John Boyd – Legendary Fighter Combat Theoretician


John Boyd theories and the LWF concept

John Boyd

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Greg_P

Boyd was a genius, but I’m not too sure he should get credit for inventing energy maneuvering. The Luftwaffe did it in WWII, particularly with late-war Bf 109s that climbed well. That is, they fought in the vertical instead of the horizontal, which is energy maneuvering.


Boyd had many very good theories, but so did Chuck Yeager (same time period), Bob Hoover (same time period), and Bud Anderson (same time period). There were also guys like Robin Olds around as well as Butch Voris and Marion Carl. I think Boyd was hands down better than most of the “young lions,” but am not sure he could wax Yeager’s tail or Marion Carl’s, etc. I am rather sure the reverse might be true. Still we, today, owe Boyd a debt of gratitude since he almost single-handedly rescued us from gunless fighters and also started the movement that led to the F-16. If for nothing else than being the voice of reason, Boyd deserves kudos.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – John Boyd’s “Fighter Mafia”, by max_g_cunningham

This is borrowed from 2Gmil. It’s concise, and accurate.

John Boyd’s Fighter Mafia

“Fighter Mafia” refers to a specific group of military reformers led by Col John Boyd, civilian engineers Pierre Sprey and Chuck Spinney and Col. Rich Riccioni. This group was responsible for the Air Force’s development and production of the F-16 and A-10 against the wishes of the Air Staff. It is due to the Fighter Mafia that we have the A-10 in the first place, (in fact, they even proposed a small, tougher follow-on attack aircraft to reinforce the A-10). John Boyd was responsible for much of the early development of the F- 15, including the changes in the specification from what would have been a 60,000-lb aircraft into a 30,000-lb aircraft. Boyd is probably rolling in his grave over the F-22 fiasco. If you type Rich Riccioni into google, you’ll see several articles on what’s wrong with the F-22, as well as other overly complex military systems. I suggest the following books on John Boyd and the Fighter Mafia: “Mind of War” “Boyd” “Pentagon Paradox” (out of print, but still available used) “Pentagon Wars” (out of print, but still available used) “The $5-billion Misunderstanding” The Fighter Mafia are the good guys in the struggle for effective weapons systems. The Air Staff, the establishment, the gold-plate whiz kids in the Pentagon–there’s no shortage of names for the other side, but the Fighter Mafia is NOT the group you are criticizing. Given all the insults these people have suffered over the years at the hands of the establishment, like minded people owe it to them not to misuse their name out of ignorance.

Andy Wagner

I back what Mr. Wagner has written here 100%, particularly the abuse those individuals have had to contend with throughout their careers. Moreover, at the very least, by now There should be an air force base named in honor of Col. Boyd.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Greg_P

I disagree strongly with Col. Riccioni. Nothing he says that enumerates the so-called shortfalls of the F-22. It performs as advertised.

It has the major disadvantage of being too expensive. However, old airplanes don’t get better, they just get older. He MiGHT have a point if we bought NEW F-15s or NEW F16s, but not old F-15 airframes. They have been used hard at 9g levels and are less than wonderfully maintained, a trait of all U.S. forces that own and operate aircraft of all types. The spare parts inventory is low and, in some case, inadequate. The planes need better engines. But they ARE sound airframe designs.

So, we should either acquire some new airframes with new avionics and new engines, or move on to something more capable. The Eurofighter Typhoon outperforms the F-15 and F-16 easily. India is producing the new LCA; we don’t KNOW how it performs. China is flying the new Chengdu. Russia is flying some new aircraft. The Koreans are flying some new aircraft. The Japanese are flying some new aircraft. And the F-15 is 30+ years old. And YOU want to stick with it? Neither does the Pentagon and the military procurement process. We’re moving toward procuring new planes. Even a new, updated F-86 would be better than a 10,000-hour F-15 that is due for the boneyard. Last time I saw F-15s at an airshow, I was appalled at their condition.

