Retired Col. Ronald E. Catton, a graduate and former instructor from the weapons school, visited U.S. Air Force Weapons School Airmen July 13 to share his knowledge and experiences.
Catton attended the then Fighter Weapons School more than 50 years ago. He was the first of only two students ever to complete the course with a 100 percent score in all academic subjects. Catton also flew with Col. John Boyd, then the chief of academics at the Weapons School.
Boyd Hall here was named after Boyd. He was known as â€œ40-second Boydâ€ because he boasted that starting from a position of disadvantage, he could defeat any opposing pilot in air combat maneuvering in less than 40 seconds.
â€œI can remember consciously thinking on my way out to Nellis to be a student here that I was going to [beat him], and I was going to perform well enough to be an instructor in the weapons school,â€ Catton said.
Catton got his chance but was unable to outmaneuver Boyd. One of Boydâ€™s tactics was to flat plate the F-100 to slow the airframe and reappear behind his adversary.
I think it was about 13 seconds later, he was on my tail,â€ Catton said. â€œIt appeared as he was doing a barrel roll when in fact he was flat plating the aircraft, and you would flush forward on him. And, he didnâ€™t do that to show off. He did that because his primary platform subject was Air Combat Maneuvering, and you had to be able to walk your talk.
â€œIt was important he had a way to get your attention, and Iâ€™ll tell you, that got your attention,â€ he said.
Of Cattonâ€™s class of 10 students three returned to the Fighter Weapons School as instructors and two continued on to become Thunderbird pilots. Catton was one of those students who did both.
â€œNellis is near and dear to my heart as you might imagine after those wonderful experiences,â€ he said.
Catton warned students at the weapons school not to take lightly the challenges they face ahead of them.
â€œThe lesson that I took away from my weapons school student experience was to never ever, ever, ever give up on yourself or your instructors or the school itself,â€ Catton said. â€œIt was a tough school then, and itâ€™s a tough school now. Itâ€™s in a very tempting environment being so close to Las Vegas.â€
Cattonâ€™s experiences gave the Airmen attending the weapons school a glimpse at the way it began and developed. He said there were three things that stood out to him as notable changes to the school, the first of which is the amount of participants.
â€œWe were just a very small organization here perhaps 10 instructors and 10 academic instructors, all of whom flew,â€ Catton said. â€œI think we had 10 students per class in the Fighter Weapons School, and it lasted about six months or so as it does now,â€ Catton said.
Secondly, Catton said he noticed that with so little students the school had a different focus.
â€œIt was focused on fighter close air support and air combat maneuvering,â€ he said. â€œOf course today, itâ€™s the full spectrum of war fighting. Maybe, the third and most important thing [thatâ€™s changed] is the people.â€
Coming from a world view of military members changing from the Vietnam era to today, Catton said itâ€™s good to see the way things have come.
â€œI sense an enthusiasm for the mission here that is very positive,â€ Catton said. â€œItâ€™s very uplifting to someone who has been out of the military for 40 years now.â€
Catton said heâ€™s impressed with the pride and work ethic of not just Air Force Airmen, but all service members.
â€œThe old dogs, like myself, weâ€™re very proud of you young war fighters and how you stepped up to be counted. We didnâ€™t anticipate that given what we got coming back from Vietnam.â€
From taking on Boyd to acing the Fighter Weapons School to touring as a Thunderbird, Catton said heâ€™s enjoyed his time at Nellis.
â€œI think it was Pericles who said, â€˜we must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.â€™ And now at almost age 80, Iâ€™ve had a splendid day,â€ Catton said. â€œThe Air Force and Nellis and the weapons school, the Thunderbirds and the combat experience and all of that put together â€“ itâ€™s just been a splendid day for me.â€