Today is May 17th, 1918 and we are sitting down with the first American Ace of World War 1, Major Raoul Lufbery. After explaining to Major Lufbery that Lufbery News adopted his name due to his extraordinary career as an American fighter pilot, we began the interview.
[Lufbery News] Raoul, we hope you don't mind that we call you by your first name as it helps to eliminate confusion for our readers.
[Major Raoul] Not at all.
[Lufbery News] Please explain to our readers why you came to this war and under what capacity did you join.
[Major Raoul] My original job was that of an airplane mechanic...
[Lufbery News] An airplane mechanic? You mean that you joined the war as a mechanic and became a flying Ace?
[Major Raoul] Yes, I was a mechanic for French pilot Marc Pourpe before the war. Marc would barnstorm, he was in high demand in Asia. We spent a lot of time in China, Japan and India showing off Marc's flying skills.
[Lufbery News] I know you are American, but do you have some French in your family too?
[Major Raoul] Yes, you are very observant. My mother was French and my father was American. I was actually born in Chamalieres, France, but my father brought be to America when I was an infant. I was raised by my Grandmother and gained my American Citizenship by joining the Army and fighting in the Philippine-American War. It was not until after this that I traveled to some of the French Colonies and took a job as a mechanic working for Marc.
[Lufbery News] How did you and Marc make your way to this war from Asia?
[Major Raoul] Marc is French, so he just joined his comrads in the fight against Germany. I have always been sympathetic to the effort to defeat Germany and wanted to contribute. Since America had not joined the war at that time, I joined the French Foreign Legions as an infantryman in 1914 when the war began. Later that year, they transferred me to the aviation squadron where I could use my skills as a mechanic.
[Lufbery News] Was your friend Marc Pourpe flying airplanes for the squadron?
[Major Raoul] Yes, of course. He was a very talented pilot and it was wonderful to reunite with him in this effort against the Germany invasion.
[Lufbery News] Explain to us how you moved from being a mechanic to an Ace as a fighter pilot.
[Major Raoul] I was happy with my job as a mechanic, but keep in mind that I knew how to fly planes. Marc had taught me during our tour in Asia. However, I was happier being a mechanic and by also being familiar with flying I was able to diagnose and improve the plane's performance. My desire to fly in combat came with Marc was shot down and killed by a German Fokker E.I, a plane that changed the war in the skies.
[Lufbery News] We are sorry to hear about your loss, it must have effected you greatly.
[Major Raoul] It did, it was 1914 and I immediately applied for pilot's training to get my wings. I wanted to avenge Marc's death. I received my wings and began flying reconnaissance missions , but in a short period of time I was finally awarded my own Nieuport to fly in combat.
[Lufbery News] You must have felt a sense of destiny as pilots don't last long in this job do they?
[Major Raoul] You are correct, I have seen many pilots not return from their missions over the years. This job is probably the most dangerous of the war when you consider your odds of survival...
[Lufbery News] What are those odds?
[Major Raoul] My guess would be something like 1 in 20 of surviving a full year flying in combat. Your odds get better after the first year as you have seen, learned, and become humble to the dangers. I am one of the few who has survived, now I am smarter and more cautious. Remember, the dangers are not just the Germans. It was only a decade ago that these flying machines were invented. Our combat fliers are finding the many weaknesses of these airplanes, they take them to their stress points. We lost many lives to the wings being torn apart during dives avoiding the German's bullets.
[Lufbery News] Interesting Raoul, the super high risks of flying these planes is probably something our readers never realized before. Considering the risks are so high, what do you contribute to the high number of volunteers?
[Major Raoul] Simply put, it is the romance of flying combined with the bravery of fighting for a just cause. These young men are typically highly educated individuals that know what they are getting themselves into. There is an element of chivalry and romance that is very addictive. I like to compare our fliers to the early Knights who rode off to far places to fight for a just cause - knowing that most would likely not return.
[Lufbery News] You are now in an American squadron, when did you leave the French?
[Major Raoul] Well, it's really a little confusing. In 1916 a group of volunteers formed the first American squadron of fliers. They were called the Escadrille Américaine later to become the Lafayette Escadrille. What is interesting is that in 1916 the Americans had not entered the war yet (which is why we were forced to change our name). I was asked to lead this squadron since I was the only American with combat flying experience. Then last year when the Americans finally joined this effort, I was asked to lead the new American Air Service which is where I am now.
(We will publish the completion of this interview with Raoul Lufbery tomorrow when we hear from Raoul what it is like to be in a dog fight with a German Fokker thousands of feet in the air. Also, Raoulf will tell us a little about his squadron's contribution in the Battle of Verdun.)
This article was written today, but describes a fictional interview with Major Lufbery using historical records of events that happened during the First World War.
Author's Note: Stay tuned for more with Major Lufbery tomorrow.