A flying ace, fighter ace, or air ace is a military aviator who has shot down five or more enemy planes in aerial combat. The exact number of aerial victories required to be officially recognized as an ace varies, but it is usually thought to be five or more. But do you know who was the last American Pilot to become an Ace?
Richard Stephen Richie was the last American pilot to become an ace or to have five or more air-to-air combat kills. In August 1972, he recorded his fifth kill. No American pilot has more than three kills since him.
The Last American Ace Pilot
The sole US Captain Steve Ritchie, a Vietnam War Air Force pilot ace, destroyed five MiG-21s during Operation Linebacker in 1972. He was a high school quarterback born on June 25, 1942, in Reidsville, North Carolina. At the University, He continued playing football after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, serving as the Falcons’ starting halfback in 1962 and 1963.
Following a stint at Eglin AFB’s Flight Test Operations, he began flying the F-4 Phantom II in preparation for his first tour in Southeast Asia.
Ritchie was assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Danang Air Base in South Vietnam in 1968 and flew the first Fast FAC mission in the F-4 forward air controller program, which he helped to spread and succeed. When he returned from Southeast Asia in 1969, he reported to the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where he became one of the school’s youngest instructors at age 26.
He was a seasoned F-4 pilot and combat veteran assigned to the famed 555th Triple Nickel Fighter Squadron when he volunteered for his second tour in Southeast Asia in 1972.
He shot down his first two MiGs on May 10 and 31 and the third and fourth on July 28 during a classic low-altitude dogfight. His achievement that day is even more impressive when one considers that his F-4 was performing well beyond its capabilities for the duration of the encounter. However, Ritchie and his team maintained control throughout.
I was the only Pilot.Captain Steve Ritchie
The Ace Pilot’s Landing
Ritchie returned from his second combat tour as one of the most decorated pilots in the Vietnam War, having completed 339 combat missions totaling over 800 flying hours. His combat achievements earned him the 1972 Mackay Trophy for the most significant Air Force mission of the year, the 1972 Jabara Award for airmanship from the Air Force Academy, and the 1972 Armed Forces Award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars for outstanding contributions to US national security.
During his Air Force career, Ritchie flew over 4,000 hours. In 1999, he left the Air Force.
The first time I ever saw an unlike airplane was a MiG-21 near Hanoi. In those days, we weren’t allowed to train against dissimilar aircraft. They wouldn’t let us train the way we were going to fight. Sometimes, I wasn’t even allowed to fire back if fired upon.Captain Steve Ritchie
Image from History.net