio from two Vietnamese planes downed for every American plane lost to more than 22-to-1.
Ahead of the famed school’s 50th anniversary, Pedersen offers a first-hand account of the program, tell the inside story of its development, and examines how its training provided American flyers with the know-how to dominate air combat from Miramar to Area 51.
Pedersen’s book Topgun: An American Story (Hachette Books) is available for sale and signing.