Samuel Carson Flynn, Jr. – Captain, United States Navy

Speed is life

Say those three words to almost any Navy fighter pilot and there will be a two-word response: Sam Flynn.

Flynn, who achieved near-legendary status during his 31-year flying career, coined the phrase in the 1970s when he devised a bold strategy for fighting, and it’s become the mantra for Navy pilots.

“Back during Vietnam, MIGs were shooting down a number of our planes,” said Danny Michaels, a former pilot and commanding officer of Oceana Naval Air Station. “Sam was an absolutely brilliant tactical pilot. He preached that speed was the answer to staying alive: Don’t ever let your speed drop.”

Samuel C. Flynn Jr. 1933-2005

To those who flew with him, Sam Flynn was “as good as they came.” During his 31-year career as a Navy fighter pilot, he flew more than 250 combat missions and made 1,175 aircraft carrier arrested landings. Flynn, who colleagues said “lived to fly,” was a flight simulator for 15 years after retiring. His funeral is scheduled for January 12, 2006, at Arlington National Cemetery.

When Flynn talked flying, pilots listened. He flew more than 250 combat missions in the F-4 Phantom, logged 1,175 aircraft carrier arrested landings, and shot down a MIG21 in a “high noon” dogfight.

He was awarded the Silver Star, five Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Navy Commendation Meals (with combat V). He died December 4, 2005, at age 72.

“He was a natural,” said Bill John, who flew more than 120 missions as a radar intercept officer with Flynn.

“He felt the airplane and intuitively understood flying. He knew where he was and where the other guy was going before he did.”

A North Carolina native and graduate of Wake Forest University, he taught math before joining the Navy in 1956. He later earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering.

“Sam was easygoing and liked to pass himself off as a country boy,” John said, “but he was one smart guy.”

Flynn saw speed as the key to better cornering to avoid pursuit, making for a more difficult target to hit, John said.

“Speed is life” was put to the test during one mission when Flynn’s squad encountered three MIGs over North Vietnam. After engaging two of the planes, Flynn saw the third coming in behind his wingman’s

6 o’clock.

“Sam turned on him and he started to run,” John said. “We fired one up his tailpipe.” Flynn’s F-4 now resides in the Smithsonian Ins titution.

Flynn, who commanded Fighter Squadron 31 and NAS Kingsville, Texas, was an F-14 flight simulator at Oceana for 15 years after retiring, teaching young pilots how to do it like he did.

Said Michaels: “He was the best fighter pilot there was.”


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 02/13/1933
  • DATE OF DEATH: 12/04/2005

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