Lafayette Escadrille Home

The entrance to the military training facility at Avord, where several American volunteers received their Brevet. The entrance to other military installations was similar and Americans were greeted by such a sign at Buc and Pau as well as others.
Americans Trainees at Pau Aviation School, February, 1916.
(L to R) Soubiran, Rumsey, Pavelka, F. Prince, McConnell, Haviland, Robert Rockwell
Americans at Avord, March, 1917.
Standing: Rounds, Donzé, Molter, Wilcox, Pollack, Aten, Huger, J.N. Hall, McCall, Turnure, Carrère, Dolan, Chudwick
Kneeling & Sitting: Pelton, Rheno, Wells, Stehlin, G. Miller, Baer, Kerwood, P. Wilson, Scanlon, J.R. Adams


Aviation Training
American volunteers of the French Air Service began their journey to pilot status with the approval of Dr. Gros in Paris and acceptance into the Foreign Legion in order to retain US citizenship. The next step was a lenient physical exam. Ted Parsons stated, “The French paid scant attention to physical handicaps. Their greatest and practically only requirement was that we should have that intangible something called guts.”

Compared to most other countries, the French system of fighter pilot training was unique. The student was given instruction on the ground and then controlled a series of low powered aircraft alone, without the aid of dual control.

First the students learned to taxi with a clipped wing monoplane called a ‘penguin’. Eventually graduating through a series of more powerful machines, they were ready to complete a three part test. Once successfully completed, they were awarded their military pilot certificates, or brevet.

Of the 38 members of the Lafayette Escadrille, 15 earned their brevet on Bleriots, 16 earned their certificates on the Caudron G-3 while the other seven trained on various types. Once the brevet was awarded, all were promoted to caporal and continued with advanced instruction.

A Bleriot Penguin trainer, with its clipped wings making it incapable of flight, was used for developing skills on the ground. Although it seemed easy to drive the length of the field in a straight line, more often than not students began turning circles. It could take a month to master the simple penguin.

Left to Right, Frazier Curtis, Jimmie Bach, Bert Hall and Norman Prince at Pau military flight school March 1915. A ‘penguin’ training plane is in the background.

Aerial Maneuvers, Tactics, and Combat
After earning their pilots certificate, the fledgling aviators learned acrobatics. Used for both offensive and defensive maneuvers, they included the Horizontal Vrille, Change of Direction, Retournment and Renversement. A group defensive measure, the Lufbery Circle, was developed by Raoul Lufbery.

In addition, pilots learned to power dive in order to attack from above or escape attack from behind. Other tactics included coming from out of the sun to prevent being spotted by the enemy. They quickly learned the value of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their aircraft as well as the enemy in order to gain the advantage in a fight.

However, all the preparation of advanced training could not prepare the novice aviator for actual combat. If one survived the first four weeks, he might stay alive for some time. One had to ‘gain his eyes’ to be able to find enemy planes in the distance, above, below or especially behind. As one pilot stated, ‘ones head needed to be on a swivel’.

A trick used by both friend and foe was placing a two-seat reconnaissance plane alone as bait to be attacked by an enemy fighter. A novice was susceptible to this tactic and was pounced upon by several enemy machines. If the novice was lucky, he was protected by a veteran and lived to fly another day. As Ed Parsons stated, many including himself, were saved by Raoul Lufbery.

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The Pursuit Pilot
The basic job of the pursuit pilot was to:

1. Drive away enemy reconnaissance, artillery spotting and bombing planes from friendly skies

2. Escort bombing and reconnaissance planes over enemy territory keeping fighters from them

3. Contact patrols – free roaming of the skies engaging enemy machines when opportunities arose

During the summer of 1916, fighting was fierce over Verdun and the Lafayette Escadrille had a share of it. They were directly opposite the German unit of the German Ace, Oswald Boelke. It is believed that his unit, and very possibly he personally, was responsible for the demise of Victor Chapman.

Toward the end of the Lafayette’s stay at Behonne (Verdun) in August 1916, Lufbery had a dual with a Fokker, which was very hard fought and ended in a draw. This is believed to have been against Boelke, although never proven.

Oswald Boelke was one of the first heroes and early air tactician of the German Air Service. His unit was opposite the Lafayette during the fighting at Verdun in the summer of 1916. His unit and possibly he personally was responsible for the loss of Victor Chapman. Also, later that summer, Lufbery was involved in a fierce duel which lasted 10 minutes and ended in a draw. This experienced foe has often believed to have been Boelke but this was never proven.
Max Immelmann with the Fokker Eindecker. Immelmann like Boelke used the machine with its synchronized machine gun to full advantage, developing his own offensive combat maneuver known to this day as “ an Immelmann”.
The Albatros series of fighters helped Germany regain the advantage of fighter vs. fighter combat over the Nieuports, which they maintained until the arrival of SPAD VII’s. The Lafayette pilots engaged Albatros fighters on many occasions.

The Roland C-II was a multi-purpose German 2-seater. Raoul Lufbery brought down this type on Oct. 12, 1916 for his 5th confirmed victory, to become America’s first Ace.

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