A flying ace is a fighter pilot who shoots down five or more enemy aircraft. Today this number has decreased, since dogfights are rare because of the increase in anti-aircraft weapons technology. A flying ace usually fights enemy planes in what are known as Dogfights. These are between two or more military aircraft and are seen as one of the most difficult and intense forms of combat within warfare.
Flying aces like other fighter pilots must have precision, technical knowledge and exceptional reaction in order to fly a fighter plane in air combat.
These are some of the most famous fighter pilots and flying aces in military history, we have gone beyond WWII and looked at some of the aces from other conflicts too.
Germany – The Red Barron – Manfred Von Richthofen – WWI
Von Richthofen, may be the most famous flying ace ever. He was a pilot in the Imperial German Army Air Service and was the most successful pilot of World War One. He flew a red Fokker Dr.1 fighter plane and became famous across Europe and idolised in his native Germany. He was known as the Red Baron.
During April 1917 Manfred shot down 22 Allied aircraft. Four of these planes he shot down in one single day. He went on to command the German Air Service’s first fighter wing, but was killed in 1918 when it is believed that he was shot down by a Canadian pilot or hit from the ground. The Red Baron managed to land his plane but died in the cockpit after landing.
Israel – Giora Epstein, Arab-Israeli Wars
Giora Epstein was a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force and he had 17 victories, gaining him the nickname of Hawkeye. His first victory was an Egyptian Sukhoi Su-7 and then he went on to down four more aircraft.
He then went on to shoot down 12 more aircraft during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Giora flew an Israeli IAI Nesher and later a Mirage III aircraft.
Germany – Erich Hartmann, World War Two
Erich had more air combat victories than any other pilot – shooting down around 352 enemy airplanes. He was a fighter pilot in Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe and survived 14 crash landings.
He undertook more than 1400 missions and flew a Messerschmitt Bf 109. He would use its high-powered engine to quickly approach enemy aircraft and thus surprising them before shooting them down.
US – Cesar Rodriguez, Gulf War
Cesar Rodriguez shot down three enemy aircraft during the 1991 Gulf War. He flew an F-15 Eagle fighter jet and downed his first enemy even with an on-board computer malfunction.
Cesar then went on to fly during the 1999 Kosovo War and shot down a Serbian MiG-28.
US – James Jabara, Korean War
James Jabara flew for the US Air Force as a fighter pilot during World War Two, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He flew a P-51 Mustang during World War Two. In the Korean War an F-86 Sabre, where he shot down four Soviet MiG-15 jets.
James became the youngest colonel in the US Air Force and in Vietnam flew an F-100 Super Sabre.
Pakistan – Muhammad Mahmood Alam, Indo-Pakistani War
Muhammad Mahmood Alam flew with the Pakistani Air Force during the Indo-Pakistani War in 1965. He shot down five Indian Hawker Hunter fighter jets within one minute. He became a national hero in Pakistan. Alam holds the world record for the shortest time to shoot down several aircraft.
He flew an F-86 Sabre and shot down nine Indian Hawker Hunters during the 1965 war.
US – Charles B. Debellevue, Vietnam War
Charles B. DeBellevue took down six enemy aircraft during the Vietnam War and became the first Air Force Weapons Systems Officer to become a flying ace.
He flew an F-4D Phantom II supersonic jet and gained one of his first kills with an AIM-7 Sparrow missile from an amazing four miles away.