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“The Balloon-Gun Kid” by Andrew A. Caffrey

Link - Posted by David on February 23, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have another story from one of the new flight of authors on the site this year—Andrew A. Caffrey. Caffrey, who was in the American Air Service in France during The Great War and worked for the air mail service upon his return, was a prolific author of aviation and adventure stories for both the pulps and slicks from the 1920’s through 1950. Here Caffret tells the tale of Lieutenant Paul Storm.

Lieutenant Paul Storm was a few years shy of being twenty. Yes, that was young. But Storm was an exceptional hand with a ship. He had been exceptional from the first time he’d ever taken his place in a rear cockpit for instruction. He learned how to fly in three hours. As a rule, ten hours was considered mighty fast. Storm was so good, he was placed on a free-lance status allowing him to fight where and when and with whom he liked. From the July 1929 number of Sky Birds, it’s Andrew A. Caffrey’s “The Balloon-Gun Kid!?

Storm was an airman—every inch of him. When he started out free-lancing, even the sullen sides helped him to batter and spin his way to victory!

The Pulp Plagiarism Scandal of 1929

Link - Posted by David on February 5, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

IF FRIDAY’S story seemed a little familiar to you, there may be a reason for that. The entire story was plagiarized from another. In this case it was Ben Conlon’s “Flyers of Fortune” (Air Trails, July 1929). Yes, Carter’s “Fortune Flyers” was a virtual word for word rip off of Conlon’s earlier story.

Everything seemed to be going Robert A. Carter’s way. A former Canadian war time ace, he was Married in 1925, with a girl born the following year, the former Canadian war time ace had found a way to profit off his past experiences by not only editing two of Fiction House’s Aviation pulps—Air Stories and Wings, but he was also getting his own stories in including a 14 part series on “How to Become a Pilot” that ran in both magazines.

Toward the end of 1928, it all started to unravel.

Turns out that loving wife and child was more of a ball and chain to Carter who found he preferred the company of his friends over them. As the Port Chester Daily Item reported on January 12th:

Alimony of $35 a week and counsel fees of $500 must be paid to Mrs. Michelena Carter, of 88 Chatswood Avenue, Larchmont, by her husband, Robert A. Carter, editor of aeronautical fiction magazines, according to award made here by Supreme Court Justice George H. Taylor, Jr., in Special Term. The award was made by default as no opposition was presented by the husband.
      According to the wife’s complaint, she married Carter on August 6, 1925, at Catskill and they have lived since in this county. There is one child, Mary Elizabeth, born November 17, 1926.
      Carter, according to his wife, is thirty years of age and is employed by the Fiction House, Inc., 271 Madison Avenue, New York City. as editor of two aeronautical fiction magazines, “Wings” and “Air Stories.” He receives a salary of $40 weekly, she alleges, and from $25 to $60 for each story he furnishes the magazines.
      Basing her plea for separation on the grounds of cruelty and abandonment, Mrs. Carter alleges that without cause or provocation, Carter absented himself from their Larchmont home for several nights a week from August to December of last year. Even the Christmas holiday was spent away from home, she says, her husband telling her he preferred to spend his time with friends.
      On December 28th, she says, he packed his clothes and left with the statement that he did not intend to return and that he was “through” with her. She alleges that he left no money for her needs, that her baby is ill, and that she is without funds with which to purchase medicines or the services of a physician.
      The alimony awarded is pending the trial of the separation action.

Although the home life may have fallen apart, his writing career seemed to flourish as he started to see print in other titles—Aces, Air Trails, Flying Aces and War Birds. Which is good, since Carter and his estranged wife entered into a stipulation on June 4th whereby he was to pay $40 weekly out of his $100 weekly earnings as a magazine writer and the daring hero of many magazine exploits in the air.

He lived up to the agreement for two weeks before disappearing sight unseen.

Maybe this is why he was so hard to pin down and seemed a little cagey in that Air Trail’s biographical piece from November 1929. Or maybe it was the fact that he had already plagiarized several stories and submitted them to his boss at Fiction House, John B. Kelly as his own! And with the publication of the December 1929 issue of Wings, it all hit the fan!

