American Fighter Pilot Clarence “Bud” Anderson Was a World War II Triple Ace

Photo Credit: Chris Radburn / PA Images / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Chris Radburn / PA Images / Getty Images

It was late in the Second World War – 1944, to be exact – when Clarence “Bud” Anderson shot down his first enemy aircraft near Hanover, Germany. In an effort to defend an Allied aircraft under attack by the Luftwaffe, he took down a Messerschmitt bf 109, as witnessed by two other pilots in his squadron.

This marked the first of many more kills Anderson would make. With an impressive career as a fighter pilot, he earned the honored status of triple ace. His service, however, didn’t end there, as he served in both Korea and Vietnam and became a test pilot for an interesting (and dangerous) project with the US Air Force.

Bud Anderson’s early life and enlistment with the US military

Clarence “Bud” Anderson was born in Oakland, California and spent his childhood on a farm near Newcastle. He was no stranger to flight before the start of the Second World War. When he was a child, his father introduced him to flying, taking him out in a Boeing-Stearman Model 75 biplane at the age of seven.

Bud Anderson standing in front of a North American P-51C Mustang
Clarence “Bud” Anderson stands alongside a North American P-51C Mustang at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire. (Photo Credit: Chris Radburn / PA Images / Getty Images)

Anderson was a student at Place Union High School before attending Sacramento Junior College and George Washington University. He took up a job at the Sacramento Air Depot, where he was working when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Shortly after, in January 1942, he enlisted in the US Army‘s Aviation Cadet program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the US Army Air Forces.

Anderson served as a pilot with the 363rd Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force on two combat tours in Europe. The 357th, nicknamed the “Yoxford Boys,” were based near the village of Yoxford. According to them, the nickname was created by German propagandist Lord Haw Haw the night they arrived at RAF Leiston.

Becoming a triple ace

It wasn’t until late 1943/early 1944 that the 357th arrived in England. By February 11, 1944, they were officially committed to combat. The group produced 42 flying aces and destroyed roughly 609 aircraft between November 1943 and January 1945, according to VA News. Historynet estimates their overall aerial victories throughout the war totalled around 595.

The 357th was also the first group in the 8th Air Force to fly the North American P-51 Mustang.

Bud Anderson sitting in the cockpit of his aircraft
Clarence “Bud” Anderson in the cockpit of his aircraft. (Photo Credit: SDASM Archives / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Bud Anderson flew his first mission with the 357th on February 5, 1944 and shot down his first enemy aircraft just under a month later. It was the aforementioned Messerschmitt Bf 109 attacking an Allied Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress near Hanover. This was the first of many victories for the would-be ace, flying his P-51D Old Crow.

Anderson has been officially credited with downing 16 1/4 enemy aircraft over the course of 116 missions. Not only does this make him a triple flying ace, but he was able to accomplish this feat without ever taking damage to his aircraft or needing to return to base for other issues. Aside from Anderson, the 357th impressively produced three other triple aces.

Bud Anderson becomes a FICON test pilot

After the Second World War, Bud Anderson began working as a test pilot out of Wright Field, Ohio. He tested Republic RF-84 Thunderflashes that were part of the Fighter Conveyor (FICON) Program. FICON was designed to test whether a Convair B-36 Peacemaker could carry an RF-84 in its bomb bay or attached in another manner, to increase the effective combat radius of jet fighters and allow bombers to carry their own fighter escorts into enemy territory.

Bud Anderson kneeling in front of a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
Clarence “Bud” Anderson at Edwards Air Force Base, California with a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. (Photo Credit: US Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Anderson worked to figure out the best way for the RF-84 to be mounted to the larger aircraft, trying both the underside and the tips of the B-36’s wings. He would fly in one of the mounted fighter-bombers and detach it while the B-36 was in the air. Testing was successful, but implementation was limited and short-lived.

Serving in Korea and Vietnam

From September 1954 to August 1955, Anderson attended the Air Command and Staff College, before being sent to Osan Air Base in Korea to serve as the director of operations for the 58th Fighter-Bomber Wing. In 1956, he took over command of the 58th’s 69th Fighter-Bomber Squadron.

Finally, he was the executive officer of the 6511th Parachute Test Group in California. He served in this position until November 1957.

Bud Anderson sitting with three others in front of his North American P-51D Mustang "Old Crow"
Clarence “Bud” Anderson with his North American P-51D Mustang Old Crow at EAA AirVenture 2011. (Photo Credit: Spartan7W / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Toward the end of the Vietnam War, Anderson moved to command the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, which flew the Republic F-105 Thunderchief. The unit flew out of Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base and mounted attacks against enemy supply lines. When the 355th was deactivated at the end of the conflict, Anderson was responsible for closing down the base.

Bud Anderson’s life after his military service

Bud Anderson retired from the US Air Force in March 1972, having flown over 100 types of aircraft and logging more than 7,000 hours of flight time. Following his retirement, he took charge of McDonnell Aircraft Company’s Flight Test Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Since then, he’s been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame; the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s International Air & Space Hall of Fame; and the EAA Warbirds of America Hall of Fame.

Bud Anderson standing in front of his North American P-51D Mustang "Old Crow"
Clarence “Bud” Anderson with his North American P-51D Mustang Old Crow. (Photo Credit: Valder137 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

Anderson was given an impressive number of awards for his service during the Second World War and in Korea and Vietnam, including two Legions of Merit, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, 16 Air Medals and a French Croix de Guerre. In later years, he was also given the Air & Space Forces Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

More from us: US Air Force Pilot Richard Ritchie Shot Down Five Enemy Aircraft in Vietnam

Although he decided at the age of 90 that he was done with flying, Anderson continues giving talks about his experiences. In January 2022, he turned 100 and is now the living American air ace with the highest number of kills. According to Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, a flying ace and the first confirmed test pilot to exceed the speed of sound, he was “the best fighter pilot [he’d] ever seen.”

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.