Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker – America’s Top Scoring Ace 1890 / 1973
Edward Rickenbacker ( born Richenbacher ) was born to Swiss German speaking immigrants. From childhood he loved machines and experimenting with them, encouraged by his father’s words, ‘A machine has to have a purpose.’
In what was to become one of the defining characteristics of Rickenbacker’s life, he nearly died many times, in events ranging from an early run- in with an horseless carriage, to a botched tonsillectomy, to Airplane crashes. His first life threatening experience occurred when he was in the ‘Horsehead gang’. He lived near a mine, they decided to ride a cart down the slope, it tipped over and almost crushed them.
Rickenbacker’s schooling ended at age thirteen, after the accidental death of his father. Rickenbacker found work wherever he could to help support the family, but he was always driven by his immense admiration for machines. Rickenbacker taught himself has much as he could, including enrolling in a correspondence course in engineering.
He aggressively pursued any chance of involvement with automobiles. Rickenbacker went to work at the Columbus Buggy Company, eventually becoming a salesman, working in both Dallas, Texas and Tucson, Arizona.
Around this time Rickenbacker became well-known as a racing car driver, competing in the Indianapolis 500 four times before World War One, and earning himself the nickname ‘Fast Eddie’. He joined the Maxwell race team in 1915, after leaving Peugeot. After the Maxwell team disbanded that same year, he joined the Prest-O-Lite team as manager and continued to race improved Maxwells for Prest-O-Lite.
Flying a fighter aircraft in World War One demanded a great affinity between man and machine, to become an Ace or even to survive at all, this affinity had almost to become instinctive. From all over Europe young men with a delight in things mechanical were drawn towards the war in the air. Some very successful pilots like Charles Nungesser and the Belgian Jan Olieslagers had already proved their affinity with speed and power as champion racing drivers.
To Be Continued
(C) Damian Grange 2018