From Art of Manliness: According to his biographer, Robert Coram, John Boyd made “more contributions to fighter tactics, aircraft design, and the theory of air combat than any man in Air Force history.”
As a fighter pilot, he was undefeated and earned the nickname “40-Second Boyd” for his ability to win any dogfight in under a minute.
Unmatched in the cockpit, his mind was also without rival. He was not simply a warrior of combat, but a warrior-engineer and warrior-philosopher.
When he was 33, he wrote “Aerial Attack Study,” which codified the best dogfighting tactics for the first time, became the “bible of air combat,” and revolutionized the methods of every air force in the world.
His Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory helped give birth to the legendary F-15, F-16, and A-10 aircraft.
A briefing he developed, “Patterns of Conflict,” changed combat strategy for both airmen and ground troops, introduced the oft-cited, and typically misunderstood OODA loop, and “made him the most influential military thinker since Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War 2,400 years ago.”
All in all, John Boyd served in the United States Air Force for twenty-four years and through three wars.
But he was never promoted above colonel.
All because Boyd stubbornly refused to compromise his principles and ideals for advancement.
A Fork in the Road
“This was a pivotal event in his career, as well as a personal epiphany. Often, when a man is young and idealistic, he believes that if he works hard and does the right thing, success will follow. This was what Boyd’s mother and childhood mentors had told him. But hard work and success do not always go together in the military, where success is defined by rank, and reaching higher rank requires conforming to the military’s value system. Those who do not conform will one day realize that the path of doing the right thing has diverged from the path of success, and then they must decide which path they will follow through life. Almost certainly, he realized that if he was not promoted early to lieutenant colonel after all that he had done, he would never achieve high rank.”