Viper Pilot, a memoir by Dan Hampton is a very riveting book. Lt. Col. Hampton was a member of the Wild Weasels, the elite Air Force fighter squadron, from 1986 to 2006. He fascinatingly lays the foundation on why the Weasels have the most dangerous job in modern air combat by going into the history of the squadron from the Viet Nam War, to the Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, to the second Iraq War.
The Weasel’s planes are the first ones sent into a war zone. They fly deep behind enemy lines to purposely draw fire from surface-to-air missiles and artillery in order to destroy the threat. Hampton is the most lethal F-16 Wild Weasel pilot in American history. He explained to blackfive.net, “The original F-16, Viper, plane was built to be a dog fighter: small, light, and having a revolutionary flight system. Because it’s so versatile if you want to add anything all you have to do is put it in a black box and hit load. Then it also became a bomber and finally it was made into a SAM killer, the Black 50, that can locate and kill SAMs, without another plane.”
Although he does use technical details and military acronyms these do not detract from the gripping tale of harrowing experiences. In the book he discusses his many brushes with death, involving mechanical failure, bad weather, and human error. He was asked to explain the book quote, “From the beginning of their career, pilots are taught how to troubleshoot complex and potentially fatal in-flight emergencies. The ability to diagnose, evaluate, and choose the correct action while still managing to fly an aircraft is fundamental. It’s another skill that separates a single-seat fighter pilot from the others. We don’t have a crew to read checklists or help evaluate the situation.”
Hampton directly noted that he wanted to allow the reader to be seated in the cockpit because “they will hopefully be introduced to a world they only had a hint of. How it’s the things you don’t see that can get you. It’s multi-tasking at high speeds, around 300/400 mph. Emergencies are a fact of life when operating a fighter jet.”
There was a fascinating scene in the book that describes how he used the “Hunter Killer attack,” which he personally developed. Basically the SAM is forced to react to threats from both sides. He directly commented, ‘The Iraqis were not dumb. They would shuttle out, find us, and shoot. We would fly low over a kill box to attract ground fire to see where they were. This is a great test for an alpha male. Luckily, they very often hesitated because we took out all their communications on the first day. These were Arabs trained by Russians, so unlike Americans, they are hesitant to do anything on their own.”
It is so obvious in reading the book that he considers the plane his partner. Hampton was asked if he were Secretary of the Air Force where would he spend the money. He replied that his arsenal would consist of F-16s and F-35s because of their efficiency, versatility, and cost. “The F-16 cost about $65 million compared to the F-22 which is so over priced. I don’t think I would like to fly the F-22, which costs about $200 million because I would be afraid I would get a scratch on the thing. We don’t need the F-22.”
Since his retirement his current full time job is writing both fiction and non-fiction books. Early next year his first novel, Mercenary, will come out as an E-book. This book explores a former Air Force officer who becomes disillusioned and takes on a unique mission. He is also writing a fictional book on how Israel should solve the Palestinian problem involving an Israeli Air Force officer. A third book in the making will be a non-fiction book about pilots through the ages.
Hampton hopes that all his books allow the reader to get a glimpse into his expertise and knowledge, what it is like to be a fighter pilot. In Viper Pilot he did that and more. He opened the reader’s eyes to a thrilling eyewitness account of modern air warfare by sharing his experience of being a highly trained, innovative, and gutsy fighter.