Lt. Frank Luke Jr. – The Arizona Balloon Buster 1897 / 1918
Frank Luke’s Parents were of German origin, his family had emigrated to America in 1874. They settled in Phoenix, Arizona. Frank was the family’s fifth child, he had a very strict upbringing which left him with an hatred for authority of any description. He grew up excelling in sports, working in a copper mine and boxing in bare – knuckle bouts.
Following America’s entry in to the war in 1917, Luke enlisted in The Aviation Section U.S. Signal Corps. on September the 25th 1917, and received pilot training in Texas and California. After being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1918, he deployed to France for further training. And in July was assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron.
Because of his arrogance and occasional tendencies to fly alone and disobey orders. Luke was disliked by his peers and some of his senior Officers. His only close friend was Lt. Joe Wehner, another American of German origins. His squadron mates nicknamed Luke the ‘Arizona Boaster’ and Wehner, ‘ The Spy’. The 27th was under standing orders to destroy German Observation Balloons, Because of this Luke and Wehner continually volunteered to attack these important targets, even though they were heavily defended by anti – aircraft guns on the ground.
The two pilots began a remarkable string of victories together, with Luke attacking the balloons and Wehner flying protective cover. Wehner was killed in action on September the 18th 1918 in a dogfight with Fokker D. VII’s intent on attacking Luke. Luke then shot down two D.VII’s, two Observation balloons and an Halberstadt; The last credit allowed Luke to record his 13th official kill – A Halberstadt C type Observation plane flown by Flieger Abteilung 36. Between September the 12th and September the 29th, Luke was credited with shooting down fourteen German balloons and four aircraft, Luke achieved these 18 victories in just 10 sorties over eight days, a feat unsurpassed by any other pilot during World war One.
To Be Continued ……..
(C) Damian Grange 2018