Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Steve's History

Compiled by Doug Jenkins, '64

Brigadier General Richard Stephen Ritchie, United States Air Force Academy Class of 1964, was born in Reidsville, NC, where he was a star quarterback in high school. At the Air Force Academy, he continued playing football as starting halfback for the Falcons in 1962 and 1963.

Upon graduation, Steve was assigned to Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laredo AFB, TX. He finished number one in his pilot training class. After a stint flying the F-104 Starfighters at Flight Test Operations at Eglin AFB, FL, he began flying the F-4 Phantom II in preparation for his first tour in Southeast Asia.

Assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Danang Air Base, South Vietnam in 1968, Ritchie flew the first "Fast FAC" mission in the F-4D forward air controller program and was instrumental in the spread and success of the program. Returning from Southeast Asia in 1969, he reported to the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis AFB, NV, where at 27 years of age, he became one of the youngest instructors in the history of the school.

Ritchie.gif Steve volunteered for a second combat tour in January 1972 and was assigned to the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, 555th ("Triple Nickel") Tactical Fighter Squadron flying F-4Ds at Udorn, Thailand. The only U.S. Air Force pilot ace of the Vietnam War, he destroyed a total of five MiG-21s during Operation Linebacker in 1972.

He joined the ranks of the MiG killers when he downed a MiG-21 on 10 May 1972, one of several Air Force aerial victories that day. Click the link below to read the story of this first victory, the tragic loss of Classmate Bob Lodge, and the triumphant recovery of Lodge's backseater, Roger Locher three weeks later.

[ Leadership That Inspires Excellence ]

He scored a second victory on 31 May 1972, another MiG-21.

[ Second Aerial Victory ]

A classic low-altitude dog fight on 8 July 1972 tied Robins Olds' five-year-old Southeast Asia record as two more MiG-21s fell to Steve's Sparrow missiles.

[ Interview With An Ace ]

Then, on 28 August 1972, came the mission that propelled Steve Ritchie into the record books. Leading Buick Flight, four F-4D Phantoms performing Air MiG CAP north of Hanoi, He bagged his fifth MiG near the Thai-Nguyen steel plant.

[ Fifth Aerial Victory ]

The article at the link, Vietnam Debrief, provides some interesting conclusions and lessons learned from Ritchie's experience in Southeast Asia.

[ Vietnam Debrief ]

General Ritchie left active service in 1974 and had a distinguished career in the Colorado Air National Guard, and later in the Air Force Reserve, where he held important positions in the Pentagon, including Mobilization Assistant to the Vice Chief of Staff.

In November 1986, he witnessed the delivery of his ace warbird, F-4D 66-463, to its final resting place in the USAFA Cadet Area.

[ Ace F-4D Final Mission ]

In July 1997, he took part in the premier USAF 50th Anniversary Celebration, flying an F-4E Phantom II during a spectacular event at Nellis AFB, NV.

[ USAF 50th Anniversary ]

In October 1997, General Ritchie was selected by the Colorado Aviation Historical Society to be inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame. The event was held at the United States Air Force Academy Officers Club, Colorado Springs on 1 November 1997.

On 29 January, 1999, General Ritchie retired from active military service, following an illustrious career spanning 39 years.

[ Military Retirement ]

General Ritchie continues to be a popular speaker at aviation events around the nation. Among his many friends and acquaintances was none other than news commentator Paul Harvey, who passed away 28 February 2009.

[ Paul Harvey ]

Ace Meets Ace

In December 2009, General Ritchie returned to Vietnam. See photo below of Steve meeting with Vietnamese ace pilot Nguyen Van Bay. It was the only meeting of its kind from the Vietnam era.

Still actively flying, General Ritchie is now a pilot with the Starfighters, the world's only civilian supersonic jet demonstration team, based at Kennedy Space Center, FL.

[ Starfighters ]

General Ritchie is a command pilot with more than 4,000 flight hours, including 800 combat hours. He has flown the T-37, T-33, T-38, F-100, F-104, F-4, F-15 and F-16. His military awards include the 1972 MacKay Trophy for the most significant Air Force mission of the year, the 1973 VFW Armed Forces Award for outstanding contributions to the national security of the United States, the 1972 Jabara Award for airmanship and the 1973 Zuckert Award for outstanding professionalism and leadership. In 1973 he was named to the Outstanding Young Men of America. His decorations include the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, ten Distinguished Flying Crosses, twenty-five Air Medals and the Distinguished Service Medal.
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