List of Vietnam War flying aces

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The claimed flying aces of the Vietnam War, pilots who shot down five or more enemy aircraft, include 19 North Vietnamese pilots (six MiG-17 and 13 MiG-21 pilots),[1]: 228  and five Americans.

A MiG-21 of the VPAF which became the primary fighter-interceptor against USAF and USN aircraft.

The American aces flew as members of two-man crews on F-4 Phantoms, reflecting the emergence of air-to-air missiles as the primary weapons of aerial combat. Two were pilots, two Air Force weapon systems officers, and two Navy radar intercept officer; both awarded an aerial-kill claim for each enemy aircraft shot-down.

Development and Role of the F-4 Phantom II[edit]

The F-4 Phantom II was a twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber. It was initially developed for the U.S. Navy and later adopted by the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps. The F-4 was designed to excel in multiple roles, including air superiority, ground attack, and reconnaissance. However, its most distinctive feature was its ability to carry a variety of air-to-air missiles, making it a potent platform for engaging enemy aircraft.[2]

Two-Man Crew Composition[edit]

The F-4 Phantom II typically operated with a two-man crew, consisting of a pilot and a radar intercept officer (RIO) in the Navy or a weapon systems officer (WSO) in the Air Force. This crew configuration allowed for effective multi-role combat capabilities and improved coordination in air-to-air engagements. The pilot primarily focused on flying the aircraft and managing the missile systems, while the RIO or WSO operated the radar, navigational systems, and weapon targeting systems.[3]


Nguyễn Văn Cốc[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force9MiG-21
Mai Văn Cường[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force8MiG-21
Nguyễn Hồng Nhị[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force8MiG-21
Phạm Thanh Ngân[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force8MiG-21
Đặng Ngọc Ngự [4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force7MiG-21
Nguyễn Văn Bảy[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force7MiG-17
Capt. Charles B. "Chuck" DeBellevue[5]United States United States US Air Force6F-4 Phantom II D/E
Lê Hải[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-17
Lê Thanh Đạo[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-21
Lưu Huy Chao[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-17
Nguyễn Đức Soát[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-21
Nguyễn Đăng Kỉnh[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-21
Nguyễn Ngọc Độ[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-21
Nguyễn Nhật Chiêu[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-17MiG-21
Nguyễn Tiến Sâm[6]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-21
Vũ Ngọc Đỉnh[4]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force6MiG-21
Lt Randall "Duke" Cunningham[7]United States United States US Navy15F-4 Phantom II
Lt j.g. William P. DriscollUnited States United States US Navy5F-4 Phantom II J
Capt. Steve Ritchie[8]United States United States US Air Force15F-4 Phantom II
Capt. Jeff Feinstein[9]United States United States US Air Force5F-4 Phantom II
Le Quang Trung [10]North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force5MiG-17MiG-19
Nguyễn Văn NghĩaNorth Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force5MiG-21
Nguyễn Phi Hung [1]: 131 North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force5MiG-17
Võ Văn Mẫn [1]: 51 North Vietnam North Vietnam VN People's Air Force5MiG-17

One source reported that the North Vietnamese claimed to have shot down 218 U.S. manned aircraft in air to air combat in Vietnam, of those kills, 85 are not supported by U.S. records, while another 37 were attributed by the U.S. to surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire.[11] Another source claims that the U.S. attributed losses to surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire because it was considered "less embarrassing".[12] Estimates of North Vietnamese losses range from 131, as documented in North Vietnamese records; to 195, as claimed by U.S. records.[13]

William A. Sayers writing in 2019 asserted that North Vietnam only had three aces in the war including Phạm Thanh Ngân, with the other "aces" being creations of North Vietnamese propaganda that included claimed "kills" on days where no U.S. losses occurred, crediting VPAF pilots with kills that had actually been achieved by surface to air missile or antiaircraft artillery units and shootdowns of drones. He also stated that there were no MiG-17 aces.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up to:a b c Toperczer, Istvan (2015). MiG Aces of the Vietnam War. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7643-4895-2.
  2. ^ McKerchar, Walter D. (July 1966). "The McDonnell Phantom II - A Comprehensive Program for Electromagnetic Compatibility"1966 Symposium Digest: 8th National Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility. IEEE. pp. 1–4. doi:10.1109/isemc.1966.7567065ISBN 978-1-5090-3154-2.
  3. ^ Scranton, Roy (2019), "Introduction"Total Mobilization, University of Chicago Press, pp. 1–14, doi:10.7208/chicago/9780226637457.003.0001ISBN 978-0-226-63731-0, retrieved 2023-10-12
  4. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Zampini, Diego (2012-03-23). "North Vietnamese Aces" Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  5. ^ Futrell, R. Frank (1976). United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965-1973: Aces and Aerial Victories. Air University, Headquarters USAF. pp. 93–105.
  6. ^ Toperczer, István (2017-09-21). MiG-21 Aces of the Vietnam War. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 95. ISBN 9781472823540.
  7. ^ Sherman, Stephan (2012-03-22). "Randy Cunningham" Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  8. ^ Boyce, Ward. "Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie" Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  9. ^ "Jeffrey S. Feinstein"Air Force Times. Archived from the original on 17 October 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  10. ^ Toperczer, István (2016-10-20). MiG-17/19 Aces of the Vietnam War. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 9781472812568.
  11. ^ Lednicer, David; Camp, Adrian (2002-06-09). "US Air-to-Air Losses in the Vietnam War" Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  12. ^ E., Gordon (2008). Mikoyan MiG-21. Dexter, Keith., Komissarov, Dmitriĭ (Dmitriĭ Sergeevich). Hinckley: Midland. ISBN 9781857802573OCLC 245555578.
  13. ^ Air warfare: an international encyclopedia. Boyne, Walter J., 1929-. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. 2002. p. 679. ISBN 978-1576073452OCLC 49225204.
  14. ^ William A. Sayers (7 May 2019). "How North Vietnam claimed more aces than it really had". HistoryNet. Retrieved 23 July 2022.

External links[edit]

  • Toperczer, Istvan, MiG-21 Units of the Vietnam War, Osprey Combat Aircraft #29, 2008; ISBN 978-1-84176-263-0
  • Michel III, Marshall L, Clashes, Air Combat over North Vietnam 1965-1972, Naval Institute Press, 1997; ISBN 978-1-59114-519-6