Flying ace

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Manfred von Richthofen in a "dogfight" (Luftkampf) with the Royal Flying Corps

A flying ace, fighter ace or air ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat.


Gustav Boehl flying a Halberstadt CL.II being attacked by a French SPAD in 1917.[1]
Hauptmann Werner Mölders from the Legion Condor was with 14 confirmed victories the most victorious fighter pilot of the Spanish Civil War, in WWII he shot down another 101 enemy aircraft.

Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen of the Imperial German Air Service was with 80 confirmed victories (Luftsiege) the most victorious fighter pilot of the First World War (followed by Ernst Udet, Erich Löwenhardt, Werner Voß, Josef Jacobs and Fritz Rumey). Erich Hartmann of the Luftwaffe was with 352 aerial victories during 1,425 combat missions (Feindflüge) the most victorious fighter pilot of WWII (followed by Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall, Otto Kittel, Walter Nowotny and Wilhelm Batz).

Ace in a day

German Luftwaffe against bombers of the USAAF
Fighters of the II. Gruppe/Jagdgeschwader 27 during the aerial defence of the Reich (Reichsluftverteidigung) on 19 July 1944 near München
Messerschmitt Me 262 of the Jagdverband 44 against B-24 bombers of the USAAF


The first aviators to ever achieve "ace in a day" were pilot Julius Arigi and observer/gunner Johann Lasi of the Austro-Hungarian air force (kaiserliche und königliche Luftfahrtruppen), on 22 August 1916, when they downed five Italian planes. The first single pilot (as opposed to double aviators, as is the case with the previously mentioned Arigi and Lasi) was World War I German flying ace Fritz Otto Bernert. Bernert scored five victories within 20 minutes on 24 April 1917. He had a total of 27 kills during the war, even though he wore glasses and had a useless left arm after being severly wounded.

Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor, the top scoring South African ace of the war, was piloting an SE5a fighter with Royal Air Force No 84 Squadron when he shot down five German aircraft on 19 May 1918. Billy Bishop, the top scoring Canadian and British Empire ace of the war (credited with 72 kills), was piloting an S.E.5 on 19 June 1918, when he scored four Pfalz D.III fighters and a LVG C two-seat reconnaissance aircraft near Ploegsteert.


German day and night fighter pilots claimed roughly 70,000 aerial victories during World War II, 25,000 over British or American and 45,000 over Soviet flown aircraft. 103 German fighter pilots shot down more than 100 enemy aircraft for a total of roughly 15,400 aerial victories. At least a further 360 pilots claimed between 40 and 100 aerial victories for round about 21,000 victories. Another 500 fighter pilots claimed between 20 and 40 victories for a total of 15,000 victories. 2,500 German fighter pilots attained ace status, having achieved at least 5 aerial victories. 453 German day and Zerstörer (destroyer) pilots received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. 85 night fighter pilots, including 14 crew members, were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

Ace in a day

Especially in WWII, it was possible to become an "ace in a day". A total of 68 US American pilots (43 Army Air Forces, 18 Navy, and seven Marine Corps pilots) were credited with the feat (mainly against the Japanese Air Force), including legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager. In the Soviet offensive of 1944 in the Karelian Isthmus, Finnish pilot Hans Henrik "Hasse" Wind (75 kills) shot down 30 Soviet aircraft in 12 days with his Bf 109 G. In doing so, he obtained "ace in a day" status three times. Finnish pilot Asse Ilmari Juutilainen (94 kills) also became ace in a day. French pilot Pierre Le Gloan shot down five Italian aircraft (among them four Fiat CR.42) on 15 June 1940 during the Battle of France.

Many German pilots became "ace in a day", among them (just to name a few and excluding double-aces and triple-aces) were Heinrich Bär on 30 June 1941, Hans Philipp on 30 July 1941[2], Werner Lucas (de) on 17 August 1941, Gordon Max „Mac“ Gollob on 21 August 1941, Joachim Brendel (de) on 9 March 1942, Gerhard Barkhorn on 22 June 1942, Joachim Wandel (de) on 9 August 1942, Georg Schentke (de) on 12 December 1942, Kurt Ebener (de) on 19 December 1942, Hans Hahn on 30 December 1942, Otto Kittel on 12 January 1943,[3] Fritz Tegtmeier on 14 January 1943, Heinrich Ehrler on 27 March 1943, Hans Grünberg (de) on 5 July 1943, Jakob Norz on 17 March 1944, Hans Waldmann (de) on 7 May 1944, Franz Dörr on 16 May 1944,[4] as well as the night fighters Werner Streib (de) and Rudolf Frank (de).

