Flying ace

Distinction given to fighter pilots / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The exact number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an ace is varied, but is usually considered to be five or more.

The "first French ace", Frenchman Adolphe Pégoud being awarded the Croix de guerre.

The concept of the "ace" emerged in 1915 during World War I, at the same time as aerial dogfighting. It was a propaganda term intended to provide the home front with a cult of the hero in what was otherwise a war of attrition. The individual actions of aces were widely reported and the image was disseminated of the ace as a chivalrous knight reminiscent of a bygone era.[1] For a brief early period when air-to-air combat was just being invented, the exceptionally skilled pilot could shape the battle in the skies. For most of the war, however, the image of the ace had little to do with the reality of air warfare, in which fighters fought in formation and air superiority depended heavily on the relative availability of resources.[2]

Use of the term ace to describe these pilots began in World War I, when French newspapers described Adolphe Pégoud, as l'As (the ace) after he became the first pilot to down five German aircraft. The British initially used the term "star-turns" (a show business term).

The successes of such German ace pilots as Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke were much publicized, for the benefit of civilian morale, and the Pour le Mérite, Prussia's highest award for gallantry, became part of the uniform of a leading German ace. In the Luftstreitkräfte, the Pour le Mérite was nicknamed Der blaue Max/The Blue Max, after Max Immelmann, who was the first pilot to receive this award. Initially, German aviators had to destroy eight Allied aircraft to receive this medal.[3] As the war progressed, the qualifications for Pour le Mérite were raised,[3] but successful German fighter pilots continued to be hailed as national heroes for the remainder of the war.

The few aces among combat aviators have historically accounted for the majority of air-to-air victories in military history.[4]