I'm always getting asked what books I read, what movies I watch and what apps I use when it comes to military subjects. On my old site I had a section called "Rogoway's Reviews" and it's time I start posting reviews here. My first installment is quite possibly the best air combat book I have ever read, Viper Pilot by Dan Hampton.
Dan Hampton has been called the most lethal Wild Weasel of all time, along with the best F-16 pilot in USAF history with 151 combat missions in Desert Storm, Allied Force and Iraqi Freedom, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Purple Heart, eight Air Medals with Valor, and five Meritorious Service Medals, not to mention he is a graduate of the USAF Fighter Weapons School, the Navy's famous TOPGUN school, and the USAF's Special Operations School. Yeah kinda makes you feel like a real loser doesn't it?!
The opening scene of Viper Pilot puts you right in the ACES II ejection seat of Dan's Block 50 F-16CJ as he takes down a whole column of Iraqi fighters that were overwhelming Marines on their push through Nasiriyah. Oh, he did this using his cannon, and under the worst atmospheric conditions imaginable, not to mention single handedly. This sortie would result in Col. Hampton being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and as you read through his memoir, this would be just one of many missions that would result in similar awards.
Quite honestly, if I read that opening not knowing beforehand that this was a famous sortie within the F-16 community I would not have believed it as it seems much more a scene out of the 1980's corny fighter jet flick Iron Eagle than it does out of real life. That is just how big, yet real the tales told in this book are, not to mention how hardcore a warrior Dan truly is. In fact some people who have reviewed the book were turned off by Col. Hampton's intense "fighting spirit," which I find more fascinating and admirable than distracting.
Viper Pilot also gives us an incredible look into the unique culture of Wild Weasels who are tasked with attacking the very assets that are hell bent on attacking them, those being surface to air missile sites. Their motto "You've Gotta Be Shitting Me," or "YGBSM," is well earned as their job is borderline suicidal. Thus the high-intensity, hard partying fighter pilot culture is omnipresent within the Wild Weasel community and Dan portrays this to an almost unnerving degree.
The main supporting character throughout the whole story is the F-16 Viper itself. Dan has a true love affair with the most prevalent 4th generation fighter of all time, and by the end of the read you can really see how he manipulates the F-16 like a savant violinist makes beautiful music by masterfully playing their instrument. Like the knights of centuries past, the F-16 is Dan trusty mechanical steed, one with limitations that have to be mitigated and talents that must be played up to their fullest potential in order to succeed in battle. Also, Col. Hampton's career started while the F-4G Phantom was still the Wild Weasel of choice for the USAF, which offers an interesting insight into conversion to Block 50 F-16Cs and the Viper's bumpy development into an excellent Wild Weasel platform.
The arch of the book takes you through the highlights, or more terrifying low-lights in some instances, of Lt. Col. Dan Hampton's career, from having an F-16 literally come apart around him high over Egypt, to toying with SA-2 sites and pulverizing them with cluster bombs over central Iraq. It's a seriously wild ride and when you turn the final page you feel like you yourself have spent hours frantically dodging surface to air missiles while wishing your gas gauge was a liar.
My only gripe with Viper Pilot is that there are some assumptions pertaining to modern air combat that Mr. Hampton makes towards the end that I find contradictory, especially concerning the Wild Weasel, SEAD/DEAD mission and unmanned aircraft. Still, this is quite possibly the most entertaining air combat book I have ever read with just enough new technical insight to keep the hardcore nerds pleasantly satisfied while at the same time keeping the average reader totally engrossed in the action. An absolute must read, 8.5 out of 9Gs.