On paper, the enemy had every advantage. A MiG could flyer higher and faster than Boyd's Sabre. It could turn a tighter circle. These advantages should have proved decisive in air-to-air combat. But they didn't. On average, for every U.S. plane shot down by MiGs, American pilots took out 10 enemy fighters. "How?" Boyd wondered.
Boyd believed that subtle aircraft design differences held the answer. For starters, he found the F-86 had one definite advantage: a bubble canopy that allowed the pilot to scan the horizon in all directions. That contrasted with the view from a MiG pilot seat, described as "looking through a coke bottle."
Because of this design edge, American pilots usually could see the enemy before the enemy saw them. And, seeing first, U.S. pilots shot first and lived longer. It was the first of many insights, which led Boyd on to a successful career as a fighter designer. He was part of helping the U.S. maintain air supremacy from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The current administration seems indifferent to keeping that string alive. While the U.S. has pioneered the development of "5th generation" fighters, planes that can't be matched by air defense or enemy planes anywhere in the world, the White House seems uninterested in buying them.
Already, Obama's Pentagon has canceled the F-22 (the last plane rolled off the assembly line this month), a stealth fighter built to ensure the U.S. capability to fly over any battlefield in the world. Our curtailed F-22 fleet is so small, it must be husbanded like a canteen of water in a march across the desert.
Now, Obama's Pentagon seems intent on buying as few F-35s as possible. The F-35 was to be the workhorse of the 21st century air fleet, replacing more than a half-dozen planes that do everything from reconnaissance to electronic jamming to attacking ground targets.
But the President has different priorities. He's quite content to whittle down the number of F-35s so he can beef up funding for programs he deems more vital -- like the Smithsonian (funds up $52 million for this fiscal year).
Squeezing the F-35 program like toothpaste makes no sense. The U.S. taxpayer invested $50 billion in this program; it's time to start reaping the benefits. Buying more planes, faster brings down the per-unit cost.
Concerns about retrofitting the first production models as needed modifications are identified during fielding. They're overblown. Industry experts say the Pentagon has probably overestimated these "concurrence" costs by 75 percent.
Moreover, given the high cost of maintaining aged aircraft, it's cheaper to pay for retrofitting first-off-the-line F-35 than to keep the older planes flying.
Moreover, Obama's Pentagon could help bring down the per-unit cost by making a concerted effort to market the F-35 to allies. Every F-35 sold to allies would reduce the Pentagon's purchase price by $10 million per plane. Already foreign sales will shrink the price of the program to taxpayers by $35 billion.
So here's a worthy New Year's resolution Obama: Reopen the F-22 line and offer both planes to every capable ally in Asia from India to South Korea (Japan and Australia are already signed up for the F-35).
This strategy would save the Pentagon money, ensure U.S. air supremacy and sustain the military balance in Asia for decades.
Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.