This eFLYER was developed in HTML for viewing with Microsoft Internet Explorer while connected to the Internet: View Online.
To ensure delivery to your inbox, please add to your address book or list of approved senders.
Barnstormers Logo

ISSUE 156 - February 2011
Over 8,000 Total Ads Listed
1,000+ NEW Ads Per Week

  Home     Browse All Classifieds     eFLYERs     Events     Testimonials     Post Ad     Search Ads  
BARNSTORMERS eFLYER... a collective effort of the aviation community.
YOUR photos, videos, comments, reports, stories, and more...
Click to Subscribe

By David Rose, Contributing Editor
San Diego, California

In my recent article “There Are Pilots” which chronicled the exploits of some of the gifted combat pilots of the world wars, I spoke of the time it took the various pilots to accomplish their aerial victories. Examples ranged from Richenbacker’s 26 victories in six months to Hartmann’s 352 in under four years. I went on to tell the story of the Luftwaffe pilot Marseille and mentioned that he was regarded as “the best marksman in the German Air Force”.

But there was a pilot in the First World War whose name, amazingly, so seldom surfaces in discussions of renowned pilots that I’m compelled to present it here in hopes you will read his full story in one of the several excellent books detailing not just his aerial prowess, but a measure of the man himself.

Frank Luke was born in Phoenix in 1897 making him just 20 when he earned his wings and found himself assigned to the 1st Pursuit Group, 27th Aero Squadron on “The Front” in France.

Luke's commander, Maj. H.E. Hartney, would later say of him that, "No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. 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."
Those of you familiar with the name of course know Frank Luke as “The Balloon Buster”, a moniker well earned for his avowed determination to shoot down balloons. You may be familiar with the name and moniker, but few of you, I’d imagine, have ever come to understand the incredible drive and determination, not to mention great courage it took to attack the balloons time after time. His passion for destroying balloons may have sprung from Luke’s first aerial combat wherein he claimed to have shot down a German fighter, but which claim was later dismissed for lack of confirmation. Not just that, but Luke would be branded a braggart in the squadron for his loud protestations that he had in fact bagged his first “kill” on that mission.

After all, for confirmation, it was impossible to miss sighting a balloon going down in flames. They were many, and they were effective in allowing the enemy, on both sides, to see deeply into the other side’s defenses. In those days the balloons were hydrogen filled as opposed to today where we always use the inert helium instead. Expensive as well as effective, the balloons were heavily defended by anti-aircraft batteries and more often than not, by a flight of fighters patrolling nearby.

Whatever his motivation, on September 12th, 1918, Frank Luke shot down his first balloon. From the 12th of September until his last flight on September 29th, Frank Luke would attack and shoot down 14 German balloons and an additional 4 enemy fighters. 17 days. But in those 17 days he would become one of the most famous aviators in history and be awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor. To attack a balloon with an aircraft was considered so foolhardy as to be suicidal. It was not done. Yet Luke would succeed time after time where other men would not dare consider it. His exploits over the front were seen by many; every attack has its witnesses and their stories; each unique in it’s detail, each more bravely executed than the last. That Luke should have had such success against the balloons is unimaginable given the intensity of their defenses.

On the 29th, just outside Meraux, an American aviator was seen by the villagers being pursued by large number of German fighters. The American was observed to fly toward Briers Farm where there hung several German balloons. In spite of incessant enemy fire from both the ground defenders and the swarming German fighters, Luke attacked and destroyed the first balloon, then another as well. At that point, though himself wounded several times, he attacked one more observation balloon and the French villagers watched as it too burst into flames and plummet to the ground.

Luke then turned and opened fire on the enemy troops defending the balloons and killed six while wounding as many more. Wounded and bleeding Luke was forced to crash land his damaged fighter and though surrounded by German infantry, drew his .45 pistol and shooting, fell mortally wounded from a bullet in his chest.

“Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called on him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound to the chest.” - Medal of Honor citation

The entire episode had been witnessed by the horrified villagers and the German commandant of Meraux, infuriated by the savagery of the American's attack on his balloons and infantry, was reported by the villagers to have kicked Luke's body and screamed, "Get that thing out of my way as quickly as possible."

The Frank Luke story of courage and determination in those 17 days is available to you in a number of biographies, two of which I present here based on the shear efforts expended by their authors to research and find the truth of the events of those days, as opposed to all the rumor and hype that has emerged regarding his life and military career.

Researching stories that are nearly a century old can require exhaustive time and resources. Blaine Pardoe’s decision to tackle this book means that generations will have a resource on Frank Luke that most could only hope for.

And Buster Norman S. Hall’s enthralling ”The Balloon Buster”, written in 1931, tells us of the rebellious and brash airman who grew up in a West that was still pretty wild, and who left his Arizona home to carve out his fame in the newest and most untested arena of warfare.

By David Rose, Contributing Editor

Return to eFLYER

Visit - post an ad to be viewed by nearly 1,000,000 visitors per month.
Over 15 years bringing more online buyers and sellers together than any other aviation marketplace.
Don't just advertise. Get RESULTS with Check out the Testimonials
Copyright © 2007-2011 All rights reserved.
UNSUBSCRIBE INSTRUCTIONS: If you no longer wish to receive this eFLYER, unsubscribe here or mail a written request to the attention of: eFLYER Editor BARNSTORMERS, INC. 312 West Fourth Street, Carson City, NV 89703. NOTE: If you registered for one or more hangar accounts on, you must opt out of all of them so the eFLYER mailings will be fully discontinued.