Friday, October 18, 2013

The Friday Flyby - 18 October

94th Aero Squadron S.P.A.D. XIII
Wright-Patterson AFB Museum
When I was young I thrilled to hear about the exploits of the World War One flying aces. But it always disappointed me that the American aces were so few. In school we learned only of three: Eddie Rickenbacker, Douglas Campbell and Frank Luke, the "Balloon Buster" from Arizona. Of course, these days I doubt the kids hear anything about the men who fought in World War One.

But there are the things which one learns in school (which are NOT always accurate) and then there are the things one learns later in life.

Did you know that there were 15 American pilots with 13 or more aerial victories? Did you know that Douglas Campbell, whom I learned of in school, "only" had six aerial victories. His claim to fame is that he was the very first American ace. (I put "only" in quotes because shooting down another aircraft is not an easy thing to do. Doing it six times is amazing in and of itself. More? Only the truly great pilots pull that off.)

Did you also know that two of those 15 airmen were brothers? Yes indeed, the Iaccaci brothers, August and Paul. Both of whom shot down 17 enemy aircraft. Two brothers accounting for 34 downed enemy flyers!

Major Edward V. Rickenbacker
"Fast Eddie"
Medal of Honor
26 Aerial Victories
1890 - 1973

From Wikipedia:
When, in 1917, the United States declared war on Germany, Rickenbacker had enlisted in the United States Army and was soon training in France with some of the first American troops. He arrived in France on June 26, 1917 as a Sergeant First Class.

Most men chosen for pilot training had college degrees and Rickenbacker had to struggle to gain permission to fly because of his perceived lack of academic qualifications. Because of his mechanical abilities, Rickenbacker was assigned as engineering officer at the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun, the US Air Service's pursuit training facility, where he practiced flying during his free time. He learned to fly well, but because his skills were so highly valued, Rickenbacker's superiors tried to prevent him from attaining his wings with the other pilots.

Rickenbacker demonstrated that he had a qualified replacement, and the military awarded him a place in one of America's air combat units, the 94th Aero Squadron, informally known as the "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron after its insignia. Originally he flew the Nieuport 28, at first without armament. On April 29, 1918, Rickenbacker shot down his first plane. On May 28, he claimed his fifth to become an ace. Rickenbacker was awarded the French Croix de Guerre that month for his five victories.

On May 30, he scored his sixth victory. It would be his last for three and a half months. He developed an ear infection in July which almost ended his flying career and grounded him for several weeks. He shot down Germany's hottest new fighter, the Fokker D.VII, on September 14 and another the next day.

On September 24, 1918, now a captain, he was named commander of the squadron, and on the following day, he claimed two more German planes, for which he was belatedly awarded the Medal of Honor in 1931 by President Herbert Hoover. After claiming yet another Fokker D.VII on September 27, he became a balloon buster by downing observation balloons on September 28, October 1, October 27, and October 30, 1918. 
Thirteen more wins followed in October, bringing his total to thirteen Fokker D.VIIs, four other German fighters, five highly defended observation balloons, and only four of the easier two-seated reconnaissance planes.

The military determined ace status by verifying combat claims by a pilot, but confirmation, too, was needed from ground witnesses, affirmations of other pilots, or observation of the wreckage of the opposing enemy aircraft. If no witnesses could be found, a reported kill was not counted. It was an imperfect system, dependent on the frailties of human observation, as well as vagaries of weather and terrain. Most aces' records are thus 'best estimates', not 'exact counts'. Nevertheless, Rickenbacker's 26 victories remained the American record until World War II.

Rickenbacker flew a total of 300 combat hours, reportedly more than any other US pilot in the war.

When Rickenbacker learned of the Armistice, he flew an airplane above the western front to observe the ceasefire and the displays of joy and comradeship, as the formerly warring troops crossed the front lines and joined in the celebrations.
Eddie Rickenbacker and his aircraft

Captain Francis W. Gillet
Distinguished Flying Cross
20 Aerial Victories
1895 - 1969

