Eddie Rickenbacker - an American fighter ace in the First World War

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American fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker

American fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker won a medal of valor during the First World War. With 26 aerial wins over the Germans, he was the most successful fighter ace in American history. In the First World War, Captain Eddie flew numerous combat missions and experienced numerous air crashes that resulted in severe injuries. Because of the American's display of bravery toward him, he was thought to have received the majority of awards during the conflict. In addition, he was a race car driver, government consultant with a focus on defense issues, an automobile designer, and an innovator in air travel, particularly as the longtime CEO of Eastern Airlines. He was born in Columbus, Ohio on October, 8th 1890 to Swiss speaking immigrant parents and had seven children. He survived his own count having experienced 135 brushes of death and succumbed to a respectable age of 82. Since he was a child, Eddie loved machines and he used to experiment with them (David, 2005). He was highly encouraged by the words of his father, such as 'A machine has to have a purpose'. Despite being a bad boy who was smoking at the age of five and heading a group of mischievous youngsters, he abided his father's family values. He was able to follow his father's axioms the whole of his life. This was to be part of his defining characteristics of his life.

Early Life and Career

At the age of thirteen, his father accidentally died on August, 26th 2004 after he was involved in an altercation with another man in Columbia. The death of his father forced to drop out of school when he was grade seven. Rickenbacker started finding jobs in order to support his family. Despite taking care of the family, he was highly driven by a great admiration for automotive and machines. He taught himself a lot as he could, gaining knowledge and skills in machine operations and engines including enrolling in a correspondence course where he was learning engineering. Any chance of automotive involvement that presented to him, he aggressively pursued it passionately. When he was 16, he was able to take a job for a race car driver which was named Lee Fyayer. Captain Eddie also served as his mechanic which enabled him in refining his automobiles and engine passion. His interest in aviation was increasing due to numerous encounters with pilots during his times as a driver (David, 2005).

Aviation Career

Rickenbacker developed the love for an aircraft when he rode one which was piloted by Glenn Martin. Despite battling fear because of flight heights, in 1916 he was able to eventually start flying without fear and problems. Intense patriotism and having the interest in increasing his flying experience, he decided to volunteer as an aircraft pilot upon United States entry into world war 1.When he arrived in German on June, 26th 1917 being a driver but still interested in aviation he was encountered by lack of college education and there was a perception that he lacked the requisite academic ability to succeed in fight training. This was overcome when he was requested to repair belonging to Us Army air service chief, Colonel Billy Mitchell. Despite being considered old for flight training, there was an arrangement by Mitchell for him to be sent to a flight school at Issudun (Eddie, 2015). After the course instruction, he was commissioned as the first Lieutenant on 11th October 1917.Due to his mechanical skills, he was retained as an engineering officer at the 3rd aviation instruction center. He was too promoted to captain and was permitted to flying during his off hours but was prevented from entering combat.

Combat and Achievements

Rickenbacker having gotten the role of being a captain and base engineer, he was able to attend aerial gunnery training at Cazeau in 1918.A month later he was able to further flight training at Villeneuve-les Vertus. He was also granted the permission to join US newest fighter unit which was the 94th Aero 1918.

It was during his first flying mission that Rickenbacker was able to log over 300 combat hours in the air. He scored his first victory on 26th April when he brought down a German Pfalz as he was flying a Nieuport 28.Too, after downing two Germans in one day on 30th may, he achieved the status of an ace. In August there was a transition of the 94th aero squadron to a stronger and newer APAD S. X111 aircraft. With this new aircraft, he continued adding his total combat hours and was promoted to command the squadron having the rank of a captain. He downed final aircraft which was the twenty sixth which made him the top American scorer of the war.

Post-War Life and Legacy

When he returned home, he became the highly celebrated aviator in America for his achievements. He drowned a total of five balloons, four reconnaissance aircraft and seventeen enemy fighters during the course of the war. To recognize his great achievements, he was awarded eight times the Distinguished Service Cross record as well as the French Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre. President Herbert Hoover elevated the Distinguished Service Cross which was earned due to attacking seven German aircraft to the Medal of Honor. When he returned to the United States, Rickenbacker wrote a book entitled 'Fighting the flying circus' and served as Liberty Bond tour speaker (Rachel, 2003).

Later Life and Contributions

He bought eastern airlines in 1938. And negotiated with the federal government to purchase air mail routes revolutionizing the operation of commercial airlines. It was during his tenure in Eastern airlines that the company grew from small carrier to being an influential company on the national level. He was nearly killed in 1941 when the eastern DC-3 he was flying crashed at Atlanta (Eddie, 2015).He paralyzed hand, suffered numerous broken bones and an expelled left eye.

World War II Contributions

Eddie volunteered his aviation services to the government with the outbreak of world war 11.Eddie was able to visit several bases in Europe and assess their operations. Impressed by his findings, the Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent him to Pacific for same operations and deliver a secret message to General Douglas MacArthur because of his negative comments about Roosevelt administration. In 1942, B-17 flying Fortress went down in the Pacific because of faulty navigation equipment as Rickenbacker was aboard. He led the survivors in having water and food for 24 days until the time they were spotted by the US navy near Nukufetau. In 1943, he was granted the permission to travel to the Soviet Union and aid with American build aircraft as well as assessing their military capabilities. He made great and plausible suggestions pertaining the aircraft improvements. Due to his contributions during the war, he received the Medal of Merit.


Captain Eddie lived a fulfilling and meaningful life and influenced a lot in aviation history. He was able to serve the country with his utmost during war times and gained respect because of believing in his aviation dreams. Perseverance, faith, confidence and patriotism fueled his actions resulting in his success.

Cited works

David, S. (2005). Eddie Rickenbacker: An American hero in the twentieth century: JHU Press.

Eddie, R. (2015). Fighting the flying circus: Tannen publishing

Rachel, K. (2003). Eddie Rickenbacker: Facts on file publishers

July 07, 2023

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