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Flying ace

From PlaneSpottingWorld, for aviation fans everywhere
For the film see The Flying Ace
File:Red Baron.jpg
The "Red Baron", Manfred von Richthofen, perhaps the most famous ace of all

A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat.


World War I

Template:Seealso Use of the term ace in military aviation circles began in World War I (1914–18), when French newspapers described Adolphe Pegoud, as l’as (French for "ace") after he became the first pilot to down five German aircraft. The term had been popularized in prewar French newspapers when referring to sports stars such as football (soccer) players and bicyclists. This is the reason why "ace" is also used to refer to non-aviators who have distinguished themselves by sinking ships and destroying tanks (see, for example, Aces of the Deep).

The German Empire instituted the practice of awarding the Pour le Mérite ("Der blaue Max"/"The blue Max"), its highest award for gallantry, intially to aviators who had destroyed eight Allied aircraft.[1] The Germans did not use the term 'ace' but referred to German pilots who had achieved 10 kills as Überkanone and publicised their names and scores, for the benefit of civilian morale. Qualification for the Pour le Mérite was progressively raised as the war went on.[2]

In 1914–16, the British Empire did not have a centralised system of recording aerial victories, and did not publish official statistics on the successes of its pilots, although some pilots did become famous through press coverage.[3] However, after 1916, an automatic award of a Military Cross was made to a pilot with five official victories although the term ace was never used officially by the British.

In 1914–18, different air services also had different methods of assigning credit for kills. The German Luftstreitkräfte credited only one pilot for each victory, and only for enemy planes assessed as destroyed or captured after examining the enemy aircraft on the ground; most aerial fighting was over German lines and so this was impractical for the Allied air forces. 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 British did not, crediting fractions of a kill to airmen if multiple aeroplanes shot down an enemy, but counted "moral victories", when enemy planes were seen to be "driven down", "forced to land", and "out of control". The United States Army Air Service followed a similar practice. For example, Eddie Rickenbacker's 26 victories included ten planes "out of control" and several "dived east", none of which would have been credited in later wars. By contrast, a two-member British bomber crew who performed remarkable feats of flying and aerial gunnery when they attacked 30 German Fokker D.VIIs on 23 August, 1918, are not regarded as aces. The Bermudian pilot, Lt Arthur Spurling destroyed three D.VIIs with his DH-9's fixed, forward-firing machine guns, and gunner Sgt Frank Bell downed two with his rear gun. Spurling was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as a result of his actions.

World War II

Template:Seealso In World War II, many air forces credited fractional shares of aerial victories, resulting in fractions or decimal scores, such as 11½ or 26.83. Some U.S. commands also credited aircraft destroyed on the ground as equal to aerial victories. The Soviets distinguished between solo and group kills, as did the Japanese, though the IJN stopped crediting individual victories in 1943. The Luftwaffe continued the tradition of "one pilot, one kill", and now referred to top scorers as experten.[4]

File:Erich Hartmann.jpg
Erich Hartmann, the highest-scoring ace in history, with 352 kills claimed
File:Ilmari juutilainen 2.jpg
Ilmari Juutilainen, the highest-scoring non-German ace in history, with 94 kills claimed

The Soviet Air Force had the world's only female aces. During World War II, Lydia Litvyak scored 12 victories and Katya Budanova achieved 11.

The huge tallies accrued by German World War II aces are partly explained by the Luftwaffe's technical and tactical superiority over the Allies during the first half of the war. Many kills were over obsolescent aircraft and against either poorly-trained or inexperienced pilots fielded by the Allies, especially the Soviets. In addition, Luftwaffe pilots generally flew many more sorties (sometimes up to 1000 operations) than their Allied counterparts. Additionally, national policies differed; Axis pilots tended to return to the cockpit over and over again until killed, captured or incapacitated, while very successful Allied pilots were either progressively promoted to ranks and positions that involved less combat flying, or routinely rotated back to training bases to educate cadet flyers, to equip younger pilots with valuable combat knowledge from the experienced aces to survive battle and improve the overall fighting ability of the aerial fighter force.


Despite official figures, very few recognized aces actually shot down as many aircraft as credited to them. The primary reason for inaccurate victory claims is the inherent confusion of three-dimensional, high speed combat between large numbers of aircraft, but competitiveness and the desire for recognition also figure in certain inflated claims. Consequently, errors of 50 to 100% and more are common in air combat. In World War II, the aircraft gun camera came into general usage, partly in hope of alleviating the inaccurate victory claims. In the Korean War, both the U.S. and Communist air arms claimed a 10 to 1 victory-loss ratio.

