Gen. Lloyd “Fig” Newton has a lot of fascinating stories to tell, having led a life of adventure and distinction serving his country.
He is a retired U.S. Air Force four-star general from South Carolina. He flew 269 combat missions in F-4s in the Vietnam War, 79 of them over North Vietnam. In 1974, he became the first African-American pilot to fly as a member of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds demonstration team.
Gen. Newton spoke about all of that and more in a Lunch and Learn lecture in June 2022 at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. Much of what he spoke about is included in his autobiography, Living the Dream, released in 2021.
As a boy, Newton’s dream was to serve in the military, although not as a pilot. “I didn’t know anything about airplanes growing up.” He never flew in one until he was in college at Tennessee State in Nashville. Why did he go out of state to college? Well, he also wanted to study mechanical engineering, and he couldn’t do that at home, because the University of South Carolina and Clemson weren’t integrated yet.
That first flight hooked him – “It was electrifying!” – and launched him on his life’s work. And while he was still at Tennessee State in 1964, he saw the Thunderbirds perform for the first time, and decided he would join them one day – which he did 10 years later.
He is thankful to have survived his grueling Vietnam service, during which he earned the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 17 Air Medals. Most of all, “I returned safely, unlike some of my colleagues, my friends.”
He was stationed in the Philippines next, and from there he applied for the first time to the Thunderbirds. He would have to apply twice more before he made it.
Later he served in Washington as an Air Force congressional liaison officer with the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the Pentagon a couple of times, at one point helping to develop such new aircraft as the F-22, the B-2 and the F-117 stealth attack plane.
But despite those stints of high-level desk duty, he had an extensive active career in the air. He was a command pilot with more than 4,000 flying hours in the T-37, T-38, F-4, F-15, F-16, C-12 and F-117.
The F-117 was a wonder, especially to a man who had flown the F-4 in combat. “It was designed for a very specific purpose. Get into enemy territory without being detected, and put bombs on target. It did that very, very well.”
When he flew F-4s, it would take between 25 and 100 bombs to take out a bridge. The F-117 carried two 2,000-pounders, which was all that was needed to do the job. “If you put that laser on the target … you would hit that target.”
He also served as director of operations of Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, working with SEALs, Delta Force and other elite outfits.
Today, Gen. Newton lives in Bluffton, S.C., just about 35 miles from his hometown of Ridgeland.
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