Flying Aces was a unique aeromodeling magazine in that
it devoted roughly half the pages to modeling and half to full-scale
aircraft, with a fictional action/mystery story included as well.
That was typical of the time for many magazines. I have really been
enjoying reading many of the non-modeling stories since they provide
great insight into the mindset of the country. These editions I
have now come from the pre-World War II era, so the focus is
on America's preparation for entry into the Pacific, European, and
African theaters of operation. Many - if not most - people these
days think the Japanese attack at
on December 7, 1941, suddenly launched us into the war, but the
reality is we knew involvement was inevitable and the
Military Industrial Complex (so dubbed
by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower) was in full build-up mode by
the time of the attack.
What Makes a Fighting Pilot
If the answer to this puzzling question were known by any one
man, he could command a towering salary in any country. Since it
is not known, however, we can give you only a few requirements and
case histories of men who had that unexplainable "something."
by Arch Whitehouse
Author of "We Must Build an Independent Air Force!" "Warplanes
Pock Punch!" etc.
Major McGregor, left, inspects a group of U.S.
Army Flying Cadets. These fledgling flyers train for two years before
they are listed as "regulars."
Probably the most interesting reading concerning the present
war will be found in the official Gazette notices printed in the
better British newspapers and aeronautical magazines. Few readers
notice these items, set in small type, but in them will be found
all the color, drama, heroics, and tragedy of modern warfare. Those
concerning the activities of the Royal Air Force and its companion
Fleet Air Arm are, of course, the most interesting to those of us
who follow the history of modern military aviation.
So far in this war, only five Victoria Crosses have been awarded
to British sky fighters in more than fourteen months of bitter fighting.
In the last war, nineteen were issued to airmen during the four-and
one-half years of battle. Of these, twelve were awarded to pilots
of single-seater planes and for feats of individual courage. The
other seven went to pilots of two-seaters who performed outstanding
acts of gallantry in which the saving of their machines and observers
was the highlighted point of the citation. Among the single-seater
pilots to get the coveted award were such noted characters as Ball,
Bishop, McCudden, Mannock, Hawker, McLeod, and famous Zeppelin busters
Warneford and Robinson.
The two-seater heroes you probably have never heard of. They
were: Captain J. A. Liddel, Squadron-Commander R. Bell Davies,
Sergeant Thomas Mottershead, and Lieutenant F. M. F. West. No, you
can't identify them. They were "merely" pilots of two-seater planes
and were not listed in the "ace" classification.
But what about the V.C. air . heroes of today? Who are they and
how many planes have they shot down in defending Britain?
A flight of RAF Blackburn Rocs soar in perfect
step echelon. Mr. Whitehouse says that gunners aboard these ships
are potentially single-seat fighting pilots.
Of the five awarded so far, only one has been issued to a single-seater
fighter pilot - a Pilot-Officer named Nicholson who lays no claim
to a great victory list. He was awarded his V. C. for shooting down
two German raiders after his Hurricane had been set on fire. He
was badly burned, but he lived to tell the tale - and what a story
Then there was young Sergeant John Hannah, the Air-Gunner who
fought a fire aboard a Handley Page Hampden well inside Germany.
Two other gunners jumped, but Hannah stayed and somehow put the
fire out with his gloves, a fire-extinguisher, and the plane's log
book. He even burned up his parachute in an effort to stop the forced-draft
blaze. He could have bailed out, but he decided to stop that fire
if it was humanly possible. His pilot got the bomber back safely-although
no one knows why it flew at all, or why it didn't break up in the
middle where the fire had burned away many of the important structural
Another modern V. C. is Flight-Lieutenant R. A. B. Learoyd who
piloted a bomber that carried out a successful attack on the Dortmund-Ems
Canal. The other two are a Pilot-Officer and a Sergeant Air-Gunner
who flew a Fairey Battle against an important bridge and destroyed
it. They both died in the action.
Out of five new-war awards of the Victoria Cross, then, we find
no fighting pilot in the "ace" sense of the word. We do know, however,
that there are several British Spitfire pilots who have more than
forty enemy planes to their credit. So far, though, the best any
of them can do is to get a Distinguished Flying Cross and, in exceptional
cases, a bar to their D. F. C. - which means that they have been
awarded the same decoration twice. But the Distinguished Flying
Cross is at least two steps removed from the V. C.
