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Eddie Rickenbacker


The WWI star pilot with Swiss roots

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The biggest US flying ace of the First World War was the son of Swiss immigrants. A daredevil in the sky, he had to fight to become a pilot too.(SRF/swissinfo.ch)

The name “Flying ace” was given to pilots who managed to shoot down five or more enemy planes in the war. The most famous at the time was German fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen, also widely known as the Red Baron. He’s officially credited with 80 air combat victories.

But the Americans had some top air fighters too. The most famous was Eddie Rickenbacker, the son of Swiss immigrants.

The story of Captain Eddie, as people referred to him after the war, is told at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. Rickenbacker’s chances of becoming a pilot in the first place were very slim, given that he didn’t have a college degree. But because of his persistence he finally was transferred into the air service.

At the end of the war he had shot down 26 enemy airplanes, a record among US Flying Aces. At the time of the First World War air combat was among the most intense fighting. Man against man in a bi-plane with a machine gun. The risk of being shot was extremely high.

In those days pilots were pioneers: They had to figure out how to fight as they went along. According to his grandson Brian Rickenbacker, Captain Eddie was a daredevil. But he was always aware of the risks he was taking.