|Warren Rice climbs into an F-100 fighter jet in 1969.|
Warren H. Rice flew "every airplane in the book, or at least every airplane that mattered," in a career that began during World War II and continued through the Korean War and Vietnam, collecting two Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC) along the way.
Rice was awarded his wings at Williams Army Airfield in Mesa when he was 18, reportedly soloing after just four flight hours. He was sent to fly the P-38 fighter in the South Pacific, during the height of World War II.
Later, he would fly jets like the F-86 Sabre over Korea and then 228 missions in the F-100 SuperSabre during the Vietnam Conflict.
Rice was known for a unique - and dangerous - technique for taking out anti-aircraft guns during his time in Vietnam: he would dive directly at the guns firing at him. It worked, and the enlisted men in his squadron presented him with a large wooden plaque proclaiming him "The greatest gun-killer in Vietnam."
His record in Vietnam resulted in the two DFC's and he was put up for a Silver Star as well.
Rice retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Colonel.
He built a house and moved to Chino Valley 36 years ago. For years, he hung out at the Prescott Municipal Airport, flying his homebuilt Harmon Rocket and doing what pilots call "hangar flying" - holding bull sessions with friends, talking about flying and airplanes.
One of those stories, recounted by friend Bill Kowalewski, described a time that Rice was assigned to give a check-out flight in the F-100 to a pilot new to fighter jets. Rice decided the man was simply not good enough and planned to send him back to the states, but reconsidered when the pilot broke down in tears and said that decision would keep him from being promoted.
Rice reasoned that he, himself, had made a similar plea after he repeatedly became airsick at the beginning of his flight career, and, after he was approved to fly, the airsickness stopped.
He passed the pilot, and he began flying the F-100.
"Not long after that, this pilot was on a bombing mission and pulling off a target when one of his heavy bombs failed to release from the wing pylon," Kowalewski said. The pilot lost control of the jet and it crashed into the jungle, killing him.
Those are the kind of stories pilots tell.
Kowalewski said Rice flew "every airplane in the book, or at least every airplane that mattered," and while that's a bit of an exaggeration, Rice certainly flew a lot of aircraft during his military career.
Although he had many adventures, Rice "never bragged about his heroics as a pilot or a defender of our freedom," Wayne Marshall, a retired USMC pilot, said.
Rice enjoyed flying with friends during his retirement. Jeff Weisel flew his plane alongside Rice's, and, he said, "I am no fighter pilot, but Warren had me doing things in my plane that I never would have done. He was an amazing pilot."
In 2011, the City of Glendale restored for public display an F-100D that Rice had flown and he was on hand for its dedication at Bonsall Park.
Warren H. Rice died on April 8 in Chino Valley. He was 88.
Kowalewski said he'd once asked Rice if he was ever really scared during his combat flying career. Rice told him he'd been afraid many times, but "I always knew I wouldn't get killed in an airplane."
He was right.