The skies over Europe proved to be a ruthless testing ground for human-crewed aircraft during World War I. However, even if they had primitive flying machines back then, it enabled them to achieve some of the most extraordinary and straight-up suicidal acts of heroism. That goes to say that being a pilot during World War I is a heroic and memorable job, but it is certainly not the most straightforward job there is, mostly during World War I. That is why in this article, we are going to list down some of the most well-known pilots during World War I.
1. Manfred von Richthofen
Also known as the “Red Knight” and the “Diable Rouge,” Manfred von Richthofen came from the Prussian nobles’ family as a cavalry officer before being enlisted to the German air service. Richthofen got his first kill in September 1916, and in just two years, he continued to down 79 more aircraft as his reputation grew, Richthofen made his mark by painting his Fokker tri-plane in a gaudy shade of red. Manfred von Richthofen liked to claim the pieces of his downed enemies’ plane as his trophies. However, his career as a pilot ended when he was mortally wounded at the Somme River in 1918. He was buried with full military honors.
2. William Bishop
William Bishop is a Canadian pilot that has 72 aerial victories. Bishop began his career in the army as a cavalryman; however, when he got tired of the muddy and misery on the ground, he requested to be transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. In there, he managed to gun down a German plane during his very first dogfight in 1917. In fact, during his early few days as a pilot, Bishop managed to bag five targets. As his kills continued to add up, the Germans started calling him the Hell’s Handmaiden. Even if he’s not the best when it comes to aerial acrobatics, Bishop has an eye for marksmanship and uncanny positional awareness. However, Bishop became known for his reckless style, a move which his superiors did not see fit when it comes to his morale on the home front. This is why in 1918, Bishop was eventually removed from combat duty.
3. Werner Voss
Voss entered World War I in 1914 when he was just 17 years old. He first served as a cavalryman before he got transferred to the air service. Voss quickly gained fame because of his acrobatic flying style and accuracy in combat. He eventually got 48 aerial victories and won the Pour le Merite award, which is considered the highest military honor in Germany during World War I. Werner Voss is known for his final flight in September 1917. This is when he singlehandedly fire at seven British pilots over Belgium. Even if he was severely outnumbered, Voss still managed to dance between machine gun tracers and take down three British airplanes. However, he was eventually shot down and killed in what is often called one of World War I’s most incredible dogfights.
4. Eddie Rickenbacker
This man was known to be a lifelong daredevil. Before he entered World War I, Rickenbacker was one of the top racecar drivers in the United States. He set land speed records at Daytona and competed in the first-ever Indianapolis 500. In early 1918, Rickenbacker signed up in the newly formed U.S Army Air Service. Even if his squadron-mates often left him out because of his age and working-class background, Rickenbacker proved to be natural for flying airplanes. He is known for inching dangerously close to his target before he decides to fire his guns. In September 1918, Rickenbacker gained a Medal of Honor because he singlehandedly engaged a seven German aircraft flight and managed to take down two of them before making a getaway. He cheated his death twice when he survived terrifying plane crashes in 1941 and 1942, and the latter left him drifting in the Pacific Ocean for about 22 days.
5. Albert Ball
This man is considered to be one of the most beloved fighter pilots of the British Empire during World War I. In contrast to his quiet demeanor, Ball had a fierce fighting spirit. He always fought until his plane is riddled with the enemy’s gunfire. He also had a do-or-die attitude, which helped him establish a kind of celebrity status during World War I in the United Kingdom. Albert Ball typically flies on solo patrol, he stalks German reconnaissance planes, and he likes to engage fighter squadrons despite being severely outnumbered. However, despite his celebrity status and reputation, Albert Ball was deeply affected by the violence of combat, and he also fought a war of his own, depression. Experts say that this may be one of the reasons why he mysteriously crashed while flying with planes from the Red Baron’s flying circus. This event led to his untimely demise in 1917, and he was only 20 years old when it happened.