World War I American aviators and pilots

United States Air Service

USAS History
Summary 1917-1918
Lafayette Escadrille
N.124/Spa.124
1st Observation
1st, 12th, 50th, 88th
1st Pursuit Group
27th, 94th, 95th, 147th
1st Bombardment
96th, 11th, 20th
2nd Pursuit Group
13th, 22nd, 49th, 139th
3rd Pursuit Group
28th, 93rd, 103rd, 213th
4th Pursuit Group
17th, 148th, 25th, 141st
5th Pursuit Group
41st, 138th, 638th
3rd Air Park
255th
. List of Aces

United States Naval Aviation

US Naval Aviation

United States Marine Corps Aviation

US Marine Aviation

Aircraft

World War I fighter planes, bombers and observation planes Nieuport 28 Spad VII Spad XIII Fokker Dr.1 Albatros D.Va Fokker D.VII
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Related Links: Nieuport 28 | Spad VII | Spad XIII | Fokker D.VII and other German aircraft | Fokker Dr.1 | Albatros D.Va

 
Nieuport 28

Nieuport 28
Nieuport 28 in 94th Aero Squadron livery

The Nieuport 28 was America's first fighter airplane.

The US Army Air Service had already had some experience flying around searching for Pancho Villa, as part of the 1916 punitive expedition led into Mexico by John J. Pershing. There had even been an idea to hold a large machine gun into the air to use it for air to ground attacks.

At the start of American involvement in World War I, American industry had promised that it would produce 45,000 or so fighters; unlike the astounding production numbers of World War II, not a single one was delivered in time to fight the war. So there were no American combat aircraft at the beginning of the war and there were too few Spads to go around, thus the Americans ordered 297 Nieuport 28s.

Nieuport 28
Nieuport 28

And so the brave American pilots of the 1st Pursuit Group (meaning the 27th, 94th, 97th and 147th Aero Squadrons) all flew the French Nieuport 28 biplane to start with. This was a light 1,200 pound fighter 24 feet long with a 26 foot wingspan capable of 122 miles per hour. The 28 was derived from earlier Nieuport 17 and its descendants.

The aircraft was equipped with a nine cylinder air cooled engine developing 160 horsepower. The service ceiling was 17,390 feet, but Eddie Rickenbacker speaks of viewing the world from 15,000 feet. The Nieuport 28 was armed with two twin synchronized .303 Vickers machine guns.

Nieuport 28
Nieuport 28

These numbers seem feeble, especially considering that today's typical four door sedan has significantly more horsepower, more weight and in some cases similar top end speeds. But back then, these aircraft were the leading edge of technology - nearly as impressive in those days as today's stealth combat fighters are to us.

The 94th and 95th received their Nieuports and made them operational in mid-March, 1918, but without any machine guns, which would arrive a few weeks later. In the mean time, the Americans familiarized themselves with their new planes.

By mid-April, the guns had arrived, were installed and the units were considered fully operational.

Still, even then the Nieuport 28 was considered an inferior design by the French as it reached production. Designs and combat aircraft technology was evolving very rapidly obsoleting front line aircraft in a year or even in months. The Nieuport had already been superseded and so the French ordered the legendary Spad XIII instead.

The Nieuport, which, according to a number of sources which all use the same words without much further elaboration, had a "tendency to shed its wings" while flying. The earlier marks of Nieuports would sometimes shed their wings too.

However, according to www.acepilots.com, only four of the 298 Nieuports used by the US had fabric stripped from their wings in a dive, etc., and none of them appears to have caused any fatalities. Two of the incidents were for the same pilot, so perhaps it might have been something specific he was doing in pushing the aircraft beyond its design limits. Here is what actually happened:

" 2 May 1918

* 94th - Lieutenants Meissner, Winslow and Davis attacked a formation of three enemy bi-place machines north of Pont-a-Mousson. After a short fight Lieutenant Meissner brought one machine down in flames near the Foret de la Rappe. The fabric of the leading edge and on the lower wings was torn loose during the combat and he was subjected to heavy anti-aircraft fire from German batteries but by skillful operation and cool determination he managed to coax the crippled airplane across the American lines." "Captain Hall while following a Fokker in a dive lost the fabric on his wings and his plane was hit by a dud anti-aircraft shell and felt into a spin. On making a crash landing in German territory he suffered a broken ankle and was taken prisoner. "

Rickenbacker actually had a structural wing problem:

" 17 May 1918

* 94th - Lieutenant Edward Rickenbacker engaged three enemy Albatros scouts near Richecourt and succeeded in destroying one. The other two dove for their side of the lines and in diving after them the wing on Lieutenant Rickenbacker's type XXVIII Nieuport snapped. By good luck he managed to nurse the crippled Nieuport back to the airdrome without being sighted by a single enemy airplane "

The United States had 298 of these Nieuport 28s and operated them for several months in combat. It thus appears that the oft stated information of Nieuport 28s having a tendency to lose their wings has been overemphasized.