From Wikipedia:
He was born in Baltimore, Maryland on 28 November 1895. He graduated from the University of Virginia before joining the U.S. Army Signal Corps as an aviation cadet. After preliminary flight training, he was given a conditional discharge as too young to be commissioned an officer. He then enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (soon Royal Air Force) in Canada using the name Frederick. There he finished his basic flight training, received his pilot's wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant. In England, after receiving advanced training as a fighter pilot, he was assigned to No. 79 Squadron in France on 29 March 1918.
The squadron was flying the Sopwith Dolphin, an unusual biplane distinguished by its "negative stagger" wing arrangement, a type Gillet had not flown before. After becoming acclimated to the Dolphin and honing his combat skills, he scored his first victory in August. From then to November 1918, Gillet was credited with 17 German airplanes and three observation balloons, all assessed as destroyed. The 100% ratio of destroyed was extremely unusual, as most British Commonwealth aces had numerous "out of control" credits.
Though he flew exclusively with the British, Gillet's record of 20 victories ranked him second among all American fliers in the Great War, behind Eddie Rickenbacker. He was promoted to captain and served for a short time as the commanding officer of his squadron. His decorations include the British Distinguished Flying Cross and bar and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.
The Sopwith Dolphin

Captain Harold A. Kullberg
Distinguished Flying Cross
19 Aerial Victories
1896 - 1924

From Wikipedia:
He was born on 10 September 1896 in Somerville, Massachusetts.

He joined No. 1 Squadron RFC in May 1918. He was an immediate success flying the RAF SE.5a, scoring pairs of victories on 27 and 28 May, 1 and 9 June. His next victory, his ninth, was over an observation balloon. He continued scoring apace through June and July. August and September brought his final five victories, all over German Fokker D.VIIs. The wingmen of his final victory on 16 September 1918 pursued him and inflicted three leg wounds on him. Kullberg sat out the rest of the war. It took six months for Kullberg to heal. He served until his release from service in July 1919.

Kullberg became involved in civil aviation. He even made the nation's first arrest for violation of air traffic rules. On 3 November 1923, Kullberg chased down someone who was stunt flying over an urban area, landed with them, and arrested them.

He became president of the Akron Aeronautical Association.

On 5 August 1924, he died in an air crash while instructing a student pilot.
The SE-5A
(An Old AF Sarge Favorite!)

Now for two men who are among my favorites. Neither of whom survived the war. Yet their names and their courage will ring throughout eternity.

Major Gervais Raoul Lufbery
Legion d'Honneur
16 Aerial Victories
1885 - 1918
Killed in Action at 33 Years Old

From Wikipedia:
Raoul Lufbery was born in Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, France to American Edward Lufbery and a French mother. Lufbery's father was an American chemist working for a Parisian chocolate company and Raoul was his third son by his French wife. When Lufbery was one, his mother died and his father returned to America, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother in France. Lufbery ran away from his grandparent's home at 17, and travelled to such places as Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, the Balkans, and Turkey. Lufbery served in the United States Army from 1907–1909 and saw service in the Philippines. After his time with the US Army, he saw India, Japan, and China. In 1912, Lufbery traveled to French Indochina, where he took a job as a mechanic for French aviation pioneer Marc Pourpe. When war broke out in France, Pourpe joined the French Air Force (Aéronautique Militaire) as a pilot. Meanwhile, Lufbery joined the Foreign Legion and later transferred into the Aéronautique Militaire as a mechanic. Pourpe's death in a crash ignited Lufbery's desire for revenge and he applied for pilot's training.
In 1916, a group of American volunteers formed the Escadrille Américaine (shortly to be renamed N-124 Escadrille Lafayette) to aid France’s war effort against the Germans. The squadron was renamed at the request of the American Secretary of War after heavy protest from Germany that an American squadron was a violation of the United States' neutrality. The squadron was largely made up of upper-class Americans with little flight experience. Lufbery, as an American citizen with aeronautics experience, was recruited and joined the unit on 24 May 1916 and was assigned a Nieuport fighter.

However, his first encounters with his unit members did not go smoothly. Lufbery spoke English with a thick French accent and had little in common with his comrades, most of whom were from wealthy families and were Ivy League educated. Once in combat, though, his dogged determination and success earned him the respect and admiration of his peers. One night while the squadron was resting in Paris, a fellow pilot bought a lion which had been born on a boat from Africa. After taking him around Paris, the pilots attempted to take "Whiskey", so named for the cub's affinity for drinking a saucer full of whiskey, aboard a passenger train after receiving orders to ship out to Luxeuil. Although assured that the lion was harmless, the conductor was inclined to believe otherwise after Whiskey roared and attempted to bite his finger. Two Escadrille pilots were then inclined to stay behind to crate up the animal and bring him the next day. Lufbery raised this lion, named Whiskey, for several years. Later, Whiskey got another lion playmate, named Soda since she got on so well with Whiskey, as the pilots felt the lion needed a female companion. Soda was much wilder than Whiskey and would spit and claw at anyone who came near, with the notable exception of Lufbery. Although both the animals were fond of Lufbery, Whiskey followed him around the aerodrome like a pet dog. Eventually the pair were taken to a Paris Zoo.

