Rupert Red Two: A Fighter Pilot’s Life From Thunderbolts to Thunderchiefs
by Jack Broughton, Zenith Press, St. Paul, Minn., 2008, $26.95.
There are two words on the cover of this book that should make anyone—aviation enthusiast or not—buy it: “Jack Broughton,” a true American warrior-hero, a great writer of best-selling books, a magnificent pilot and the kind of guy you want to be standing back-to-back with in a barroom fight. He is also a member of a dying breed, the maverick who knows he is right and sticks by his guns, a man of the John Boyd, Moody Suter mold. Men like them gave more than their lives to the Air Force—they gave life to the U.S. Air Force in a way that is badly needed even today.
Rupert Red Two is a beautifully written exposition of the Air Force from its stumbling immediate post–World War II days to the peak of its reined-in power during the Vietnam War. Broughton must have kept meticulous notes, for he covers in fascinating detail every aspect of his career from his admission to West Point to his triumphant reversal of an absolutely atrocious court-martial after 26 years of noble service. Broughton, incidentally, along with the immortal Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, is one of only two men who have ever had a general court-martial verdict reversed.
The title Rupert Red Two is taken from his early days as a wingman to Colonel Clarence T. Edwinson (“Rupert Red One”), a big, brawling group commander of a type rare even during WWII and almost nonexistent today. It is difficult to believe, but Broughton and other newbies were thrust into the seat of a Republic P-47 without any more training than cockpit familiarization, then thrown into formation flying without further ado. A lot of good men were lost in the process.
All through the book, Broughton—far from being a “ring knocker,” in the pejorative phrase of the time—is conscious of the Air Force’s need for good people at all levels, and he is unsparing in his praise of the noncommissioned and enlisted personnel who make the Air Force work.
Broughton brings you along all through his career, and puts you inside the cockpit of each of the planes he flew. His writing is vividly true, as in this description of an arrogant formation leader jettisoning his Lockheed P-80’s wing tanks directly into Broughton’s path: “That ton of fuel and metal whipped into a 180-degree rearward spin and the pointed nose of the tank ripped through my left internal wing fuel tank, releasing a shower of ruptured metal and cascading fuel as it bounced off the main wing spar.”
After an eventful war in Korea, Broughton became commander of the legendary Thunderbirds demonstration team from 1954 to 1957. During the Vietnam War, Broughton flew F-105s and battled both the Communist enemy and American bureaucracy, as he memorably recounted in his 1969 book Thud Ridge.
Rupert Red Two is compelling reading and so complex that a shortened version of it would be unworthy. All of Broughton’s books should be on the reading list not only of aviation fans, but of anyone who wants to know what a true American hero really is.
Originally published in the July 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.