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
|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 Thenaults testimony of Lufbery
Captain Thenault held Lufberys 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.