What is wrong with the F-22? All I get are praises of Boyd, put-downs of the F-22, and general statements with no reference. What exactly do you claim is wrong with it other than the price? Please be specific. I don’t like the F-22’s price, but I have seen nothing to suggest it can’t perform as advertised. Please share with me your knowledge of the F-22’s performance shortfalls, and please avoid politics and grandstanding. Just say it plain English, can it cut the mustard or not? If not, why not?

Since this topical heading is about John Boyd, Here’s a link to an expanded and critically minded perspective of military affairs, including aviation based on the theories and teachings of the late USAF Col. John Boyd. Before we can further explore the topic, we must first have a background for discussion.

Here’s an excellent introduction to “crtitical thinking

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – critics of the F-22, by Greg_P

I read about 2 hours of your references (above). Interesting. No facts about the F-22 come to light. There is a lot about different ways of thinking, but not much about why the Raptor is so bad, aside from cost.

If the Raptor is too expensive to buy in meaningful numbers, then we should buy the best planes we can afford, assuming they exist or can be designed. There MAY be a place for a small band of Raptors, but I do not have the information available to the DOD to make the decision. There WAS a small blurb about stealth being “OK from an airborne source, but a ground-based, low-frequency radar can see it.” That is true of ALL stealth aircraft, not just the Raptor.

Nothing new there, and no real references as to exactly where the Raptor falls short in projected performance. Again, opinions, but no substance. The anti-Raptor crowd should state their case concisely or shut up. To date, they ridicule Raptor supporters and attack the aircraft, but with nothing at all substantial. They just can’t seem to state a clear reason why the Raptor is so bad.

One of Col. Boyd’s old fighter mafia guys says the Raptor is not much better than an F-15C, but he does not say why. Similar thrust to weight was stated, but the F-15C was at air combat weight while the Raptor was a max gross weight. So much for fair comparisons. When the Raptor is at air combat weights, it has a better thrust-to-weight ratio than the Eagle by a substantial amount.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – Col. Riccioni’s 8 Mar 05 report, by Greg_P

Re: Col. Riccioni’s 8 Mar 05 report, and I am forced to conclude the same thing I had already concluded:

1) The F-22 costs too much to be procured and deployed in effective numbers. I concur.

2) He says it is only marginally better than the F-15C. I disagree strongly, but my disagreement is negligible when compared with #1 above. I advocate getting a much larger number of improved F-20 Tigersharks.

3) Is the Military Procurement system a good one? No way. The system SUCKS. It is completely run by politics, not what the Military wants or needs. The change that needs to be made is that the Military should be given a budget, and it alone should select the weapons it wants. Congress should NOT be involved with the selection of the weapons, only the funding level to be approved for the DOD.

4) Last, the people charged with selection of the weapons should not be above the rank of Major. That’s the people who will be USING the weapons. They should be in a “detached” unit, not reporting to anyone in an active unit, and the selection of the weapon system should be done by selecting a random team from the selection unit. The team should be composed of at least 75% people who will be USING the weapons in combat. The rest, maybe 25% or less, should be confined to knowledgeable people interested in interaction with the weapon system. Therefore, Army people would be involved with selecting the Air Force’s ground attack planes (so should the people who refuel it), and Air Force people should be involved with selecting the Army’s tanks (so should the people who repair it), but only in the minority.

5) I completely disagree with Col. Ricconi’s contention that we don’t need and air superiority fighter. When we don’t have air superiority, we will lose the war, wherever and whenever it is fought.

So, although it looks like we essentially agree, we arrived at this in different ways.

I ask you again, since you don’t want the Raptor (we agree in essence), what DO you want? I mean NEW airframes, not rebuilt “old soldiers.” What do you want instead of the Raptor? Perhaps we could produce a range of alternatives and forward this to Col. Ricconi and his band of Raptor-bashers. If you don’t want a new weapon, you should have an alternate weapon in mind since SOMETHING will be bought. Tigersharks, anyone? I say Tigersharks with new engines, new avionics, and perhaps a bit more wing area, say 2 feet more span with a corresponding increase in elevator to compensate. Kind of like an F/A-18E versus and F/A-18A.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – 4th generation warfare, by max_g_cunningham

The larger issue is that the western industrialized world is now engaged in 4th generation warfare, or 4GW.

