Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1985 2001

Eagle Biography

Richard S. Ritchie

Lieutenant Colonel "Steve" Ritchie was the US Air Force's only pilot ace of the Vietnam War. Born in North Carolina in 1942, he graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1964. He then attended Undergraduate Pilot Training in Texas where he finished first in his class. After an F-104 Starfighter tour, Ritchie transitioned to the F-4 Phantom. He served his first combat tour in 1968 at Da Nang Air Base, Vietnam, flying with the 366th Tactical Fighter. During this assignment, he flew the first F-4 "Fast FAC" (Forward Air Controller) mission in Southeast Asia. Following a stateside tour as a Fighter Weapons School instructor, Ritchie volunteered for a second tour in Southeast Asia and, in 1972, was reassigned to the 555th "Triple Nickel " Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn, Thailand.

As the Wing Weapons Officer of the 432d Tactical Fighter Reconnaissance Wing, he was instrumental in developing his unit's aerial employment tactics during Operation Linebacker. On 10 May 1972, Ritchie was flying with his Weapon System Officer, Captain Chuck DeBellevue, when they destroyed their first MiG-21 with a radar-guided Sparrow missile. This initial success was achieved while flying fighter cover (MIGCAP) for a 32-plane strike force targeted against the Paul Doumer Bridge and the Yen Vien Railroad yard. Following another victory at the end of May, he achieved a double kill in July while leading a 4-ship of Phantoms to protect a large strike force as it egressed the target area near Hanoi. "Steve " Ritchie downed his fifth MiG on 28 August 1972, making him the only American pilot to down five MiG-21s--North Vietnam's most sophisticated fighter aircraft. After returning from Southeast Asia, he received the MacKay Trophy for the "most significant Air Force mission of 1972."

During his two combat tours, Ritchie accumulated 800 hours of combat time during 339 combat missions, and was awarded the Air Force Cross, 4 Silver Stars, and 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses. He resigned his commission in 1974 to run for the United States Congress from North Carolina, and is currently assigned to Headquarters, Colorado Air National Guard. "Steve" Ritchie was recently appointed as Director of the Office of Child Support Enforcement, Department of Health & Human Services in Washington, D.C.

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Lithograph Setting

"Protect the Force, Get the Pictures, and Kill MiGs" was the mission of the 432d Tactical Fighter Reconnaissance Wing. On 8 July 1972, "Steve" Ritchie did just that when he led a flight of four Phantoms flying MIGCAP in support of a Linebacker I strike near Hanoi and engaged two MiG-21s in trail formation. After meeting the trailing MiG head-on, he began a series of aerial maneuvers and launched two Sparrow missiles. The first missile exploded in the center of the MiG's fuselage, while the second AIM-7 Sparrow passed through the fireball. Hearing a call for assistance from his "number four," Ritchie extended to gain airspeed, made a 6 1/2-G slicing turn, and reentered the aerial dogfight just as the remaining MiG was maneuvering to attack his wingman. Instead, the enemy aircraft disintegrated when Ritchie fired an AIM-7 missile and scored a direct hit. These were his third and fourth victories on his way to becoming the US Air Force's only pilot ace in Vietnam.

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