Boyd, Trump and OODA Loops

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 1.57.09 PM

This very long article and this shorter one both talk about Donald Trump in light of the theories of fighter pilot/Air Force Colonel John Boyd, and specifically his idea about the OODA Loop.

OODA stands for:





Boyd says, whoever cycles through this loop faster wins the dogfight (or battle, orbusiness competition, or whatever).

It’s more complicated than that: see, for example, this version of Boyd’s own chart to describe his ideas:


For one thing, the goal isn’t just to get through your cycle faster.  It’s to screw up the other guy’s ability to get through his cycle.

In the longer version above about Trump, Dan McLaughlin makes the point that Trump, mainly via Twitter, is constantly messing with Bush and now Cruz’s abilities to observe, orient, decide and act.  Before they’ve even oriented he’s changing the whole landscape with some new outrageous thing like declaring he’s not gonna show up to the debate or whatever.

These guys, with their lumbering organizations of consultants and campaign managers, and their political limitations, just can’t orient, decide, or act with the speed and freedom Trump can.

Boyd is a fascinating dude.  I read once that he lived on basically a cot with no furniture because he decided the only ways to be truly free were either to be very wealthy or to have no material needs, and since he wasn’t gonna be wealthy he went full Spartan.

Seeing these articles convinced me it was finally time to pick up this book:


This book is fascinating, hats off to Robert Coram.  Let me tell you a bit about Boyd:

  • Boyd was considered the best fighter pilot of generation.  He could supposedly defeat anybody in forty seconds.  He was not humble about it either.
  • He had an insane appetite:


  • Although Boyd fought in the Korean War, he never shot down a MiG.  This was considered kind of a knock on him by other fighter pilots who had shot down MiGs.  But then again, everyone seems to agree Boyd was still the most badass or at least equally badass pilot around.
  • He proved this during his time at the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base outside of Vegas.  In Boyd’s heyday pilots looking to test their stuff would meet over “the green spot,” a rare patch of green in the Nevada desert, and practice dogfighting.  Corum says the green spot could easily be found by any pilot.  I went looking for a picture “green spot Nellis AFB” on Google, and in a development that would no doubt be distressing to Boyd found only medical marijuana stores.   Maybe it was something like this?:Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 10.05.12 PM
  • Boyd was not really one for going along with the chain of command:IMG_1740
  • Boyd did indeed believe in living in super Spartan fashion.  This was not always easy on his wife and five children, nor on his youngest son’s collection of dangerous spiders and snakes:IMG_1732
  • Boyd became obsessed with designing planes that would give the pilot the most possible options .  He spent huge amounts of his own time developing Energy Maneuverability charts for various airplanes.
  • He was infuriated and frustrated by the bureaucratic stupidities he discovered in the Air Force as he fought for what he believed to be superior airplane design.  Reading Coram’s book, you can’t help but agree with Boyd and get outraged right along with him.  For example, I did not have any idea that in the Vietnam War US planes were often found to be inferior to North Vietnamese planes: IMG_2108
  • Boyd also had strong opinions about pilot training:IMG_2107
  • There were a group of admirers/pupils/younger officers around Boyd called his Acolytes.  He would regularly call them at 2am and talk about Clausewitz and so on:IMG_1737 IMG_1739 IMG_1741
  • Sometimes Boyd could be weird: “When Boyd talked to someone at a party, he gave them 100 percet of his attention.  He did not look over the person’s shoulder to see who else was in the room.  But there were times at a party when Boyd might sit down and sleep for an hour or so.”
  • and:IMG_1746

Dick Cheney was impressed with Boyd, and says of him that Boyd “clearly was a factor in my thinking” about strategy in the first Gulf War.

On YouTube, you can see Boyd give the “Patterns Of Conflict” presentation that became famous in the military.  It’s hard to look at this and see this guy as the amazing badass he must’ve been.  Perhaps it was more compelling in person or the guy was no longer at the height of his presenting powers:

Maybe he just wasn’t made for YouTube.

There’s lots of bros obsessed with Boyd online, and he definitely seems like a real hero, a kind of American samurai.  All the Boyd acolytes talk about a speech Boyd would give about whether you want to “be somebody or do something”:


Something for all our candidates to think about!

Here’s another bit of advice for Trump’s opponents, especially:


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