A glance through the Gazette list discloses that fighter pilots
with twelve or fourteen enemy planes to their credit are a dime-a-dozen.
I notice, for instance, that Pilot-Officer Albert Gerald Lewis,
who bas eighteen Germans to his credit, has received the D. F. C.
and bar. Moreover, Sergeant-Pilots wit h the Distinguished Flying
Medal and at least a dozen enemy planes to their credit appear to
clutter up most Hurricane and Spitfire squadrons.
This all adds up to something new in aerial warfare. We must
consider the fighting pilot not only by his score against the enemy
or the number of planes he has shot down but also for his ability
to carry out dangerous missions. Airmen who have been able to consistently
get good sets of pictures of enemy territory are being rewarded
daily with high decorations, whereas their "machines-downed" bag
is comparatively low. Pilots who can dare the anti-aircraft fire
and go down low and get direct hits on enemy bases are apparently
worth more than the spectacular fighter - at least, they are in
Great Britain if the distribution of decorations is anything to
A Fighting Pilot Must -
- be an excellent marksman.
This can be developed
through handling firearms
and is not something that
might be called a
- have a clear mind at all
times and be able
reason thoroughly during
combat with an enemy.
- be a natural flyer and have
a real love
- have fear. Courage is for
the usual run-of-the-mill
- be quick in making
decisions. He should
what is the right maneuver
instead of hoping it is right.
- have respect for the
enemy. This is probably
the most important item.
But we must have fighting pilots, whether they win decorations
or not. Without the fighting pilot, the bombers and reconnaissance
ships would find it extremely difficult to carry out their all-important
missions. The fighter pilot must first gain command or control of
the air before the bombers and reconnaissance machines can dare
to take-off and attempt to raid or photograph the enemy.
The failure of the German Air Force to "break the ground" for
the invasion of Great Britain has been due mainly to the fighting
superiority of the British pilots. The planes themselves have nothing
to do with the situation. Germany has had more ships than the British
ever since the war began. However, the British youngsters have out-fought
the Nazis from every angle. When the Germans rain bombs on London,
they usually make the most of the darkness of night or clouds during
the day. When they have dared daylight raids without benefit of
cover, they have always been severely beaten back by the pilots
of the fighter command. That is why almost all of the Nazis' heavy
bombing is undertaken under the cover of darkness.
British bombers also wisely make the most of night and clouds
when they raid important German points. They are different from
the Nazis, though, in that they have splendid aerial gunnery defense.
The young Air-Gunners aboard bombers are, of course, all potential
fighter pilots, just as many aerial gunners of the last war became
skilled single-seater fighter pilots.
It is obvious, then, that if we are to have an Air Service capable
of taking care of itself and carrying out the duties for which it
was intended, we must first of all develop fighter pilots. Whether
these men fly Lockheed, Bell, Curtiss, Republic fighters, Douglas
observation planes, or Martin bombers, they must be first and foremost
"fighting" pilots. No matter what their duty, they must be fighting
men. Learoyd, Hannah, and Nicholson were all fighting airmen, in
that they did not give up the battle until the end. Yes there's
a great deal of difference between a fighting pilot and the studious
engineer type who flies our airliners across the continent, guided
by radio beams and a ground staff of hundreds.
"Any military pilot - whether he is aboard a
pursuit or a patrol amphibian like this Consolidated PBY-5A is
a fighting pilot," says our author.
But where are we to get the American equivalent of Hannah, Learoyd,
and Nicholson? These men are not "types." They are, according to
their pictures, as unalike as three men could be. As an example,
we only have to go through past history and look over the faces
of the men who made American aviation history in 1917-18.
There were no particular types even then. They were typical Americans,
yes, but far from being special "types." They didn't even look alike.
Rickenbacker was a cold, calculating figure. Luke, wild and demonstrative.
Joe Wehner, a slight, cheerful chap. Bill Thaw, heavy and colorless.
Dave Putnam looked like a high school boy. James Norman Hall, dour
and thin-lipped. Raoul Lufbery, rough and gruff. You go through
the rest yourself and see what I am getting at. They might be grouped
together and offered as the tenth Class Reunion of the Eighth Grade
of Public School No. 15 in any town in the United States.
But above all, most of these men were volunteers. Many of them
had crossed the Atlantic to take up the fight against what was called
Prussianism long before the United States entered the war. There
can be no out-and-out volunteers today, except that small handful
of men who are now training to fight with the British. Conscription
and the Selective Service System have done away with the old type
of volunteer, although there are still many who joined up long before
the draft system was put into operation.
