Yankee Ingenuity


Retired Air Force fighter pilot Jay Waitte explains the American Air Force’s unofficial – but very real – military doctrine.

The traditional “Welded Wing” formation.

When I would fly in Europe, the British pilots were crazy. They would try to hit you when you were in a dogfight. But you know, I learned a lot from them. I could see how they did so well in World War Two, as did the Americans. 

Throughout history, many manuals have been written on how to fly a certain airplane, how to do ground attack, how to do dogfighting. Like every air force, we have our flight manuals, filled with doctrine. There’s what they call the “Dash One Manual,” which is unclassified, and there’s what they call the “Three Dash One Manual,” which is secret. 

But we also have what I call “Yankee Ingenuity,” the American’s unofficial but very real doctrine.

Americans always come up with Yankee Ingenuity. There’s always an exchange of ideas about how to do different things. And that’s why our commanders are so good. 

Other air forces might have a better machine, but we come up with a different tactic to defeat it. It just seems that Americans always come up with different ideas. They’re faced with a situation. There is a briefing of how to handle it. But then Americans come up with a plan that’s a little bit better. 

For example, during World War Two they used to fly in what they called the “Welded Wingman” formation. And even in Korea, you would go up with a leader and your wingman would be flying formation just off you. 

They were so close together, I don’t see how they could check each other’s six o’clock, the airspace behind and below. I’d think, “These poor guys are gonna get shot down.” 

But then all of a sudden the Navy came up with an idea they called a “Tactical Dual.” They would fly about a mile apart. They could both scan behind the other person’s six. They could look out in front of them. And then, if somebody sees a bogey, whoever sees the bogey first becomes the lead. 

That’s a key point, because in the old days, whoever was the flight lead – even if he didn’t see the enemy plane – he was the lead. Meanwhile, the other guys in the formation were trying to get the lead’s eyes on the enemy. And the first rule in combat is: whoever sees the bogey first usually wins.

So, over the years they’ve developed a lot of different tactics. It’s the same thing today with my son Ethan, who flies the F-22. The F-22 is like Battlestar Galactica. In the F-22 they do something now where one F-22 stays five miles behind the other F-22 when they’re going into a different type of tactic. 

Americans always come up with new stuff. They’re just not locked into a particular idea or maneuver. They’re always thinking of ideas to improve their abilities when we go to war. Yankee Ingenuity.

Skip to content