On This Day in 1918, One of America’s Most Celebrated Fighter Pilots Scored His First Kill

Eddie Rickenbacker with his SPAD S.XIII (U.S. Army archival photograph)

Some 97 years ago on this day in history, a danger-prone, thrill-chasing kid from Columbus, Ohio set on his way to becoming one of the most legendary American fighter pilots in history after scoring his first confirmed kill in a 1200-pound Nieuport 28 biplane, armed with twin .303 Vickers machine guns and powered by a mighty 160 horsepower “Gnome” rotary engine. Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker, part of the 94th “Hat-in-the-Ring” Aero Squadron, would later go on to claim his fifth kill a little less than a month later, officially becoming an ace. For his success, the French military awarded him the Croix de Guerre.

Eddie Rickenbacker with his Nieuport 28. Upon reporting to the 94th Aero Squadron, Rickenbacker was initially given an unarmed Nieuport as his primary aircraft, though soon after, it was outfitted with the standard double Vickers machine guns. (U.S. Army archival photograph)

Eddie Rickenbacker with his Nieuport 28. Upon reporting to the 94th Aero Squadron, Rickenbacker was initially given an unarmed Nieuport as his primary aircraft, though soon after, it was outfitted with the standard double Vickers machine guns. (U.S. Army archival photograph)

Over the course of his involvement in the First World War, Rickenbacker would go on to achieve 26 confirmed kills, though many sources agree that his count was likely higher than that figure, as all official kills needed to be jointly verified by ground witnesses and other pilots, or, wreckage with the tell-tale shoot-down scars from a dogfight needed to be found. Since a number of aerial engagements took place behind enemy lines, ground and wreckage confirmation was virtually impossible. Rickenbacker later assumed command of the 94th in late September of 1918 till the end of the war.

Pilots of the 94th Aero (Pursuit) Squadron in France, June 1918. Captain Edward V. "Eddie" Rickenbacker stands in the center row, fourth from the right. (U.S. Army archival photograph)

Pilots of the 94th Aero (Pursuit) Squadron in France, June 1918. Captain Edward V. “Eddie” Rickenbacker stands in the center row, fourth from the right. (U.S. Army archival photograph)

About Ian D'Costa (250 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been republished and quoted in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at idcosta@tacairnet.com.

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