His first victory came on 30 July 1916 over Verdun. By 12 October 1916, he had downed five enemy planes, making him an ace, and earning him a promotion to adjutant. It was during this time that the "Lufbery circle" maneuver became named for him. Although most aviation scholars agree that Lufbery did not actually invent the maneuver, it was popularized among Allied flyers. In addition, according to Eddie Rickenbacker in his book, Fighting the Flying Circus, Lufbery is attributed with inventing the precursor to the modern airport flight pattern. Prior to Lufbery's influence, planes would fly in and land in any direction on the field, based on their needs and wind direction which caused confusion, near misses, and collisions. Lufbery, at the time commander of the 94th Squadron, directed that all approaching aircraft would circle the field at least twice before landing, watching for others taking off or landing. This process eventually became the "Down Wind, Base, and Final" standard airport pattern that pilots use every day in VFR flight.
He was commissioned in the United States Army Air Service in late 1917 with the rank of Major. He had claimed 16 air kills by this time, with another unconfirmed. Most of his victories were solo, though he had shared one each with fellow aces Victor Sayaret, Paul Malavialle, and Achille Rousseaux.

In the spring of 1918, Lufbery was chosen to become the commanding officer of the yet-unformed 94th Aero Squadron with the rank of major. Lufbery’s principal job was to instruct the new pilots such as Eddie Rickenbacker in combat techniques. The United States Army Air Service was equipped with Nieuport 28 fighters, but due to supply problems, many lacked armament. The 94th’s first combat patrol on 6 March 1918, saw Lufbery leading Rickenbacker and fellow flyer Doug Campbell in unarmed airplanes. Lufbery had unconfirmed claims in April 1918, on the 12th and the 27th, while leading 94 Squadron.
On 19 May 1918, Lufbery took off in his Nieuport 28 in an attempt to intercept a German Rumpler reconnaissance machine near to the 94th's home airfield. Closing in to attack, the German gunner's fire hit the Nieuport.

What happened next has been a matter of debate. At an altitude variously estimated between 200 and 600 feet, Lufbery was said to have jumped out of the plane, either to avoid a fiery death or as an attempt to land in the nearby Moselle River, rather than being thrown from the cockpit after it flipped over above the village of Mâron. His falling body struck a metal garden picket fence, causing his death. However on-site research by Royal D. Frey of the National Museum of the United States Air Force (then the Air Force Museum) established in 1962 that witnesses on the ground below the action saw the plane, not burning, flip over, and Lufbery was thrown out due to unfastening his seat belt to clear a jam in his machine gun during his final fight. The German aircrew -a Rumpler-crew of Reihenbildzug Nr. 3, Gefr. Kirschbaum and Lt. Scheibe-were then shot down and captured.

Lufbery was buried with full military honors at the Aviators Cemetery at Sebastapol, France. His remains were later removed to a place of honor at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches in Paris. Although he received credit for only 17 victories in his career, his fellow pilots related many instances when he shot down German planes that he was not credited for. His actual number of victories has been unofficially estimated at anywhere between 25 and 60.
That's Lufbery under the lion cub!

The Nieuport 28
94th Aero Squadron

1st Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr.
Medal of Honor (Posthumous)
18 Aerial Victories
1897 - 1918
Killed in Action at 21 Years Old

From Wikipedia:
Frank Luke Jr. (May 19, 1897 – September 29, 1918) was an American fighter ace, ranking second among U.S. Army Air Service pilots after Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in number of aerial victories during World War I (Rickenbacker was credited with 26 victories, while Luke's official score was 18). Frank Luke was the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor. Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, a U.S. Air Force pilot training installation since World War II, is named in his honor.

Luke was born May 19, 1897 in Phoenix, Arizona after his family emigrated from Germany to America in 1873 and settled in Arizona. Frank was his family's fifth child, and he grew up excelling in sports, working in copper mines, and participating in bare-knuckle boxing matches. Following America's entry into World War I in April 1917, Frank enlisted in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps on September 25, 1917, and received pilot training in Texas and California. After being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1918, he deployed to France for further training, and in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron. Although Luke was still a second lieutenant at the time of his death, Stephen Skinner's book "The Stand" notes that he later received a posthumous promotion to first lieutenant.

Because of his arrogance and his occasional tendencies to fly alone and to disobey orders, Luke was disliked by some of his peers and superiors. But the 27th was under standing orders to destroy German observation balloons. Because of this, Luke, along with his close friend Lt. Joseph Frank Wehner, continually volunteered to attack these important targets despite the fact that they were heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns on the ground. The two pilots began a remarkable string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Wehner flying protective cover. Wehner was killed in action on September 18, 1918, in a dogfight with Fokker D.VIIs which were attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two of these D.VIIs and two balloons, thereby achieving his 13th official kill - a Halberstadt C type observation plane of 'Flieger Abteilung' 36.

