- List of World War I flying aces
The following is a list of World War I flying aces. A
flying aceis a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraftduring aerial combat. The term was first used by French newspapers, describing Adolphe Pegoud, as "l'as" after he downed five German aircraft.
Different air services had different methods of assigning credit for kills. The German "
Luftstreitkräfte" credited "confirmed" victories only for enemy planes assessed as destroyed or captured after either examining the enemy aircraft (or what was left of it) on the ground, or the capture or confirmed death of enemy aircrew. British pilots, often on offensive patrol many miles over the German lines, were not in a position to confirm that an apparently destroyed enemy aircraft had in fact crashed, so that victories were claimed as "driven down", "forced to land", or "out of control". The United States Army Air Servicefollowed a similar practice.
The Germans did not use the term 'ace' but referred to German pilots who had achieved 10 kills as "Überkanone" and publicized their names and scores, for the benefit of civilian morale. The
British Empire, after 1916, automatically awarded the Military Crossto a pilot with five air combats endorsed as "decisive" by the commanding officer of his squadron, although the term "ace" was never used officially by the British.
Another feature of the German system was that where several pilots attacked and destroyed a single enemy, only one pilot (often the formation leader) was credited with the kill. Most other nations adopted the French "
Armee de l'Air" system of granting full credit to every pilot or aerial gunner participating in a victory, which could sometimes be six or seven individuals.
The number of victories reported for any pilot are usually open for contention. Besides the differing methods of assessing combat reports, there were many factors that led to uncertainty as to whether or not a fallen aircraft had been removed from action. In the swirling chaos of a dogfight, a scoring pilot could be distracted by enemy fire, fear of midair collision, anti-aircraft fire, changes in weather, or the difficulty of spotting one aircraft while flying another. Even in a simple one on one encounter, it was possible to err. A favorite tactic of pilots in a tight spot was the mimicking of loss by purposely spinning their plane, giving the appearance of being shot down out of control. Once the plane had fallen out of danger, the pilot would regain control.
Ownership of the terrain below also had its effect on verifying victory. An enemy aircraft that crashed in enemy held territory obviously could not be verified by the victor's ground troops.
While "ace" status was generally won only by fighter pilots, several bomber and reconnaissance crews, on both sides, also destroyed several enemy aircraft, typically in defending themselves from fighter attack. An example was an action on
23 August, 1918, in which the Bermudian pilot, Lt Arthur Spurling claimed the destruction of three D.VIIs with his DH-9's fixed, forward-firing machine gun, while his gunner Sgt Frank Bell claimed two more with his rear gun. Spurling was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on the strength of this action.
There were also some few two seated fighter aircraft, most renowned of which was the
Additionally, because pilots usually teamed with differing observer/gunners in two seater aircraft, an observer might be an ace when his pilot wasn't, or vice versa.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.