Monday, June 12, 2017

Frank Luke Jr., the "Arizona Balloon-Buster" was born May 19, 1897, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Following America's entry into World War I, Luke enlisted in the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps. He received pilot training in Texas and California and aerial combat training at Issoudun, France.
Commissioned a Second Lieutenant he was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron.

Luke was somewhat of a free spirit, he would often fly alone and disobey orders. His arrogance created 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 although 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.

Between September 12 and September 29, Luke was credited with shooting down 14 German balloons and four airplanes: Luke achieved these 18 victories during just 10 sorties in eight days, a feat unsurpassed by any pilot in World War 1.

After flaming three German balloons on 29 September 1918, Luke's SPAD XIII was shot down by ground fire. Resisting capture, he shot it out with approaching German soldiers and was killed near the crash site. He was 21 years old.

On  May 1919, Luke was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor. 

"Man, how that kid could fly! No one, mind you, no one, had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. I know he's been criticized for being such a lone-hander, but, good Lord, he won us priceless victories by those very tactics. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination." Harold Hartney, Commanding Officer, 1st Pursuit Group

"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 Britain's Bishop from Canada, France's Fonck or even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that." Edward Rickenbacker

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