Eddie Rickenbacker mans the controls of his French-built Spad airplane
in 1918. Rickenbacker was America’s highest scoring air ace in World
War I with a total of 26 enemy planes and observation balloons shot down.
The Spad first flew in April 1917. It had a top speed of 138 mph and boasted
two forward-firing machine guns. The plane was used by most Allied air
forces and by all the French aces. The U.S. produced no combat aircraft
of its own and relied on French and British models.
Rickenbacker achieved fame as a race car driver before the war. This experience
persuaded Billy Mitchell, head of the American Aviation Section, to select
Rickenbacker as the driver of his 12-cylinder staff-car. Rickenbacker soon
used the influence of his boss to transfer to flying school, even though – at
age 27 – he was two years over the age limit. After the war, he became
president of Eastern Airlines and served from 1938 to 1963. He died in