All of the books I have reviewed lately have been infantry or special operations, so I really didn't think Viper Pilot, an autobiography of a modern-day Air Force fighter pilot would offer much in the way of excitement.
I was mistaken.
In an age of low-tech, low-intensity conflicts, dogfights have become all but a distant memory. But while threats facing today's aviators have evolved, they most certainly have not disappeared. U.S. fighter pilots, the world's best at air-to-air combat, have shifted their role towards close air support for ground units. And with all those planes in the sky, somebody has to take on the death-defying job of knocking out enemy surface-to-air missile sites.
That job goes to the “Wild Weasels.”
The basic objective of a wild weasel mission is for a team of F-16 pilots to fly over enemy air defense sites, forcing the enemy to fire deadly missiles at the pilots. Once pilots detect the launch – assuming the missile doesn't kill the pilot – they use teamwork to counterattack and destroy the launchers and radar stations, making the skies safe for other aircrews in the theater. This process was repeated countless times over Iraq – both during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
If you think that fighter pilots are all glory and no guts, soaring 30,000 feet over the mud and blood of combat, then you haven't met Lt. Col. Dan “Two Dogs” Hampton. The now-retired wild weasel pilot and author of Viper Pilot has flown over 150 combat missions in just about every combat operation since Vietnam, earning four Distinguished Flying Crosses for Valor and the Purple Heart.
Hampton will put you in the middle of the action: whether it's multiple missiles the size of telephone poles flying three times the speed of sound are headed straight for his jet, or barreling through a massive sandstorm at 500 miles per hour 100 feet above the ground with thousands of enemy soldiers are firing trying to shoot him down.
In the back of every pilot's mind is the thought that should they survive being shot down or running out of fuel, they will soon be surrounded by enemy soldiers – perhaps hundreds of miles from the nearest friendly forces.
Hampton wasn't shot down and surrounded, but he has come close several times and has lived to tell about it. If you are even the least bit interested in aerial combat , then I strongly urge you to check out Viper Pilot, which is certainly one of the most suspenseful military books I have read.
In fact, I enjoyed the book so much, I dusted off my old F-16 flight simulator and flew some Wild Weasel missions myself.
By Chris Carter