The Fastest Gun in the Sky

Rickenbacker might have racked up his kills at a faster pace than anyone who flew in the Great War. His first combat mission was in March 1918, and his first kill came the following month. Between April and the end of the war in November, Rickenbacker

The Fastest Gun in the Skyshot down 22 airplanes and 4 balloons, a remarkable tally in a seven-month stretch. But the total is even more amazing when you take into account the two months that Rickenbacker spent in the hospital after surgery on his shoulder. Had he started flying earlier in the war, and had he been able to keep up that amazing pace, Rickenbacker probably would have been the highest – scoring ace in the war. As it was, Rickenbacker was promoted to commander of the “Hat in the Ring” squadron, and earned the title of America’s “Ace of Aces.”

The Fastest Gun in the Sky

Bifly Mitchell may have sensed the seeds of aviation greatness in "Eddie" Rickenbacker. After all, Mitchell had a gift for seeing the future. In the early 1920s, he predicted the Japanese would strike America with an attack at Pearl Harbor. He forecast that the blitz would come from the north using fighters that had been launched from aircraft carriers. He even predicted the attack would come on a Sunday morning. All of it unfortunately, came true.

The Fastest Gun in the Sky

Rickenbacker’s heroics led to peacetime fame once the Armistice was signed in November 1918. Because he was one of the few combat aces to survive the war, Rickenbacker returned to the United States to a hero’s welcome. He bought the Indianapolis Speedway and managed it from 1927 to 1945.

Plane Talk

for his heroism in attacking a formation of five German planes, downing two and chasing the others away. Rickenbacker received the Congressional Medal of Honor. He also received the Distinguished 5ervice Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

He put his automotive know-how to work when he created the “Rickenbacker car,” which featured a brake for each wheel. No competing carmaker offered this feature and it led one of them—no one has proven which company was responsible—to

spread rumors that the brakes led to crashes. In reality, the cars didn’t crash, but Rickenbacker’s company, thanks to the malicious rumors, did. It took Rickenbacker years to pay off the debts that had piled up, but he eventually paid back every penny.

The Fastest Gun in the Sky

Turbulence

World War I pilots suffered some indignities along with the adora­tion they received from the star – struck public. For example, airplane mechanics found that the only reliable way to thin the engine oil in the bitter European winters was to mix it with cod liver oil, a popular folk remedy for constipation. In flight, as the oil mixture vaporized in the engine cylinders, pilots inhaled the fumes. The result was pre­dictable, and one which hum­bled the wa К s greatest flyers.

In 1938, Rickenbacker became president of Eastern Airlines, and in his very first year on the job he made the company profitable—something that no airline executive had yet managed to do. He moved into the chairman’s seat in 1953, and stayed there until he left the airline—and left it profitable and respected—in 1963.

“Captain Eddie” Becomes Captain of Industry

When “Captain Eddie” became a captain of industry, his life of adventure was far from over. Early in America’s participation in World War II, Rickenbacker signed on for two secret government missions, one to Russia and the other to the South Pacific. The Russian mission was uneventful, but Rickenbacker’s October 1942 B-17 flight to New Guinea was a hair-raiser. En route, his airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean and he and the crew were forced to scramble onto life rafts. Rickenbacker, who was now in his early 50s, drifted in the middle of the ocean for 22 days before being rescued. On his arrival back in the States, he received the same welcome he enjoyed in 1918 when he returned from Europe as America’s greatest airman.

Rickenbacker died October 24, 1973, in Switzerland, and is buried in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

The Fastest Gun in the Sky

Plane Talk

In yet another piece of good luck, in May, 1918, ’‘Eddie* Rickenbacker managed to get back to his home base in one piece after the fabric covering the upper wing of his Neuport 28 biplane peeled into shreds during flight. The flight was a testimony to his expertise in the cockpit and to his ability to keep a cool head in the face of disaster.

"■ UH.-w. ЯЩИІ> m VJ-Д1 su-l —r——гг—rr-r-i—nr-——————————————————- ————

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