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 nerve
and unerring aim were worth a whole squadron. He flew as the bird flies,
without any thought as to how it was done.”

Lufbery in the cockpit of his Nieuport 17 at Cachy, late 1917.

Lufbery the “Ace”
Lufbery’s 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 units.

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 Lufbery’s 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 muscles.

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 Lufbery’s 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 XIII’s. 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 pilot.

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 on’.

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 from Lufbery.”

On May 19, 1918, an enemy reconnaisance plane came over the field of the 94th. Lufbery’s 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.