Gervais Raoul Lufbery,
the eighth volunteer of the Lafayette Escadrille, was
described by a comrade as, a chunky figure, just over 5'6"
with a broad
forehead, deep-set eyes and muscles of steel. He had forgotten more
about combat flying than most men ever knew. His cool head, steady
and unerring aim were worth a whole squadron. He flew as the bird
without any thought as to how it was done.
Lufbery in the cockpit of his Nieuport
17 at Cachy, late 1917.
Lufbery the Ace
Lufberys achievements as a fighter pilot were not coincidence,
although he claimed his success was three fourths luck and was always
surprised that so much of it should come his way. He disliked flattery,
and although he had to take a lot of it, it had no adverse effect
on him, always remaining the same old "Luf".
He took great care of his equipment. His plane
was always the best in the squadron, as fellow pilot Edward Hinkle
stated, Anyone would rather have a secondhand Lufbery machine
than a new one anytime. Lufbery also took great care of his
gun to assure it was in top working order, inspecting every bullet
for defects. He practiced continuously to maintain his skill as
an excellent marksman.
He possessed the necessary ingredients to become
a great Ace: incredible vision, superb reflexes, and
timeless patience, never substituting opportunity and favorable
position with reckless courage which only brought early death.
He cared little for official confirmation of
his aerial victories, which had to be witnessed by friendly ground
Several of his squadron mates noted many occasions
where "Luf" did not receive credit, and without doubt
did destroy the enemy machine. One such episode recalled by
Carl Dolan showed Lufberys lack of concern with official recognition.
Being witness to an aerial fight where Lufbery knocked down 3 of
5 and was credited with one, Dolan asked Lufbery if this bothered
him, to which Lufbery replied, What the hell do I care, I
know I got them!
Lufbery lived to fight, seemingly devoid
of fear, the thought of death not keeping him from pursuing
combat. Many times he returned with his plane riddled with bullet
holes, testimony to the fierce battles he fought. Only a frequent
attack of rheumatism could keep him grounded. Many times he ignored
the pain and continued his patrols with aching joints and crippled
When Lufbery was in the sky, he was one with
his machine. It became an extension of himself, in essence a flying
gun. Edward Hinkle commented on Lufberys tactics, Once
Luf spotted an enemy plane, he took his time maneuvering into precisely
the position he wanted. He attacked with the sun at his back, and
many an enemy pilot never knew what hit him.
The confident, strong, and determined fighter pilot, Raoul Lufbery.
A jovial Major Lufbery in front of a 94th
Aero Squadron Nieuport 28. This aircraft was used by many of the
American pursuit units until replaced by SPAD XIIIs. Although
it had good performance, the Nieuport 28 had a tendency to shed
the fabric of its upper wing; not a pleasant experience for an unsuspecting
Transition to the USAS
His transition to the US Air Service was
not an easy one. Although commissioned a Major, the Air Service
wanted him to write pamphlets on how to shoot down the enemy, a
job for which he was not suited. But, his old friend Bill Thaw intervened
and had Lufbery sent back to the front, where he could teach hands
Lufbery led the 94th Pursuit Squadron over
the lines on its first combat patrol. American Ace Eddie
Rickenbacker later wrote, Everything I learned, I learned
On May 19, 1918, an enemy reconnaisance
plane came over the field of the 94th. Lufberys own machine
was not ready so he climbed into the nearest available plane and
took off after the German. After five minutes he reached 2,000 feet
and closed in on the enemy. He fired a quick burst, but the gun
jammed and he circled away to clear it. He did so and attacked from
the rear again when suddenly his machine was seen to burst into
flames. In an attempt to survive, Lufbery jumped toward a stream
hoping to come down in the water. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
When the members of the 94th arrived at the site, they found his
charred body already removed to the town hall covered with flowers
from nearby gardens.
The funeral was held the next
day and attended by hundreds of officers both French and American,
including the commander of the French Sixth Army and his entire
staff, General Edwards, his former commanding officer in the Phillipines,
and USAS commander Colonel Billy Mitchell. Lufbery was buried
in the American Cemetery, Sebastopol Barracks at the age of 33.
In 1928, his body was re-interred in the Lafayette Memorial, Villeneuve,
France, in eternal rest with his fellow aviators and comrades.