Double-ace in a day

To achieve this a pilot must have destroyed ten to 14 enemy aircraft in a single day. This has been achieved by 13 known pilots (eleven Germans and one Japanese), three of whom (all German) repeated their achievement a second time within weeks.

  • Hiromichi Shinohara, on 27 June 1939 set an Imperial Japanese Army Air Force record of eleven victories in a single day during an air battle over Tamsak-Bulak. He is highest scoring non-German ace in a day in history.
  • Adolf Dickfeld (de) shot down eleven Soviet aircraft on 8 May 1942.
  • Hermann Graf (de), the first fighter pilot to claim 200 aerial victories, shot down ten Soviet aircraft on 23 September 1942.
  • Max Stotz (de) shot down ten Soviet aircraft on 30 December 1942.
  • Walter Nowotny (de), the first fighter pilot to claim 250 aerial victories, twice shot down ten in one day. On 24 June 1943 and on 1 September 1943 he shot down ten Soviet aircraft.[5]
  • Erich Rudorffer (de) is credited with the destruction of the most aircraft ever in a single mission when he shot down thirteen Soviet aircraft on 11 October 1943.[6]
  • Johannes Wiese (de) shot down twelve Soviet aircraft on 5 July 1943.
  • August Lambert (de) shot down twelve Soviet aircraft on 17 April 1944.
  • Walter Wolfrum (Jagdgeschwader 52) twice shot down ten or more aircraft on one day. On 30 May 1944, he claimed eleven Soviet aircraft destroyed and on 16 July 1944, he shot down further ten.
  • Walter Schuck (de) shot down eleven Soviet aircraft on 17 June 1944.
  • Erich Hartmann, the highest-scoring fighter ace in history, downed eleven planes on 24 August 1944, in two consecutive missions. In the process, he became the first 300-kill ace in history, and as a result of this, gained the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, by then Germany's highest military award for standard servicemen.
  • Franz Schall (de) twice shot down ten or more aircraft on one day. On 26 August 1944, he shot down eleven Soviet aircraft, and on 31 August 1944, he shot down a further thirteen.
  • Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer (de) destroyed ten Royal Air Force bombers on 21 February 1945.

Triple-ace in a day

To achieve this a pilot must have destroyed 15 to 19 enemy aircraft in a single day. This has been achieved by only five pilots, all from the German Luftwaffe:

  • Emil Lang (de) shot down 18 Soviet fighters on 3 November 1943, the most kills on a single day by any pilot in history.
  • Hans-Joachim Marseille shot down 17 Allied fighters in three sorties over North Africa on 1 September 1942.
  • August Lambert shot down 17 Soviet aircraft on a single day in 1944.
  • Hubert Strassl shot down 15 Soviet aircraft on 5 July 1943 near Orel.[7]
  • Wilhelm Batz (de) shot down 15 Soviet aircraft on 31 May 1944.[8]

Further reading

  • Toliver, Raymond F. / Constable, Trevor J.,[9] Horrido! Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe, 1970
    • German version: Das waren die deutschen Jagdflieger-Asse 1939–1945, Motorbuch, Stuttgart, ISBN 978-3879431939 (countless editions)
  • Colin D. Heaton / Anne-Marie Lewis:
    • The German Aces Speak: WWII Through the Eyes of Four of the Luftwaffe's Most Important Commanders, 2011[10]
    • The German Aces Speak II: WWII Through the Eyes of Four of the Luftwaffe's Most Important Commanders
  • Philipp Ager / Leonardo Bursztyn / Lukas Leucht / Hans-Joachim Voth: Killer Incentives: Rivalry, Performance and Risk-Taking among German Fighter Pilots, 1939-45, in "The Review of Economic Studies", Volume 89, Issue 5, October 2022 (originally published in February 2021), pp. 2257–2292