Much of the above are excerpts from my book "American Eagles". Please support this website and our efforts to recognize our first combat aviators by buying it.

List of Books about American aviation:

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American Eagles - The Illustrated History of American Aviation in World War I

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"American Eagles - The Illustrated History of American Aviation in World War I" ($19.95, paperback, 370 pages, 8.5"x11", black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US) or free download):

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American Eagles is packed with 220 photos, new maps and beautiful artwork by Michael O'Neal. It is the story of American World War I combat aviation, the aviators, their planes, their aerodromes, their stories and what happened to them after the war. Read about the first American fighters, bombers and observation planes, the Lafayette Escadrille, United States Naval Aviation, United States Marine Aviation, the United States Air Service, now the USAF, and more.

"I wanted to tell you what a great job you have done with your book! I have been totally enthralled reading through it!"
Gary Duhaine

"A great book... a book that really needs to be on your bookshelf."
Matt Jolley, WarbirdRadio.com.

Lafayette Escadrille: America's Most Famous Squadron

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"Lafayette Escadrille: America's Most Famous Squadron" ($14.95, 204 pages, digest size, black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US) or free download):

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The Lafayette Escadrille is about the brave Americans who volunteered to fly for France and the United States 103rd Aero Squadron during World War I. Read about Raoul Lufbery, Bill Thaw, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, Charles Biddle and the early days of American World War I military aviation before it was known as the United States Air Force. These men flew Nieuports and Spads against Fokkers and Albatroses. This book has lots of new research and is thoroughly well-documented. 204 pages, 62 photos and maps.

"Narayan Sengupta's "The Lafayette Escadrille: America's Most Famous Squadron" is a wonderfully written history of one of the most unique air combat units that ever existed. Not only is his book factual and chock full of historical photos (80+), the text is nicely augmented with maps, appendices, and a very complete bibliography. Great job, all around!"
Steve Ruffin, Managing Editor emeritus, "Over the Front."

"You write so well! I thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot."
Cynthia Pullin

POW Stories - real stories by real former American POWs in Germany

"POW Stories" ($14.95, paperback, 189 pages, 8.5"x11", black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US)):

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POW Stories is a collection of remarkable stories told by men who were once POWs in Germany. Some were in the US Army, others in the United States Army Air Force. This latest revision has real-life stories by Fred Scheer, James Golden, Les Schrenk and many others. All were POWs in Germany during WWII. Jim was a Mustang pilot who was the last Allied pilot shot down on D-Day. Fred escaped twice and was recaptured. He made it out for good on his third escape. And Les survived the brutal German Death March. POW Stories includes many other exhilarating, astonishing and poignant real stories. 189 pages, 35 photos and maps.

Disaster at Dieppe - World War II's Little D-Day

"Disaster at Dieppe" ($14.95, paperback, 174 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", 66 photos and maps, $5 for shipping and handling (US)):

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The raid on Dieppe, code named Operation Jubilee, was the first invasion/large scale raid, of World War II. Jubilee featured the first use of Rangers, Churchill tanks, tanks in an amphibious assault, P-51s and Typhoons and more. Approximately 6,000 troops were roped into the attack: they included 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British, 50 American Rangers and 24 French light infantry. Poor planning and Murphy's Law led to an 85% casualty rate for the Canadians who landed! It was a rate far, far worse than the 10% suffered by the US Marines at Tarawa in late 1943 or the 15% that would be sustained by the Americans on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But their sacrifice was not in vain and may have saved 10 times as many lives in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. This is an easy read. At the same time, it is thoroughly documented. Its tables and six page index makes it a great reference book. 174 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", 66 photos and maps.

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If you are unsatisfied with the download of any of my books, then your money will be refunded 100%. If you are unsatisfied with any of my books (print version), then I let me know and I will refund you 50% of the purchase price (not including shipping and handling). You can even keep the book.

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Related Links: Quentin Roosevelt | Frank Luke | Eddie Rickenbacker | Raoul Lufbery | "American Eagles" - 345 page illustrated history of US Combat Aviation in World War I

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