The army is no place for defiant people and those who do not want to follow orders, or so they say. Perhaps not until Frank Luke Jr. became a US aviator during World War I, entering with his arrogance and tendencies to disobey orders. Although when it comes to doing his job, he proved that he was more than capable and dedicated to the cause he was fighting for.

On His Way To Becoming “The Arizona Balloon Buster”

Born on May 19, 1897, in Phoenix, Arizona, Luke was the fifth child among the 9 siblings. He proved to be an active and strong young man— he loved hunting, was excellent at sports, worked in copper mines, and even participated in bare-knuckle boxing matches.

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Frank was one of the many men who enlisted. In September that year, he chose to be part of the Aviation Section, US Signal Corps. After receiving his pilot training in Texas and California and being commissioned a second lieutenant in March the following year, he was sent to France to receive further training until July. He was then assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron.

An Honest Dislike For Excessive Discipline

As Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, fighter ace in World War I, described Luke,

He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other Ace: Britain’s Bishop from Canada, France’s Fonck or even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that.

And he was accurate. It all started when Luke witnessed a German plane shoot down an American observation balloon filled with morbid fascination. This, and the wrecked planes and dead pilots that he saw when he arrived at the Front, left an impression on him, vowing that the Germans would never get him that same way.

It wasn’t long before he landed when he engaged in his first aerial combat and landed his first bullet on August 18th. When he returned, he declared, “I’ve got a Fokker!” but no one seemed to be convinced, except for First Lieutenant Joseph Wehner, who would later become a good friend of his. From then on, his plan was to shoot down enemy balloons, regardless of how risky it would be.

And it was risky.  The balloons were used for observation of the front lines and to deny the airspace to enemy planes who would lose a wing if they caught the metal cables the balloons were attached to. You had to fly low to get a shot at these balloons which opened you up to murderous ground fire from anti-aircraft guns, machine guns and hundreds of rifles of troops on the ground.