‘Mud or Mustard’ by former RAAF F-18 Top Gun Ralph Petritsch

‘Mud or Mustard’ by former RAAF F-18 Top Gun Ralph Petritsch

You may well ask what the term ‘Mud or Mustard’ has to do with flying?

It does, in fact, have everything to do with being a fighter pilot. Well, these words form a key part of the catchcry echoed throughout the seat of air combat learning in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

This is the eighth article in a planned occasional series, sharing the most memorable and treasured experiences, not only from my own career : We plan to feature other, highly esteemed pilot friends and colleagues, who are only too willing to share their collective aviation experience.

Here, my great friend and colleague Ralph Petritsch, currently flying A330s, following an illustrious career as a fighter pilot and fighter combat instructor on the RAAF FA-18A ‘Hornet’ and USAF F-15E ‘Eagle‘ shares some valuable insights that we can all apply to our own life experiences. (Photo courtesy of RAAF Williamtown Photograhic Section © 1986)

RAAF Base Williamtown is situated just north of Newcastle on Australia’s east coast. It is there that the young men and women of Australia train to become a fighter pilot and where they strive to join the ranks of the RAAF’s airborne fighting elite.

The full catchcry:


These few words embody an ethos that is taken on as a core value for generations of young Australians who aspire to don the mantle of ‘fighter pilot’ within the RAAF. Like a commandment, it is an idea which forms a guiding principle to those who strap tonnes of metal and composite to their back and hurl themselves through space at speeds approaching those of a bullet. Their primary pursuit – excellence – air combat excellence.

The philosophy behind this curious phrase is as follows:

No matter what adversity you face – never give up. No matter how difficult your situation is or how insurmountable your odds seem – don’t relent. No matter how fearful your predicament or dire your situation – apply yourself, persist and commit to a successful outcome.

It may seem a little ‘gung-ho’, but this mindset is an essential one to have if you are to succeed in the incomprehensibly dynamic world of modern air combat. It is a world in which the earth tumbles violently around you, as you and your fighting-machine hurtle through the atmosphere at thousands of kilometres per hour, testing the very limits of pilot and machine, in an attempt to prosecute a designated target.

Some of the greatest air aces in history have attested to this way of thinking and affirmed that these principles were the difference, often, between success and failure in an air combat environment. That and perhaps the odd smattering of luck. Remember though, the harder you work – the luckier you get!

There is also the famous fighter pilot expression – ‘In air combat, there are no points for second place!’ Success in an air combat environment can be measured in many ways. Principally – you must win! Kill the bandit before he kills you and live to fight another day. Don’t die for your country, make the other pilot die for his!

In essence, these statements are fundamental truths, but the reality involves much, much more… Bring your weapons to bear on your chosen target efficiently and accurately. Prosecute your attack with conviction, without endangering yourself or your teammates. Maintain situational awareness of, and mutual support for, your wingman. A competent fighter pilot has to be effective, efficient, safe and reliable. I measured my own success as a fighter pilot against these core capabilities.

Adoption of, and belief in, the principles of ‘Mud or Mustard’ was instrumental in my success as a fighter pilot and has also had a profound impact on other areas of my life. This simple concept has provided inspiration during difficult times and become my benchmark attitude when tackling any challenges set before me. As I hope you’ll appreciate, being a fighter pilot is as much about this attitude, as it is about flying fast jets.

I am now long-retired from the RAAF and the outrageously dynamic world of air combat. However, my years of service to this great country taught me that with a commitment to sound processes, diligent application to training, focused attention to the execution of any task assigned to me and a determined attitude – ‘Mud or Mustard’ – anything is achievable.

Since leaving the Service, I have been drawn to people, practices and pursuits that apply the ‘Mud or Mustard’ philosophy. My love of flying has not waned and in furthering my aviation career, I have sought out the processes that are readily adaptable to the aforementioned attitude and which make the art of flying effective, efficient, safe and reliable.

One of the processes which I have found that lends itself well to the ‘Mud or Mustard’ concept is David Jacobson’s flare technique. It is simple to understand, precise, exacting and repeatable. As I have frequently found, if you take the time to read and understand a foolproof concept, practise it diligently and consistently apply it, it will serve you well and enhance your capabilities. I commend The Jacobson Flare to anyone who finds the practise of landing an aircraft a challenge or who, even if they have been landing successfully for years, just wants to better understand what they are doing and unlock the secret of how to execute landings with more finesse. Think of it as striving for – excellence – landing excellence!

Upon being made aware of the technique, by David himself, during one of my flights – crewing with him on a Boeing 737 – it was obvious to me that he had designed, developed and implemented a process that works. Every landing can be set up, executed and scrutinised later with accuracy and precision. The logical flow through: consistent and safe landings every time.

That I would adopt the Jacobson Flare as a standard tool in my flying toolbox was inevitable. It was right up my ‘fighter pilot alley‘. I have been using it ever since, on every landing, on every aeroplane that I have flown, from the smallest light sport aircraft through to the 250 tonne Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Don’t just take my word for it. Get the app, read it, apply it and, with a bit of ‘Mud or Mustard’, watch how your landing technique improves. Honestly, you’ll wonder why nobody had solved the landing riddle, the way David has, before now.

In summing up, I was fortunate to have experienced the ‘tip of the aviation spear’ during operations in the fighter world. But flying fighters was as much about adopting a positive mental attitude and applying good processes, as it was about flying fast jets. These characteristics carry through to everyday life and are relevant to any aircraft you might choose to fly. To be a fighter pilot, you have to fly fighters, but anyone can have a fighter pilot attitude:




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David Jacobson