Between September 12 and September 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes: These 18 victories, which Luke earned during just ten sorties in eight days, was a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War I.

Luke's final flight took place during the first phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On September 28, after achieving his 14th and 15th victories, he landed his SPAD XIII at the French aerodrome at Cicognes where he spent the night, claiming engine trouble. When he returned to the 1st Pursuit Group's base at Rembercourt the next day, he was confronted by Lt. Grant, his squadron's commanding officer (C.O.). Despite being under threat of arrest by Grant for being AWOL, Luke took off without authorization and flew to a forward airbase at Verdun, where his sympathetic Group commander, Major Hartney, cancelled the arrest order and gave Luke tacit approval to continue his balloon hunting. That evening Luke flew to the front to attack three balloons in the vicinity of Dun-sur-Meuse, six miles behind the German lines. He first dropped a message to a nearby U.S. balloon company, alerting them to observe his imminent attacks. Luke shot down the enemy balloons, but was then severely wounded by a single machinegun bullet fired from a hilltop above him, a mile east of the last balloon site he had attacked. Luke landed in a field just west of the small village of Murvaux- after strafing a group of German soldiers on the ground - near the Ruisseau de Bradon, a stream leading to the Meuse River. Although weakened by his wound, he made his way toward the stream, intending to reach the cover of its adjacent underbrush, but finally collapsed some 200 meters from his airplane. Approached by German infantry, Luke drew his Colt Model 1911 pistol and fired a few rounds at his attackers before dying. Reports that a day later his body was found with an empty gun and a bullet hole in his chest, with seven dead Germans in front of him were proven erroneous. According to author Skinner, the fatal bullet, fired from the hilltop machine gun position, had entered near Luke's right shoulder, passed through his body, and exited from his left side.

On September 30 the Germans buried Luke in the Murvaux cemetery, from where his body was retrieved two months later by American forces. His final resting place is the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, located east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon.

After the US Army obtained sworn testimony from French and American sources, Luke was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. The presentation was made to Frank Luke, Sr., in Phoenix in May 1919. The family later donated the medal to the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. The Museum's small exhibit honoring Lt Frank Luke also contains his flying goggles, the gunsight from his last SPAD, documents written by Luke, and other personal items. The Museum's Early Years Gallery displays a fully restored SPAD XIII of the type flown by Luke.

Eddie Rickenbacker said of Luke: "He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that."
Scratch one balloon!

Frank Luke, Down - But not out of the fight!

Frank Luke, Fighter Pilot

Lt Luke's Final Resting Place
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

American World War One
Fighter Squadrons

Rickenbacker Over the Front


  1. Thanks juvat. These guys were my first heroes.

    1. Mine too. First Model I ever built was of Rickenbacker's Spad. Pulling all that thread almost broke me of the hobby. But, man, was I cool shooting down the Huns after that!

    2. I didn't have a SPAD, kid brother did though. But I had at least 3 SE-5As. Not sure why I loved that particular aircraft so much.

      And still do!

  2. A most excellent tribute to men who were real men.

    1. Thanks Murph. (Back when flying was really seat o' the pants!)

  3. The best looking blog on the internet!

  4. I love these blogs, especially the personal touches. Par example, the lion that Raoul Lufberry raised. ...and Frank Luke's 'independent' personality. I tend to think of these WWI soldiers ( and pilots) as dullards, but Prof. Old AFSarge sets me straight!

    1. Too often history is taught by those who's love of history dulls over the years in the face of so many uncaring students.

      I went with the WSO's middle school class to Waterloo as their guide (knowing a thing or three about that battle). Her teacher was a great guy, loved history and tried to pass that love onto his students. The WSO remembers him fondly. As do I.

      At the battlefield, precisely five people listened to my spiel on the battle: the teacher, the WSO and three other students. The rest all wanted to hang out in the gift shop and flirt with each other.


      So that's why these men and women come down to us as you mentioned. History is sometimes taught by dullards. I don't blame them though, if they didn't at some point love history, they wouldn't be teaching it. But the system wears them down.


  5. Where can we obtain a copy of the Rickenbacker over the front? Our son is doing a Veterans museum display here in AR - thanks

    1. All of the Rickenbacker images are in the public domain according to my sources.

      The ones I used above are from Wikipedia:


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)