The most accurate figures usually belong to the air arm fighting over its own territory, where wrecks can be counted. It is for this reason that at least 76 of the 80 planes credited to Manfred von Richthofen can be tied to known British losses — the German Jagdstaffeln flew defensively, on their own side of the lines, in part due to General Hugh Trenchard's policy of offensive patrol.

Ace in a day

Muhammad Mahmood Alam is the last pilot to date to achieve this feat. Pictured here with his F-86 Sabre shortly after the 1965 war and the kill markings of Indian Air Force fighters he shot down.

The term "ace in a day" is used to designate a fighter pilot who has shot down five or more airplanes in a single day. The most notable is Hans-Joachim Marseille of Germany, who was credited with downing 17 Allied fighters in just three sorties over North Africa on September 1, 1942, during World War II. The highest number aerial victories for a single day was claimed by Emil Lang, who claimed 18 Soviet fighters on November 3, 1943. Erich Rudorffer is credited with the destruction of 13 aircraft in a single mission on October 11, 1943. Numerous other Luftwaffe pilots also claimed the title during World War II.

On December 5, 1941, the leading Australian ace of World War II, Clive Caldwell, destroyed five German aircraft in the space of a few minutes, also in North Africa. He received a Distinguished Flying Cross for the feat.

During World War II, 68 US pilots — 43 US Army Air Forces, 18 US Navy, and seven US Marine Corps — were credited the feat, including David McCampbell, who claimed seven Japanese planes shot down on June 19, 1944 (during the "Marianas Turkey Shoot"), and nine in a single mission on October 24, 1944. Others included Joe Foss, Chuck Yeager and Oscar Francis Perdomo, the last US "ace in a day"[5].

Other pilots to have claimed "ace in a day" status during World War II include Antoni Glowacki of Poland, during the Battle of Britain, and Jorma Sarvanto of Finland, during the Winter War. Captain Hans Wind of HLeLv 24, Finnish Air Force, scored five kills in in a day a remarkable five times during the Soviet Summer Offensive 1944, a total of 30 kills in 12 days, of his final tally of 75.

The last pilot credited with this feat was Pakistani F-86 pilot Squadron Leader Muhammad Mahmood Alam, during the 1965 war with India. During the war, he downed nine Hawker Hunters of the Indian Air Force in a single day, five of them reportedly within three minutes.[6]

See also


  1. [ Dr David Payne (no date), "Major 'Mick' Mannock, VC: Top Scoring British Flying Ace in the Great War". (Western Front Association website.)
  2. Payne, ibid.
  3. Payne, ibid.
  4. For the award of decorations, the Germans initiated a points system to equal up acheivements betewwent he aces flying on the Eastern front with those on other, more demanding, fronts: one for a fighter, two for a twin-engine bomber, three for a four-engine bomber; night victories counted double; Mosquitoes counted double, due to how difficult targets they were. See Johnson, J. E. "Johnnie", Group Captain, RAF. Wing Leader (Ballantine, 1967), p.264.
  5. Americas Defense
  6. M M Alam - Pakistan's Fighter Ace
  • Hobson, Chris. Vietnam Air Losses, USAF, USN, USMC, Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961–1973. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85780-1156.
  • Stenman, Kari and Keskinen, Kalevi. Finnish Aces of World War 2, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces, number 23. London: Osprey Publishing. 1998. ISBN 952-5186-24-5.
  • Toliver & Constable. Horrido!: Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe (Aero 1968)
  • Toperczer, Istvan. MIG-17 and MIG-19 Units of the Vietnam War. Osprey Combat Aircraft, number 25. (2001).
  • _________. MIG-21 Units of the Vietnam War. Osprey Combat Aircraft, number 29. (2001).

External links

ar:طيار بطل cs:Letecké eso de:Fliegerass el:Ιπτάμενος άσος es:As de la aviación eo:Flug-aso fr:Liste d'as de l'aviation it:Asso dell'aviazione he:אלוף הפלות nl:Vliegende aas ja:エース・パイロット no:Flyveress pl:As myśliwski pt:Ás da aviação ru:Лётчик-ас sk:Letecké eso sl:Letalski as fi:Hävittäjä-ässä sv:Flygaräss tr:As pilot zh:王牌飞行员

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