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Terror of the Autumn Skies: The Story of Frank Luke, America’s Rogue Ace of World War I

by Blaine Pardoe, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., New York, 2008, $24.95

The first air war produced greater aces—and even greater balloon-busting specialists— than Frank Luke Jr., but no World War I ace made as swift and dramatic a transition from squadron pariah to heroic immortality as he did. Between his arrival at the 27th Aero Squadron on July 25 and September 12, 1918, Luke was regarded only as a disciplinary problem and a hollow braggart. But by September 16, he and his best friend, Joseph F. Wehner, were the talk of the front. On September 18, Luke downed two balloons and three airplanes within half an hour, and Wehner was killed. On September 29, Luke burned three balloons to bring his official tally to 18—and was also killed in action. He became the first member of the fledgling U.S. Army Air Service to be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Much has been written about Luke in the past, but in Terror of the Autumn Skies, Blaine Pardoe contributes the fruits of dedicated research into the man, his family, the fiancée whose love for him endured throughout her lifetime and the complexities of his personality. The author also devotes much space to separating the truth from the fiction that sprang up around Luke’s short, meteoric career. Even stripped of the often grotesque embellishments added by hack hagiographers and sensationalists, Frank Luke’s actual accomplishments stand up well enough.


Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here