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Frank Ault Remembered 

September 11, 2006

More than a wingman: Top Gun founder was a pioneer
By Robert F. Dorr

When retired Capt. Frank W. Ault died Aug. 20 in Arlington, Va., the Navy lost a pioneer who changed the way we operate in air and space.

The nation lost a hero.

Today, it's easy to forget how much Ault contributed to the Cold War, the Vietnam War and our world of today.

He helped put the first atomic bombers on carriers in the 1950s, when many anticipated a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

When the Navy (and Air Force) performed poorly in air combat over North Vietnam, his study of air combat, the Ault Report, led to hundreds of changes, including creation of the Navy's fighter weapons school, Topgun " which became two words when Hollywood gave us the 1986 Tom Cruise blockbuster "Top Gun."

Ault achieved so much in atomic weapons, aviation and space that it would be easy, too, to forget that he was a gregarious figure of wit and charm who fished and hunted, played the piano and organ, and was a captivating storyteller.

"He could have made his living as a master of ceremonies," said his longtime friend, retired Rear Adm. Edward "Whitey" Feightner, in an interview.

A 1942 Naval Academy graduate, Ault survived the sinking of the cruiser Astoria during the Battle of Savo Island in the South Pacific in 1942. He served on a second cruiser during the invasion of North Africa later that year.

Ault became an aviator in 1945. He was one of the first officers at the nuclear weapons school in Albuquerque, N.M. He was a bomber pilot with Composite Squadron 5, the Navy 's first atomic bomb delivery squadron.

As an author on naval topics, I met Ault many years later to ask about one of those bombers, the corpulent AJ Savage, which had two propeller engines hanging on the wings and a jet engine in the tail: "two turning and one burning," as sailors said. But I regret that I never got to talk to this articulate leader at length about the AJ.

He helped shape the Navy's plans to launch a bigger bomber, the P2V Neptune, from carriers on one-way nuclear missions to Soviet targets.

Before the U.S. launched its first satellite or astronaut, Ault directed Navy space research and authored the service's first space program in 1957.

Among space duties in the 1950s, he was the first program manager of the Navy's navigation satellite program, a predecessor of the Global Positioning System that has altered our world.

A biography circulated by fellow aviators "while Ault's death remains shamefully ignored by the mainstream media" touches on his subsequent experiences.

"Frank never got far from the cockpit," wrote retired Capt. Bill Knutson.

"He served in five [attack] squadrons." He commanded a squadron, an air group, a transport ship, and the aircraft carrier Coral Sea during Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.

In the two years that followed, Ault scoured the combat zone conducting the air weapons study that became the Ault Report of 1968. He learned that Americans were losing dogfights because they hadn't learned to use air-to-air missiles properly. He made recommendations that changed how fighters engage each other. As he wrote in a document: "The report diagnosed fighter systems performance in Vietnam and is credited with raising our air combat kill ratio in Vietnam from 2.5 to 1 to over 12.5 to 1."

Ault retired in March 1971, without the flag rank he deserved. He is second in four generations of airmen: His father was a World War I Army pilot. His son Jon and grandson Jonathan were both naval aviators.

On Aug. 28, Feightner gave me a tour of Ault's Arlington office. There, Ault worked for the American Retirees Association. He fought the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. He co-wrote the book "Divorce and the Military."

But there was so much more in the office: "a signed portrait of Charlton Heston highlighting the actor's presidency of, and Ault's support for, the National Rifle Association; a portrait of John Wayne, whom Ault knew and admired; "master angler" certificates from overseas fishing jaunts; photos taken during a pheasant hunt.

Frank Ault changed air combat forever, but he had time for more. He had time for life.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. Dorr is the author of books on military topics, including "Chopper," a history of helicopter pilots. His e-mail address is


Inside the Ring
by Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough
September 8, 2006


Top Gun

Retired Navy Capt. Frank W. Ault, a key player in modern naval aviation as the father of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, died at his home in Arlington on Aug. 25 at age 84. A memorial service is planned today at the Fort Myer Chapel, where his former flying mates will gather to honor a man who served in three wars and ran four public corporations after his military retirement in 1971.

Capt. Ault, a 1942 Naval Academy graduate, was a good friend of The Washington Times, always taking time to explain the culture of carrier aviation, which he helped transform.

Vietnam-era pilots might remember the "Ault Report." The Navy tapped Capt. Ault to examine the state of aviation during the war. His report held nothing back, blasting commanders for inferior combat tactics and training.

The Navy accepted the criticism and in 1969 ordered Capt. Ault to create the Navy Fighter Weapons School, the Top Gun academy where pilots go to hone skills before deploying at sea. He had the experience to get the job done, having served as a squadron and air wing commander before commanding the carrier USS Coral Sea.

Capt. Ault's Silver Wings chapter will hold a "celebration and remembrance" of the pilot's life on Sept. 28 at Fort Myer's Spates Hall. The remembrance will be lead by an old friend, retired Adm. Whitey Feightner.


I was appalled by the recent letter (read below) from Doris Mozley celebrating the death of Captain (USN Ret) Frank Ault. I was appalled that she would write it, and appalled that you (Navy Times) would dignify it by printing it. Times readers may know Ms. Mozley as an outspoken critic of the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA), and she is surely entitled to her right to speak her mind. Her right to speak out on a contentious law does not, however, give her the right to dance on the grave of this distinguished American.

Frank Ault was the quintessential “officer and gentleman” whose life was dedicated to the security of our nation and the welfare of those who defend it. It was my privilege that Frank Ault succeeded me as Executive Director of the American Retirees Association (ARA) and my honor to call him “friend.” His contributions to the nation in peace and war were enormous, and his keen intellect and leadership legendary.

I wonder what sort of vitriol animates Ms. Mozley’s irrational and wholly unwarranted attack, even in death, on this gentle and thoughtful professional? What credentials does Ms. Mozley bring to the table which empower her to take, post mortem, such cheap shots; even to opining that in Franks’s championing his ARA constituency the rest of his life‘s work was “negated”? If Ms. Mozley is reduced to misquoting and slandering the memory of this great American, she does a disservice to her cause and is revealed as a sad and bitter parody of the military wives she purports to represent.

Shame on her.

George W. Tate

Colonel, US Army, retired


"From the perspective of the Committee for Equality and Justice for the Military Wife, the last third of Capt. Ault's life, during which he fought justice in divorce for military wives, negates what service he provided the country in the decades before. He worked brilliantly and tirelessly to overturn The Former Spouses Protection Act so that the "throwaway military wife" system could be reinstated. Congress would have none of it.

During those 25 years when he worked to subvert FSPA, he gave as his reasons, among others, that military retired pay was not a pension, therefore not property that could be divided upon divorce. He mounted legal actions to have FSPA declared unconstitutional or, barring that, have Congress pick up the tab for wives' divorce settlements; he came up with novel schemes to divide the pension unfairly; in general, he gave selfish, divorced members who had to share their pensions with the wives - who had helped them earn those pensions - hope that they would be relieved of dividing fairly or at all at divorce.

If Capt. Ault had his way, many long-term military wives would have been denied their property - that is, their interest in the jointly earned pension - and many of these loyal, contributing military wives would be almost hungry today as a result of his energetic labor.

Doris Mozley"


Mozley's remarks entitle her to the role she empowers most, a beacon of bitterness, greed and an ability to offend with a mere utterance. Perhaps one day, those of us who have served honorably will be awarded our true dividends.

Chuck Thomes, USN/RET

Last updated 23 September 2006
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