External links


  1. The artist Heinz Krebs writes: High above the trenches on the Western Front, German aviator Gustav Boehl and his gunner are engaged in mortal combat as their Halberstadt CL.II comes under attack from French Spads. It’s the dawn of a new age in military history, and a new weapon is being forged, the aerial force. In the late stages of World War One German military commanders recognized a growing necessity for the close protection of reconnaissance and artillery control aircraft. As a result the so-called “Schutzstaffeln” (protection units) came into beingThe typical aircraft model used by such units were “C” type aircraft which were subsequently replaced by lighter machines known as “CL” type aeroplanes. Popular manufacturers of CL types were the “Hannoversche Waggonfabrik” and the “Halberstaedter Flugzeugwerke” as well as, later in the war, the Junkers aircraft company.Although aircraft made by the “Hannoversche Waggonfabrik” were designed by German aviation pioneer Claude Dornier, they weren’t near as popular with German combat crews as the aircraft made by the “Halberstaedter Flugzeugwerke”. Due to their agility and speed, their airplanes, only slightly larger dimensioned than single seat fighters, were especially well suited for use with the “Schutzstaffeln”. On October 13th, 1917 Gustav Boehl was transferred from the military flight training unit “Armeeflugpark 4” to the front line unit “Schutzstaffel 19”, where he served as a combat pilot in the rank of a Sergeant. “Schutzstaffel 19” was renamed “Schlachtstaffel 19” (Schlasta 19) on March 27th, 1918. The “Schlachtstaffeln” are commonly regarded as the forerunner of the fighter bomber units in later years of military aviation history.In the spring of 1918 such a “Schlachtstaffel” would have typically consisted of six aircraft, mostly either Halberstadt CL.IIs or CL.IVs. The units were commanded by a Second Lieutenant or First Lieutenant, himself not necessarily a pilot [often an observer / navigator / gunner). The pilots were routinely non-commissioned officers, the gunners normally being corporals or privates. These gunners were often able to master more than just their close support routine. This was impressively demonstrated by one of their ranks, Gottfried Ehmann, who managed to down a total of 12 attacking fighter aircraft during the course of his military carreer.
  2. On 30 July 1941, then again on 13 August 1941, 30 December 1942, 7 January 1943, 12 January 1943, 14 January 1943, 23 January 1943, 23 February 1943, 7 March 1943, and 16 March 1943, Hans Philipp, Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern Front, became a ten-time ace in a day, with five, five, eight, five, seven, five, six, eight, nine and five respectively.
  3. On 12 January 1943, then again on 4 August 1943, 4 April 1944, 28 June 1944, 14 September 1944, and 9, 27 and 29 October 1944, Otto Kittel, Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern Front, became an eight-time ace in a day, claiming six, seven, five, five, six, five, seven and six aerial victories, respectively.
  4. On 16 May 1944, then again on 26 May 1944, 17 June 1944, 27 June 1944, 28 June 1944, 4 July 1944, 23 August 1944, 9 October 1944, and 21 October 1944, Franz Dörr, Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern Front, became a nine-time ace in a day, with seven, five, eight, six, six, five, seven, six and five victories, respectively.
  5. On 20 July 1942, then again on 2 August 1942, 1 June 1943, 8 June 1943, 21 June 1943, 24 June 1943, 13 August 1943, 18 August 1943, 21 August 1943, 1 September 1943, 2 September 1943, 8 September 1943, 14 September 1943, 15 September 1943, 9 October 1943, 13 October 1943 and 14 October 1943, Walter Nowotny, Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern Front, became a seventeen-time ace in a day, with five, seven, five, six, six, ten, nine, six, seven, ten, six, five, six, six, eight, six and six respectively.
  6. On 9 February 1943, then again on 15 February 1943, 24 August 1943, 14 September 1943, 11 October 1943, 6 November 1943, 7 April 1944, 3 July 1944, 26 July 1944, 25 August 1944, 25 September 1944, 10 October 1944 and 28 October 1944, Erich Rudorffer, Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern Front, became a thirteen-time ace in a day, with eight, seven, eight, five, seven, fourteen, six, five, six, five, six, seven and eleven respectively.
  7. Hubert Strassl, Aces of the Luftwaffe
  8. On 1 December 1943, then again on 2 December 1943, 5 December 1943, 8 April 1944, 10 April 1944, 2 May 1944, 31 May 1944, 5 June 1944, 19 July 1944, 17 August 1944, 22 August 1944 and 23 October 1944, Wilhelm Batz, Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern Front, became a twelve-time ace in a day, with five, five, six, six, five, five, fifteen, eight, six, six, six and five respectively.
  9. Trevor J. Constable and Colonel Raymond F. Toliver were American authors who produced 10 non-fiction books on the fighter aces of World War II. Toliver was a U.S. Air Force pilot and official historian of the American Fighter Aces Association.
  10. "Of all the Luftwaffe's fighter aces, the stories of Walter Krupinski, Adolf Galland, Eduard Neumann and Wolfgang Falck shine particularly bright. For the first time in any book these four prominent and influential Luftwaffe fighter pilots reminisce candidly about their service in World War II." – Military Review