The volunteer, as we knew him in the last war, hardly fits the
series of present conditions because of the vastness and mechanics
of modern warfare. The old soldier of fortune, whose chief stock
in trade was the knowledge of a Springfield rifle and a Maxim machine
gun, would today be lost in the intricate maze of mechanical and
The instructor in a training plane knows how
his student is progressing, but he doesn't know how he will be when
under heavy enemy fire.
The fighting pilot of today and tomorrow will be a combination
Frank Merriwell and Thomas Edison. He will not necessarily be a
renowned college athlete, a two-fisted fighter of the fiction world,
or a Charles A. Lindbergh. I venture to hazard a guess that the
greater number of American fighting pilots will come from the suburban
or rural section of the country. There we find youngsters who are
more than familiar with bicycles, motorcycles, automobiles, and
The youngsters from the rural districts are as much at home with
a tractor or a big bull-dozer as the city boy is with a pair of
roller skates. Intricate farm machinery such as binders, milking
machines, harvesters, power saws, hay loaders, and road scrapers
are as familiar to him as the knife and fork he uses at breakfast.
And with all that, he still goes to high school and college. He
repairs automobiles, radio sets, pumps, tractors, and sets up his
own power plant, either in a local stream or on top of the barn
where he harnesses the wind to a dynamo propeller.
The writer has had ample opportunity to study these youngsters
in the past six months, having moved to a very rural district in
New England where he has discovered that the country boy is no longer
the dull hick of song and story. The country boy of today is the
most suitable material for the modern mechanized Army. He is acquainted
with firearms of all kinds and handles them well. You never hear
of hunting and shooting accidents among country boys. The city sportsmen
bring their accidents to the country.
But while the country boy is apparently most suited for modern
warfare, it is also a fact that he does not generally care for aviation.
This is another point the writer has learned in his few months of
living in an old New England village and getting acquainted with
the youth. It is startling to note how little interest there is
in either commercial or military aviation. But few of the old World
War aces did, either, until the war broke out.
The strange thing about this business of seeking material for
our air fighting forces is that there is no set rule about it. Education
and environment apparently have nothing to do with it. Knowledge,
of planes and engines has nothing to do with it. The ability to
fly well, moreover, has nothing to do with a man becoming a great
air fighter. All he really has to know is how to get his plane off
the ground and get it back again. The writer was personally acquainted
with several of the better-known aces of the last World War. In
most cases these individual fighting stars were not great airmen
in the accepted sense of the word. If the truth be known, they became
aces because they were allowed to carry out individual offensive
patrols as free lance pilots, because they were not suitable to
fly in tight formations! I believe I have gone into this angle before,
and there is no use in taking up valuable space to outline the individual
My readers will perhaps argue that those with superior education
will make the best fighting airmen. I can only point out that Great
Britain's RAF is composed by a great percentage of non-commissioned
officers; men who have risen from the ranks to become Sergeant-Pilots,
Air-Gunners, and Observers. These men are not the university group.
They are representative of the class that gets through grammar school
and possibly gains about two years of high school education. Many,
moreover, have considerably less.
The modern fighting pilot can he taught to handle, without a
college education, practically any type of military plane. This
has been proven time and, time again. But, as I have pointed out
before, the university man makes a better officer and is more likely
to be able to assume the responsibility of command. Air fighting
ability is one thing and the courage to take high rank responsibility
is quite another. It is an actual fact that, except in rare instances,
the greatly publicized aces of the last World War were pathetic
as squadron leaders where they had to do paper work and make quick
decisions on the ground. In the air against an enemy opponent, they
were supreme - but the responsibility of squadron leadership demanded
bravery and courage of another classification.
We are likely to mistake mechanical and aeronautical knowledge
for fighting ability, whereas these qualifications have nothing
to do with fighting courage and fighting skill. Major Jimmy McCudden
used to say: "No matter how much you know, you can't get out at
8,000 feet and clean a distributor."