Just as warfare transitioned from cavalry at the dawn of the last century, so it is today, as the events of 9-11, Madrid, Bali, London, and the ongoing unresolved costly struggles in Afghanistan, and Iraq. In this century, the military must grow and adapt to the new reality. The Raptor might have made sense in the 3rd generational cold war scenario of the latter 20th century, after all, that’s where it originated. Many cite China, as being the next “bogey man” in terms of conventional military threats, this entirely ignores the level to which the particularly the US economy is increasingly integrated and globalised. The same goes for India, and Russia.

One example of this being that Walmart Inc. (US Based) in now China’s 5th largest worldwide trading partner. This clearly suggests that a war between the US and China, would be detrimental to the economies of both nations, and moreover would be exceedingly unlikely to occur for just cause. Mr. Riccioni points out that conventional war, between the US and China would a disaster for BOTH countries and the in essence for the continuance of Both our continued prosperity. The ensuing decline of both powers would open the door for the current radicals and terrorists to advance their causes.

What US president in his or her right mind would start a war with China, for artificially provoked cause ? Then again, what President in his right mind would start a war, based on faulty intelligence ?

I encourage you to visit

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – too much fluff about Boyd?, by max_g_cunningham

The hyperbole about Boyd is bizarre. If anyone can cut through the BS on this guy from his supporters you’re fortunate. Too many passages about him claim that he single-handedly was responsible for ALL theory of aircraft design and combat tactics since WW I. No more fluff about “the man who invented energy maneuver.” There’s an awful lot more to all this, that might be not apparent to the un-initiated. Boyd’s theories and teachings extend well behind the world of military aviation, military strategy, and even geo-politics.

For example; Toyota Corporation Arguably the most successful automotive manufacturer in the world, adopted the ODDA loop strategy defined by John Boyd.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Twitch

Folks on other forums make this guy sound like freaking Socrates. There is a warped conception that he “invented” energy fighter tactics and was personally responsible for the F-15, 16 & 18. He’s not an aerospace engineer and he didn’t invent energy tactics. I just don’t care what he thinks about French politicians. Just because he figured out a way to fly certain aircraft in certain ways to be victorious in mock combat doesn’t make him the originator of energy fighting. Let’s see his initials on blueprints for those jets. Otherwise he was just an opinion contributor, as were many pilots on many planes before.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Greg_P

I still LIKE the Raptor. I simply don’t like the price. Max hates the Raptor. We both don’t want to pay for it out of taxpayer coffers, and that puts us in agreement on this issue for different reasons.

I respect the hell out of Boyd, but I don’t believe he invented energy maneuvering either. Was the guy good? Yes. So was Chuck Yeager and lot of OTHER pilots. Some of Boyd’s writing strikes me as overly trumped up and complex.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – more links on John Boyd, by max_g_cunningham

Here’s a tribute to Boyd, by Harry Hillaker, of General Dynamics.

So who is Everest Ricionni ?, by max_g_cunningham

I’m very proud to introduce Colonel Everest Riccioni. He has an extraordinarily illustrious career. He began with playing around with aircraft in 1943. He learned to be a test pilot at the knee of Chuck Yeager; was a flight test engineer and experimental test flight pilot instructor in the experimental test pilot school; taught the most advanced engineering course at the Air Force Academy; then went on to command both the prototype and flight mechanics divisions of the Flight Dynamics Lab at Wright-Patterson; inspired and chaired the first supersonic cruise fighter design conference in history; went on to fly 55 military aircraft of all types, most fighters, as well as bombers, transports and trainers. He then became one of the three legendary fighter mafia, along with Colonel John Boyd and Pierre Sprey, which were responsible for the F-16, and ultimately the F-18.

And after retiring from the Air Force in 1976, [he] went on to Northrop, where he worked until seven years ago through both their ATF programs and their B-2 division. I think that the decision-makers in Washington really should listen to what Colonel Riccioni has to say, and I believe that what I have found listening to him, that the F-22 really is a case of a lot more bucks for not much more bang.

Origin of the term “Fighter Mafia”, by max_g_cunningham

from Hillaker’s article on Boyd:

In the late 1960s, you found yourself involved in what was called the “fighter mafia.” Where did that name come from?

