While not an expert at aerial acrobatics, Bishop possessed uncanny positional awareness and an eye for marksmanship. To hone his skills, he often dropped tin cans from his cockpit and used them for target practice as he dove to earth. Bishop preferred flying alone, and gained a reputation for his larger-than-life feats of courage. In one famous June 1917 solo attack on a German aerodrome, he supposedly destroyed three enemy planes in the air and several more on the ground. Worried his reckless style would get him killed and affect morale on the home front, Bishop’s superiors eventually removed him from combat duty in June 1918.
The Red Baron is remembered as Germany’s king of the skies during World War I, but Werner Voss may have been his closest competitor. Voss entered the war in 1914 at the age of 17, and served as a cavalryman before transferring to the air service and being placed in the same squadron as the Baron. He quickly won fame for his acrobatic flying style and deadly accuracy in combat, eventually amassing a total of 48 aerial victories and winning the “Pour le Merite,” Germany’s highest military honor during World War I. The young airman had a flair for the dramatic, and routinely landed next to his downed adversaries’ planes to claim a souvenir from the wreckage. When his defeated enemies were captured alive, Voss would sometimes pay them a visit to drop off some cigars or even an autographed photo of himself.
Voss is most famous for his final flight on September 23, 1917. In what is often called the greatest dogfight of the war, he singlehandedly engaged seven British pilots—all of them experienced aces—over Belgium. Though severely outnumbered, Voss spent a full ten minutes flying circles around his opponents and dancing between machine gun tracers, eventually forcing three of the British planes out of the fight before finally being shot down and killed. James McCudden, one of the British pilots, would later describe the 20-year-old Voss as “the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.”
Famed French ace Georges Guynemer entered World War I as a mechanic before getting his pilot’s license and first taking to the skies in June 1915. Guynemer downed German aircraft at an impressive rate over the next year, and soon established himself as the most feared pilot in France’s famed N.3 squadron, known as the “storks.” All the while, he used his mechanical know-how to make technical improvements to his aircraft. One particularly audacious creation was the so-called “avion magique,” a specially designed Spad XII fighter that sported a 37mm single shot cannon. The cannon was so strong that Guynemer risked crashing his plane simply by firing it, but he managed to use the experimental machine to claim at least two victories.
Though known for his uncompromising approach to combat, Guynemer also embodied the myth of the chivalrous pilot. During a famous June 1917 episode, he engaged in a lengthy dogfight with Ernst Udet, a top German ace. As each man twisted his machine through the sky in an attempt to gain the upper hand, Udet discovered that the guns on his plane had become hopelessly jammed. The German was certain he would be killed, but to his surprise, Guynemer simply acknowledged his plight with a wave of his hand and flew off. Like Udet, Guynemer also had his fair share of close calls—he survived seven plane crashes—but his luck finally ran out on September 11, 1917, when he was shot down and killed during a mission over Belgium. He would end the war with 54 enemy planes on his score sheet—second best in the nation after France’s “ace of aces,” Rene Fonck.