Graduate School of Engineering & Management

Lt Col Donald Nichols, USAF, Retired

Mr. Donald C. Nichols, Lt Col, USAF, Ret
M.S. Systems Analysis, 1970
Distinguished Graduate

Donald Nichols graduated from AFIT at Wright-Patterson AFB in June of 1970 with a master’s degree in Systems Analysis.  He was then assigned to the Operations Analysis office at 7th Air Force Headquarters, Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam.  The mission of this office was the analysis and documentation of the air war in Southeast Asia (SEA). 

In addition to conducting analysis of weapons systems results, the office was responsible for writing and publishing “Commando Hunt Five,” the history of the air war in SEA in 1970.  In addition to writing several sections of the 450-page document along with 18 other analysts, Nichols was assigned the task of editing the final version.  When the report was finalized, he took it to the Army printing plant in Japan for printing.  Upon completion, he brought the first 10 copies back to 7th Air Force, delivered it to General Lucius D. Clay Jr., 7th AF Commander, who immediately flew with it to Washington, D.C. to present it to the Air Staff.

Gen Clay received a detailed briefing on the air war every Saturday, and Nichols was given the job of developing this briefing each week. He was the officer who interfaced with the 7th AF computer system, which contained the inputs from all the organizations within the command.  This was the source that provided most of the data for the briefing.  Nichols put together an hour-long briefing each week, and his commander, the head of the Operations Analysis office, presented the briefing to Gen Clay and his staff. This briefing covered every aspect of the air war, and as a result, Nichols became very familiar with what was going on throughout the theater of operations.  Some individuals had very boring jobs in SEA, but developing this briefing was certainly not boring.

Dr. Enzer, one of the professors at AFIT, conducted two courses in economics for Nichols’ class, and in one phase he discussed the Cobb-Douglas function.  He really liked the Cobb-Douglas!  Colonel Herman Gilster, one of the analysts in Nichols’ office at the 7th AF, was doing a special study of the air war for Gen Clay, and the basis for his analysis was the Cobb-Douglas function.  Nichols passed this information back to AFIT, and it eventually was given to Dr. Enzer who invited Col Gilster back to AFIT to discuss his work with this mathematical model and how it was used in analyzing the Air Force’s bombing effectiveness on the Ho Chi Minh trail. 

After his tour in SEA, Nichols was assigned to the Tactical Air Warfare Center (TAWC) at Eglin AFB, Florida.  One of his assignments at Eglin was in the air-delivered ground sensor program, a system that was used extensively in SEA to monitor the vehicle traffic from the North that was supporting the ground war in South Viet Nam.  Nichols was also assigned to Combat Echo, the program that had responsibility for the air-to-air missile-firing program at Eglin.  All F-4 crews and planes within TAWC would rotate into Eglin for extensive training in the air-to-air mission.  Drones would be launched out over the Gulf of Mexico from Tyndall AFB at Panama City, and the F-4 aircrews would fly intercept missions and fire AIM-9 and AIM-7 air-to-air missiles at the drones.  Not only was this excellent training for the F-4 crews, but it also allowed Nichols and his co-workers to compile statistics and compute the probability of kill for these missile types.

After Eglin, Nichols was assigned to the Operations Analysis shop at Headquarters, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, in 1974.  Here, his analysis background was used in evaluating weapons systems.  Much of Nichols’ time was spent in evaluating Air Force operations in South Korea, and in 1977, General Jones, Commander in Chief, USAF, directed PACAF to develop a detailed briefing of our air capability in South Korea.  Nichols and his co-workers produced a 3-hour briefing named “Checkmate West,” which looked at our strengths and weaknesses should the USAF become involved in a second war in Korea.  Nichols was the Blue Team chief on this study, and for the next 3 years our results were briefed to the fighter units in WESTPAC, and in Washington, DC, to members of the Air Staff.  General Jones directed that all dignitaries (congressmen and flag officers) traveling to Korea stop at HQ PACAF and receive this briefing. 

Nichols retired at PACAF the last day of 1979, after 25 years of Air Force service.  He then went to work for Ling Temco Vaught (LTV), as an analyst under contract to the Navy on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor.  The Navy wanted a fighter pilot with analysis experience to work on the Commander 3rd Fleet staff.  In this capacity, Nichols developed tactics for the Navy’s F-14 fighters and spent many days out on the Pacific Fleet carriers, observing fighter operations and improving procedures for the air defense of the carrier battle groups.  Not many analysts got to go to work via boat to get to their office!  Nichols was eventually transferred to LTV’s offices in Arlington, Texas, and his division was purchased by Lockheed Martin.  In this job, he analyzed various weapons systems, including aircraft and missiles.  Nichols retired from Lockheed Martin in December of 1999, after 20 years with the company. 

Nichols says, “The last 25 years of my career were very interesting and challenging, and the opportunities I was given were in a large part due to the education and training I received while I was at AFIT.  I can’t say conducting analysis was as thrilling as flying fighters, but I certainly enjoyed all phases of my Air Force and follow-on civilian careers.”

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