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Handley, Philip Winston

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April 9, 1935 - March 1, 2019

Handley, Philip Winston

On March 1, 2019, (Ret.) Col. Philip Winston Handley, loving husband and father, passed away at 83, in his home in Gainesville, Texas.  Phil was born April 9, 1935, in Wellington, Texas to Bura and Lila Handley.  He attended the University of Texas prior to enlisting in the United States Air Force.  He met and later married Solvejg Fletterman on September 1, 1961 in Everuex France while attending pilot training.  They raised two children, Philip Jr. and Andrea.

He dreamed of becoming an Army Air Corp fighter pilot from the first moment he saw pictures of the great piston driven fighters of World War II.

Phil earned his commission and wings through the Aviation Cadet program in 1959. He was a distinguished graduate from pilot training, fighter upgrade training and instructor pilot’s school. He “flew the line” for all but eleven months of a twenty-six-year career, during which he accumulated over 7,000 flying hours in aircraft vintages F-86 Sabre through F-15 Eagle, including an early career stint in the C-130A Hercules. He flew 275 combat missions during two tours in Southeast Asia in the F-4D and F-4E. During his career he commanded the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, was Chief of USAFE Standardization and Evaluation, was the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing Deputy Commander for Operations, and Commanding Officer of the 405th Tactical Training Wing. He is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and the U.S. Army War College. Phil was a member of The Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association (River Rats), and a MiG Killer credited with the highest speed air-to-air gun kill in the history of aviation. Upon his retirement in 1984, his awards included 21 Air Medals, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and the Silver Star.

He also authored the memoir Nickel on the Grass: Reflections of a U.S. Air Force Pilot in 2006, was inducted into the Gathering of Eagles Foundation in 2011 and was awarded the Master Air Pilot Certificate by the Grand Master Prince Andrew of England in 2015.

He was an avid golfer and cherished time spent with friends, family, and his dog Cookie.  He is survived by his wife Solvejg, son Philip and daughter Andrea.

He will be buried, with military honors, on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, at the Dallas Forth Worth National Cemetery, 2000 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas, Texas 75211.

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S A Steve Haktanir

July 18, 2021 9:50AM

I just learned Col.Phil Handley's flying West haphazardly on i-net. I met him over twenty years ago when I was a member of the Air Force Association, Midland, TX chapter.
My late condolences to his family and USAF community.Rest in peace Col.Phil.


Dave Falica

September 25, 2020 9:29AM

I worked for colonel Handley at bitburg Air Force base for months in 1973 as his admin clerk what l noticed so special about him way his kindness toward everyone and as an enlisted person he always invited me and Sylvia, my wife to his parties a truly great man and always a giant among men and fighter pilots


Collin Jones

March 05, 2020 11:23PM

An amazing man that I truly worshipped...Rest Well Mr.Phil... you were one of the best!


Carlo Tomasulo

October 02, 2019 12:39PM

I never met Col. Handley, but I read of his exploits and his bravery. He protected his wingman, and no one could ask more of a pilot. Rest in peace, Sir.


Thomas Sparr

May 10, 2019 12:23PM

I met Phil in 1960 when we assigned to C-130As at Evreux-Fauville AB, France. The base, NW of Paris was a hardship tour for all us single guys. Phil & I & 5 other Herc pilots were the original "Chateau Gang". Ref: Nickle
on the Grass". We served together until 1965, when Phil was assigned to fighters. We kept in touch and I was glad to learn of his successes. I know his family is very proud of him, I send my condolences to Solvejg and family.


Bob Keeney "Keeneye"

May 08, 2019 9:38AM

“Hands” was one of most influential leaders I met in my 20 year Air Force career. At Bitburg Air Base, as we were developing tactics for our new generation F-15 Eagle, “Hands,” as Commander of the “Big 22,” turned his Squadron into a formidable air-to-air force. When most commanders concentrated on administration and were personally somewhat removed from the basic mission, Phil Handley was probably the best air-to-air pilot in his Squadron and, possibly, our entire Wing of 100 pilots. Many of the great flying lessons we learned in the 36th TFW were passed on with the words “Hands taught me that.” His concentration on aerial excellence was inspiring to all of us, especially at a time when Air Force leadership was increasingly preoccupied with non-flying duties, or “queep,” as the pilots referred to it. I was again privileged to be in his Wing, and to fly with him, when he was Commander of the 405th Tactical Training Wing at Luke AFB. He never lost sight of our mission; to train the world’s best fighter pilots, and he didn’t let any of us forget that mission. Entire generations of fighter pilots who never met “Hands” owe a great debt to his legacy. His book “Nickel on the Grass,” is a fascinating look at his experiences and his outlook on life. He never bragged about his aerial prowess, he demonstrated it; and he lived an incredible life journey with a enormous sense of gratitude and wonder. His family should be extremely proud. “A Nickel on the Grass” for you, Colonel Phil Handley, our leader, mentor and friend.


Kent D Johnson

April 28, 2019 1:11PM

I met Hands in Big Spring, Texas. I knew of him because of his remarkable career in the Air Force, too include achieving the highest airspeed air-to-air gun kill in the history of aviation.
A master of his craft, a powerful writer and a dedicated proud patriot, "Hands" was an inspiration to all who knew him. We are diminished by his passing and this great nation lost a true fighter pilot and hero.


Aadu and Mary Sue Karemaa

March 29, 2019 2:23PM

We met Phil and Solvejg at the Army War College and became instant friends. Phil was a dedicated American patriot, a true gentleman, loyal to his friends, and a loving husband and father.

He was also a great fighter pilot. When he met a North Vietnamese fighter pilot in the air over North Vietnam, it became immediately clear that Phil was not only a much better pilot but also a master of air to air tactics. It was no contest. Less known are his contributions in the area of Military Operational Art. At the height of the Cold War, he wrote the highly rated NATO air campaign plan against the Pact forces.

He was the very best. He will be missed by all who had the good fortune to know him.


Charlie & Betty Williams

March 07, 2019 4:34PM

We knew Phil and Solvejg at Elgin and Bitburg. Our sincere condolences to the Handley Family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.


Ken & Lonnie Peichel

March 07, 2019 3:16PM

My sympathies to you and your family Phil was a great neighbor and friend we had a few games of golf together.