That was the title given to the small group of people responsible for the conceptual design of the lightweight fighter, what became the F-16. The group had three core members: John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, and me. We were given the “mafia” title by people in the Air Force back in the mid-60s. We were viewed as an underground group that was challenging the establishment. We were a threat of sorts.

More research links/ Re: John Boyd theories, by max_g_cunningham

Aviation History magazine biography of Boyd:

America has dominated the skies for the past 30 years because of John Boyd.
After he retired, he developed a theory of combat that, according to Vice President Dick Cheney who was Secretary of Defense at the time, was responsible for America’s swift and decisive victory in the Gulf war.



The essential Boyd. An excellent introduction:

11 March 1997

To the Editor:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Colonel John Boyd, USAF (Ret). How does one begin to pay homage to a warrior like John Boyd? He was a towering intellect who made unsurpassed contributions to the American art of war. Indeed, he was one of the central architects in the reform of military thought which swept the services, and in particular the Marine Corps, in the 1980’s.

From John Boyd we learned about competitive decision making on the battlefield-compressing time, using time as an ally. Thousands of officers in all our services knew John Boyd by his work on what was to be known as the Boyd Cycle or OODA Loop. His writings and his lectures had a fundamental impact on the curriculum of virtually every professional military education program in the United States-and on many abroad. In this way, he touched so many lives, many of them destined to ascend to the highest levels of military and civilian leadership.

Those of us who knew John Boyd the man knew him as a man of character and integrity. His life and values were shaped by a selfless dedication to Country and Service, by the crucible of war, and by an unrelenting love of study. He was the quintessential soldier-scholar-a man whose jovial, outgoing exterior belied the vastness of his knowledge and the power of his intellect. I was in awe of him, not just for the potential of his future contributions but for what he stood for as an officer, a citizen, and as a man.

As I write this, my mind wanders back to that morning in February, 1991, when the military might of the United States sliced violently into the Iraqi positions in Kuwait. Bludgeoned from the air nearly round the clock for six weeks, paralyzed by the speed and ferocity of the attack. The Iraqi army collapsed morally and intellectually under the onslaught of American and Coalition forces. John Boyd was an architect of that victory as surely as if he’d commanded a fighter wing or a maneuver division in the desert. His thinking, his theories, his larger than life influence, were there with us in Desert Storm. He must have been proud of what his efforts wrought.

So, how does one pay homage to a man like John Boyd? Perhaps best by remembering that Colonel Boyd never sought the acclaim won him by his thinking. He only wanted to make a difference in the next war … and he did. That ancient book of wisdom-Proverbs-sums up John’s contribution to his nation: ” A wise man is strong, and a man of knowledge adds to his strength; for by wise guidance you will wage your war, and there is victory in a multitude of counselors.”* I, and his Corps of Marines, will miss our counselor terribly.


* Proverbs 24:5-6

C.C. Krulak General,
U. S. Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps

thrust to weight ratios, by Greg_P

I liked Boyd, but wasn’t a complete convert. Still, he WAS a superb fighter pilot and tactician, and he DID have some good thoughts on aerial combat. I have nothing but good thoughts for him.

Now, we need to address aerial combat TODAY. Boyd was a long way from the cockpit when he flew his final flight, and we need to move forward and look at the environment today. We need to address the threat and the potential threat for the next 30+ years. That’s the Military’s job. UCAVs seem inevitable, but they will never replace a live pilot in a particularly critical area, the ability to adapt to a changing situation. Maybe I overstate myself there, they can’t replace a live pilot with today’s technology and today’s level of software. A UCAV cannot adapt as quickly to a sticky situation. Where they ARE useful is when the shooting starts and we have a clearly-defined area of battle with clearly-defined targets. Can they attack a target? Yes. Can they decide a Cessna 152 is not a threat to the White House? No, that takes a live pilot.

The subject is Boyd’s theories. They still apply, but in a different technological environment. If we were designing the F-16 today, it would be different. I wish we WERE. But that’s not happening. Instead, we are buying Raptors. I’d rather NOT buy Raptors but, since we ARE, maybe I’d rather concentrate on making the Raptors we procure into the best, most effective planes in the inventory. If we MUST buy the Raptor, I want it to succeed. Fewer U.S. casualties that way, and we then at least get SOME return for the investment.

