I was watching The History Channel last night. They had a show on aerial dogfights. They chose one from each of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and went into some detail as to how the aircraft fought.
For those of us who have played flight simulators, it was pretty interesting. They used "computer graphics", which looked like something from Microsoft Flight Combat Simulator, to recreate the combat.
(Aside: it's programs like this that really make the rest of the world growl at American television programs. The show covered four conflicts, but every dogfight involved Americans.
The World War I dogfight involved Eddie Rickenbacker. The U.S. came into that war way late, so Rickenbacker — the top American — only had 26 kills in his career. The dogfight they chose to show was pretty exciting, with Rickenbacker shooting down two aircraft out of a flight of four Fokker DVIIs and two two-seater reconaissance aircraft. Still, Rickenbacker had less than half the kills of Britains greatest ace and a little over a third of Canada's best ace.
The World War II dogfight involved Bud Anderson, a friend of the more famous Chuck Yeager. Anderson's group of four P-51 Mustangs encountered a group of four German Me-109s. Anderson shot down two German aircraft. The show made a big deal in each of its four segements to tick off the advantages for each side. Remarkably, Anderson's group were given two check marks and so were the Germans, with "combat experience" being a big one for the Germsns. However, virtually no one would equate the ME-109 with the Mustang. In fact, the program after this one made a point of explaining how the ME-109 was considered obsolete by the time the Mustang was released. They ignored that part to boost the "importance" of Anderson's dogfight, making it seem that he didn't have a big advantage over the Germans even before the battle started.)
The Vietnam War episode involved Randall "Duke" Cunningham, who was the first carrier borne Navy pilot to become an ace during that war. He flew in a two-seater F4 Phantom. The segment was quite good, showing how Cunningham's jet and the MiG-17 fought each other. Cunningham, who was one of the first pilots to graduate from the Navy's TOPGUN school, struck me as an intelligent pilot.
It was during this segment that a light bulb went off. I checked Wikipedia. Yep, this is the same Duke Cunningham who was a Republican congressman until earlier this year, when he was disgraced due to taking bribes from defence contractors. He's now serving a sentence of over eight years in a federal prison.
The Wikipedia entry is quite fascinating. It describes a man who was accomplished at one skill that took intelligence and raw talent (flying) and yet was a complete waste of oxygen as a politician. Read the article and you'll see what I mean. My favourite line in the article is, "In the Washingtonian feature 'Best & Worst of Congress' of 2004, Cunningham was rated (along with four other House members) as 'No Rocket Scientist' by a bipartisan survey of Congressional staff."
The most telling Cunningham anecdote involved his stance on drug dealers. Cunningham berated Clinton for appointing judges "soft on crime" and he called for tougher sentences on drug dealers. He even voted for the death penalty against major drug dealers. This "tough on drugs" stand ended at his family. His son Todd was arrested for helping to transport 400 lbs of marijuana from Massachusetts to California. At his son's sentencing hearing, Cunningham tearfully asked for leniency, with presumably no hint of irony.
Knowing that Cunningham was this successful fighter pilot makes his fall from grace as a congressman more interesting, yet also more pitiful. It just shows how most people in real life are more complicated than fictional characters. It's why I love history, and why history can be so engrossing (and why it's so sad when high schools murder the subject).
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