Early Life
Raoul Lufbery was born March 21, 1885, in Clermont-Ferrand, France, his father American and his mother French. Raised by his maternal grandmother, he set off at an early age for a life of adventure. In 1906, Raoul and his brother Charles arrived in Wallingford, Conn. to visit their father. As fate would have it, about the time the brothers were departing their ship at New York harbor, Edward Lufbery, unaware of his sons’ arrival, was boarding a ship for France. Raoul Lufbery would never see his father again. Two years later Lufbery continued his traveling. He joined the US Army in the Philippines where he became an excellent marksman. It was at this time he became a naturalized citizen.

After his enlistment ended, Lufbery continued on his life of adventure which in 1912, brought him to India where he met the aerial exhibitionist, Marc Pourpe. This meeting would shape the remainder of his life.

Raoul Lufbery and Marc Pourpe became companions from the moment they met. Pourpe trained Lufbery to be his mechanic and the two traveled through China and Egypt, performing aerial displays and completing an epic flight from Cairo to Khartoum and back. Lufbery followed Pourpe by any means possible on every leg of this journey.

The two returned to France in the summer of 1914 for a new plane and to plan their next trip to the Orient, but with the beginning of the war these plans were changed. Pourpe joined the French Air Service and Lufbery was assigned as his mechanic.

December 2, 1914 was a tragic day for Lufbery. Flights were prohibited that day due to overcast, but Pourpe disregarded that order and went on patrol. Unable to find the field he crashed nearby. Many rushed to the site to find a complete wreckage. Lufbery stood over it described as, “wide-eyed with the horror of it, unweeping, unable to say a word, standing motionless among the crowd.” This purposeless accident was to Lufbery the fault of the enemy and he swore revenge for the death of his friend. He was accepted for flight training in May 1915, and upon completion of training was assigned to a Voisin Bombing squadron, Escadrille VB 102, where he served with distinction for several months.

 


Raoul Lufbery the Ace on leave in Paris,
displaying all his awards for bravery.


Marc Pourpe with his Bleriot in the Orient circa 1912-1913.
Transfer from Bombers to Fighters
Not satisfied with the limitations of being a bomber pilot, Lufbery requested a transfer to fighter training. Finally accepted, he completed his training and was selected by Captain Thenault in May of 1916, to join the Lafayette Escadrille at Bar-le-Duc near Verdun. This site was the location of a fierce and bloody battle, which continued several months, putting great demands on the air service. From this point on, including his transition to the US Air Service and until his death, Lufbery never stopped flying, fighting the enemy, and teaching his fellow pilots aerial tactics.

Line-up of Voisin bombers of Escadrille VB102, stationed at Malzeville; winter 1915-16. Lufbery served with this unit during this time. The Voisin was a pusher style airplane with its radial engine mounted at the back of the nacelle. This design allowed a machine gun to be carried on the nose for defending against enemy aircraft.The Voisin type 3 or LA had a top speed of 100kph and could carry150kg of bombs.

Lufbery with his Nieuport 11, with his personal marking of a stylized RL. This is the aircraft he flew while stationed at the Verdun front. The little Nieuport, known as the ‘bebe’, was powered by an 80hp LeRhone rotary engine. It was capable of 97mph, and was liked for its quickness in a turn and ease of flying characteristics. It was not favorable to a steep dive and its one gun mounted above the wing was a drawback. It was the first true fighter aircraft of the French Air Service, and was a favorable opponent to its German counterparts.
(Photo courtesy of the Wallingford Public Library)

Lufbery the Fighter Pilot
Captain Thenault’s testimony of Lufbery

Captain Thenault held Lufbery’s abilities in the highest regard. He stated, “Above all the pilots who found themselves at Verdun was Lufbery. Each pilot can be recognized by his flight, but Lufbery stood out by the mastery and ease with which he executed his daring renversements and all the acrobatic stunts.”

Thenault also noted, “To fly high is very fatiguing, as the sudden changes of altitude quickly tire the heart. But never have I met a pilot with more endurance than Lufbery. When the sky was clear, he would go up three or four times a day to 18,000 feet just for his own pleasure, in a dilettante fashion. Never was he at all ill from it.”