Max, in real life, the Raptor is nowhere NEAR as bad as you claim. It is severely overpriced. I think we all concur on that.

Many key facts on the Raptor are CLASSIFIED. I still haven’t been able to verify your claim of 63,000 pounds but, if true, give the Raptor a thrust to weight ratio of 1.19 at max takeoff weight. A 1.19-to-1 thrust to weight is about what the F-15 Eagle has when the Eagle is at its best air combat weight. By the way, the F-15 Eagle has a maximum takeoff weight of 68,000 pounds, and its engines makes 20,000 pounds less thrust than the Raptor. Let’s put that into perspective. The F-15 has 50,000 pounds of thrust and can take off at 68,000 pounds (thrust to weight of 0.73). The Raptor has 70,000 pounds of thrust and takes off at 63,000 pounds … if we can believe it. Thrust to weight is 1.19 at max takeoff weight. Since the F-15’s air-to-air combat weight as about 40 – 42,000 pounds, it has a favorable thrust to weight ratio of about 1.19. The air combat weight of the F-15 is about 61% of its max takeoff weight. Let’s run the numbers for the raptor figuring in a similar combat air to air weight fraction. 61% of 63,000 pounds is 38,430 pounds. 38,430 pounds weight with 70,000 pounds of thrust is a thrust to weight ratio of 1.82, and that’s WAY out of the league of the F-15 Eagle, even if the Eagle has 20 pounds of fuel in it. Say the air to air weight of the F-22 is the same as the F-15 at 42,000 pounds.

That’s STILL a thrust to weight of 1.67, and that’s still the best in the world.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Twitch

Boyd’s association with all this is hyperbole and BS hype. That author interview is nothing but a self-serving tripe. Boyd never fired a gun at an enemy.

Boyd or any pilot had nothing to do with the ultimate weights of production combat aircraft period. The F-22 was always listed as 60,000 lbs, maximum loaded. Has been for the past 10 years in any publication. Why the big surprise now. So what if it is 60-66,000. It is not a figure that ran wildly out of control from concept to completion. It didn’t begin at 40,000 lbs.

How can anyone have a problem with 70,000 lbs thrust at 60,000 or 60,000 lbs on the F-22? The wildly hot MiG 29 K & M have 41,000 lbs total thrust with a weight of 49,000 lbs. F-15C -47,000 lbs. total thrust vs. 68,000 lbs. F-18 A/C- 32,000 lbs thrust vs. 56,000 lbs. The F-16 A/C- 29,000 lbs thrust vs. 42,000 lbs.

If only weight is a factor that it must be voodoo that the 2,300HP, blunt-nose P-47D at 14,000 lbs. normal loaded could do 433 mph and the P-51B could only do 439MPH weighing 9,200 lbs with 1,620 HP. How come the 17,500-lb. P-38 J could only manage 414 MPH with 2,850 total HP? Real apples and oranges ain’t it?

I want to know why it means “this guy and that guy were responsible for the F-16 and F-18.” Did they contribute what they believed a superb fighter should be to an aerospace designer? Great but lots of pilots have given feedback and their theories of what the ideal plane should be throughout history. Were these pilots also aero designers that sat at a drafting table to come up with layouts and calculated all the stresses involved in Mach plus maneuvering? Or did they contribute their impressions in flight testing over several years? This is like saying Jule Verne was responsible for the V-2 rocket, and not Werner von Braun, since he wrote From the Earth to the Moon beforehand.

When an aircraft company today envisions and plane or responds to a military requirement they don’t just build a light, fast, maneuverable craft that is cheap. Beyond the initial market is the export market where countries without aero industries have different requirements than the USAF does. And historically as situations change so do the requirements for aircraft. Airframes that are incapable of adapting to many roles or configurations are virtually worthless since their usefulness can be projected for one type of role in a multi-role world. These planes are short-lived and what aircraft corporation can survive on a one shot wonder purchased in small numbers?

