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Overview of WWI Aviation on the 99th Anniversary of Armistice Day

billy mitchell charles nungesser eddie rickenbacker ernst udet eugene bullard frank luke georges guynemer mick mannock raoul lufbery red baron

Where Are They Now?

On November 11th, 1917, with one year to go of the war, here's a snapshot of who was where in aviation. 

Billy Bishop had, a few months ago, discovered he could shoot down enemy aircraft very easily while they were still taking off. He would become the fourth highest scoring ace of the war. But at this point he had just returned to Canada on leave, gotten married, and was now helping America build its air force. He would return to combat in April.

Eugene Bullard had just finished his service with Escadrille SPA 85; unlike many white pilots of the Lafayette Flying Corps, would be prevented from transferring to similar service with American forces.  Would survive the war, stay in France, and become even more of a French national hero in the next world war.

Rene Fonck succeeded to the title of top French ace after Guynemer's death a few weeks ago, becoming renowned for his precise and premeditated approach to aerial victories that eventually put him as second overall ace after the Red Baron.

Arthur Gould Lee, self-described fighter pilot of no repute, author of No Parachute, a collection of his letters to his wife during the war. Recently tried flying Camels for the first time. After a recent leave, found himself missing the war - the excitement, the danger, the companions who didn't just talk about, but really understood the meaning of the word bravery. On November 11th 1917, witnessed the "nastiest crash" he had ever seen, when the wings collapsed on a low-flying aircraft and the two aviators were thrown out, landing twenty yards away from him. "To see chaps killed in this way hits us much more than to see them shot down in a fight (except flamers)." 

Raoul Lufbery was famous by this point and thus was avoiding the public more than ever. His hobbies were picking wild mushrooms and playing with the squadron mascot lions Whiskey and Soda. Over the next year he would introduce Doug Campbell and Eddie Rickenbacker to combat, and die in a fall - or a jump - from his burning aircraft not quite a month after the Red Baron was killed.

Frank Luke, like many future famous US names in aviation, was at this point still in pilot training in the US. In the next year he would become famous for seventeen days during which he shot down fourteen balloons and four airplanes, at the end of which he was killed in a shootout on the ground.

Mick Mannock was currently about halfway through his total combat flying time and would soon be sent to England to rest for a while, but would shortly return, dying in July 1918 after becoming the highest-scoring British ace and a respected flight leader known for his hatred of Germans. 

Billy Mitchell was already arguing for more intelligent use of the air force, saying that the Air Service was being run with just as much knowledge as a "hog knows about skating". Within the next year he would develop the air power theory and strategy to command the biggest air offensive of the war.

Charles Nungesser, rowdier than Fonck, could at this point well have become the successor to Guynemer but was not promoted in the role as Fonck was. Would shortly take leave to get married and honeymoon over Christmas 1917, then continue his career of racking up air victories and breaking skull, jaw, arm, and leg bones in the process. Would survive the war but be killed in an effort to fly the Atlantic just ahead of Charles Lindbergh.

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, had five months and a few days to live and score the last 19 of his 80 victories. "I am in wretched spirits after every aerial battle. But that no doubt is an aftereffect of my head wound."

Eddie Rickenbacker was currently engineering officer at the training base at Issoudun, taking any chance he could to practice flying. Rickenbacker would not get into combat for months yet, and would score his first victory a few days after the death of von Richthofen.

Ernst Udet was currently leading a squadron. In March 1918 he would be hand-picked by the Red Baron himself to join the the Richthofen group. "There are many good squadrons on the front, but there is only one Richthofen group." In 1918 he would become one of the first pilots to survive a crash via a parachute. After Richthofen's death, he would fly under the command of Hermann Goering



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