Mechanical knowledge quickly helps in training our fighting airmen,
but it will not assure us that he will stay in a fight and score
victories or go through with a mission against great odds - or heavy
gunfire. You may know every nut and bolt in a Twin-Wasp or an Allison,
but what do you know about a bulged cartridge jam in a Browning
If the fledgling in this Ryan PT-20 has the necessary
qualities, he will be a great we pilot. If not, he'll be an out-end-out
It is strange, but the quiet, unassuming choir boy makes just
as good a fighting pilot as does last year's All-American quarterback.
They both have a certain quality of courage which somehow asserts
itself in the air. The same two might become quaking cowards in
the gun-sponson of an Army Tank. Look at Albert Ball, Rhys-Davids,
Alan McLeod, Reggie Warneford, George Vaughn, David Putnam, and
Georges Guynemer. They were all kids in every sense of the word-and
I like to call them the choir-boy crowd. But look at what they did
and what they accomplished in the air.
It is obvious, then, that there are no marks on anyone to indicate
whether he will become a great fighting pilot. No matter how good
they are at flying school or in the classroom, you can never tell
how they will turn out when the guns begin to boom. Many times during
the last war I heard people say: "I certainly never thought he would
ever become a great soldier. Why, he would never even take a dare!
He was always reading books and he never made one athletic team
in high school. How can you figure that?"
Perhaps it is fear that makes great airmen, not courage - the
quality of fear that turns them into raging madmen when their life
or safety is threatened. I am quite sure that Sergeant Hannah more
feared the prospects of being taken prisoner, had he jumped from
that Handley Page Hampden, than that of burning to death or crashing
in a flaming bomber with no parachute to save him.
The writer, who spent many months in various capacities on the
Western Front with the Royal Air Force, can still recall the clammy
sensation of fear that came when an engine began to falter miles
over the enemy line. The same fear never arose when enemy planes
attacked our machines. All of us agreed time and time again that
it was the fear of being shot down and being taken prisoner that
made us put up our best efforts. We feared being confined behind
barbed wire and subjected to the indignities of a prison camp.
Flying Cadets A. L Nelson and V. K. White inspect
a North American BT-9. Will they become ace flyers? No one can tell
What does all this add up to? We are trying to determine what
makes a great fighting airman, and so far we have not found an answer.
If I could look at any group of men and say definitely that this
fellow and that fellow would be top-notch, then I am sure I could
command a towering salary in any country. As a matter of fact, it's
even impossible to tell this during the training or peace-time service
The officials of the Army Air Corps and Navy Air Service draw
up a certain physical and educational specifications to which candidates
must conform. Then they demand that the Cadets undergo certain ground
and air training. At the end of two years, we have a graduating
class of military airmen - but we have no idea of how they will
perform in actual war. They may be great at aerobatics, navigation,
theory of flight, and gunnery, but all that goes by the boards when
the enemy's guns begin to spit. /p>
With all this, though, there are still fundamental qualities
necessary to become a fighting pilot. Some of them don't show for
quite some time, and others are apparent immediately. But, regardless,
every real fighting pilot should be an excellent marksman. This
can be developed only through handling of firearms. It is not something
that might be called a "gift." He must at all times, during a battle,
have a clear mind and be able to reason thoroughly. Even though
some of the World War pilots flew into a blind rage during the heat
of battle, the greatest aces were always composed and they usually
had their actions planned long in advance.
A fighting pilot need not be an airman in the strictest sense
of the word - that is, it's not necessary for him to know how to
land on three points every time and how to come to a stop within
so many feet. He must be a natural pilot, however. There is a great
deal of difference. In the air, a natural flyer will always fly
rings against one who "just wanted to learn."
And, as you have undoubtedly gathered by now, a truly great fighter
must have fear. Courage is for the usual run-of-the-mill pilots
who "just don't give a damn." If you have fear of being captured,
for instance, you'll move heaven and earth ten times a day to keep
that from happening.
And now we come to the most important item - one that is never
taught but has to be learned through experience. That is - respect
your enemy. Respect his flying, his machine, and the cause for which
he is fighting. Remember, he is just as good a man as you are, and
he might be better. Don't underrate him during combat, because you
may be overrating yourself. Instead, feel him out, cautiously, and
determine exactly what type of an airman he is, how he flies, whether
he is a good marksman, and whether he can think as rapidly as you.
Beyond that, there is nothing more that can be said. True, various
causes made many World War aces the great flyers and fighters they
were - causes which we undoubtedly will never know. However, the
above listed are the basic principles - and maybe that's the reason
there are so few real fighting pilots.
Posted September 20, 2015