Yeah it’s great but typical for every fighter jock that every strapped in to say what he thinks is the best and what a fighter should be. Joe Fighter pilot then snipes at every proposed plane design but doesn’t have to justify bottom line profitability of a struggling aircraft corporation in shareholder meetings. Joe Fighter doesn’t have to explain to Congress why his plane will fill just one role for about the next 10 years only and will be unsuitable for foreign export. Joe Fighter just gets to take pot shots and make disparaging remarks about things.

I’m waiting for Joe Fighter pilot’s perfect ship. Where is it? Where was it? The woulda, coulda shoulda gang always is right in perfect 20/20 hindsight. Only I’m not hearing why the F-23 was far superior to the F-22. I guess the YF-17 was much better than the F-16 too.

The rhetoric about some pilots cum flight engineers cum tacticians that were allegedly involved in everything aviation-related is a really tired at this point. What ever their contributions, good on them. But let’s quit fixating on them as if they were divine and analyze our true needs for future combat aircraft. The need for that human over the battle field will become less and less. Hey it already has lessened dramatically in the time since WW 2. There will be piloted aircraft in the future, sure but far fewer of them. They’ll be supported by UCAVs that are far smarter than anything that exists now. Surveillance, recon and intel systems to support them will be far more sophisticated than today’s.

If we don’t want to look at the future and project what will probably occur based on the technological development of the past then we deserve to become dumb, fat and lazy.

Robin Olds opinion of Boyd theories, by Steve Hanley

Boyd’s book left me scratching my head. But on November 17 of this year, at a seminar at the National air and space museum in Washington D.C., featuring Col. Robin Olds, he was asked for his opinion on Mr. Boyd. I won’t quote the Colonel, but I will say that, based on Robin Olds opinion of Mr. Boyd, we can all disregard Mr. Boyd..

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Greg_P

I greatly respect Robin Olds. Many of the older pilots didn’t like John Boyd. They thought he was a crackpot. John Boyd had a lot of good ideas, but he did not, almost alone, design the F-16 and invent energy maneuvering.

I would love to have seen Chuck Yeager or Robin Olds challenge John Boyd’s claim to able to get on anyone’s tail in 30 seconds. That is simple arrogance. A good fighter pilot just ain’t all that easy to outmaneuver.

Do not completely discount John Boyd or his theories, but do not worship at the altar either. The F/A-22 Raptor is a GREAT plane … I just hate paying that much for it.

If ever there was a pilot form whom to take advice, it would have been Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn, or Gunther Rall. Too bad they aren’t and weren’t asked to give us some advice based on their air combat experience. Each of these guys shot down more planes than all U.S. and English combat aircraft in have in the last 35 years combined. Their advice would have been a very good thing to get.

John Boyd theories and the LWF concept. – by Greg_P

Chuck Yeager has 11.5 victories in WWII. Robin Olds has 13 victories in WWII and 4 in the Vietnam. Gunther Rall has 275 victories in WWII and is the third highest-ranking ace of all times.

Duke Cunningham has 5 Victories in Vietnam as does his backseater, Willie Driscoll. Gunther Rall, Robin Olds, and Chuck Yeager would have VERY credible opinions, as would Cunningham. Certainly more so than John Boyd when it comes to combat tactics, at least to me. The guys above LIVED the tactics, won the day, and survived. Especially Gunther Rall.

As for aircraft design, I’d probably lean toward John Boyd. He was very much into aircraft design and the others were into combat flying. John Boyd DID help the F-16 program and it HAS BEEN a premier dogfighter. I respect him a lot, but don’t buy 100% into all his theories.

John Boyd didn’t “invent” energy maneuvering and didn’t single-handedly design the F-16. He DID make contributions. Some pilots and aces thought he was a great prophet … others thought he was a crackpot. The truth is very probably somewhere in the middle. Note that Scott Crossfield and Chuck Yeager are not fans of one another, but both were great pilots. Perhaps personal rivalries were alive and well when it came to giving credit to John Boyd. Many top Air Force and Navy pilots didn’t much care for Boyd. Maybe that is reason enough to pay attention to his ideas and see for ourselves.