The Pulp Plagiarism Scandal of 1929
The Stories in Question. The opening pages of Ben Conlon’s “Flyers of Fortune” (Air Trails, July 1929) and Robert A. Carter’s “Fortune Flyers” (Wings, December 1929)

The Port Chester Daily Item reports (on the front page!):

When the Muse failed and he resorted to plagiarism to keep the candle burning at both ends Robert A. Carter, thirty-two, self styled World War aviator, who is well known in Harrison and Rye, let himself in for plenty of trouble. He was lodged in the Tombs Prison in New York City today, charged with grand larceny as the result of a confession that he copied aviation stories verbatim from one magazine and sold them to another.
      The specific instance on which the charge is based concerns the story “Flyers of Fortune,” by Ben Conlin, published in “Air Trails.” Carter is alleged to have copied it word for word and sold it to the magazine “Wings” under the title “Fortune Flyers.” For it he received $240 from John B. Kelly, head of Fiction House, Inc., of 271 Madison Avenue, New York City.
      Carter, who formerly lived in Harrison, was arrested by a detective from the office of Assistant District Attorney Edward Laughlin at his home, 25 East 30th Street. He was indicted by the grand Jury on a grand larceny charge and a bench warrant issued for his arrest. The Indictment was based mainly on a written confession to Kelly, in which Carter admitted having plagiarized the story as well as two others.
      According to Kelly, Carter came to him about two and a half years ago and asked for a job. He said be had served in the Royal Flying Corps in Italy during the war and thought he could write stories of his experiences. He was given a Job and his stories, when published, were enthusiastically received. He was soon made managing editor of “Wings” and a little later arranged a broadcast from the Hotel Roosevelt in which he introduced several famous wa races. He also did some work for a Brooklyn station and later represented himself as the director, which was the first Intimation that Kelly had of his duplicity.

Kelly estimated Carter managed to extract $1,100 from the company through his plagiaristic efforts.

After his apprehension, it was discovered that fiction filching was the most remunerative, but not the exclusive manner of his making a living. Two Manhattan hotels had $850 worth of bad bills against him.

Convicted of the charges petty larceny, Plagiarist Carter was sentenced to serve not less than six months, nor more than three years in the penitentiary.

The 1930 US Census lists Robert A. Carter as an inmate of Cell Block A at the Hart Island Reformatory Prison in the Bronx.

This story was big news. Although it never received large splashy headlines, Carter’s plagiarism was reported in papers as if it had just happened well into 1932. It even made Time magazine—twice! Once in the 23 December 1929 issue and a more detailed piece two months later in the 24 February 1930 issue.

“Fortune Flyers” by Robert Carter

Link - Posted by David on February 2, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a exciting air adventure from the pen of Robert Carter. Carter was a decorated WWI aviator who flew Bristol Fighters along the Italian front and poured this experience into the pulp stories he wrote from 1927 to 1929 for magazines like Aces, Air Trails, Air Stories, Battle Stories, War Birds and Wings.

When Webb Foster sacrifices his new plane to save a man in trouble, a wealthy Mr. Charlton hires him on to pilot his new plane on his expedition to Biplane Island to find a fortune in gold! From the December 1929 Wings, it’s Robert Carter’s “Fortune Flyers!”

Treasure waits under tropic seas. High in the skies above the Spanish Main, Webb Foster peers down upon coral reefs. And buccaneers of the air fly to do murder for hidden gold. . . .


As a bonus, here’s a brief biographical sketch of Carter from Air Trails’ November 1929 “Landing Field” Column:

THIS month we’ve dragged another one of Air Trails’ pilot-writers out of his cockpit so that you folks can take a look at him. It’s hard to get these flying fellows to pose for their pictures. Most of them are so darned camera shy that you have to chase them all over the sky and shoot their props off before they’ll come down and act sensible. But sometimes you can catch them off guard.

We got Robert Carter out to lunch the other day and said: “How about telling the folks something about yourself?” This was the fiftieth time we’d asked him the same question; but each time before he’d stalled us. Most pilots can stall just like a motor with a bug in the gas lines. But this time Carter sort of grinned and said he’d see about it. He’d just come back from a flight out to meet one of the big transatlantic liners. He’d flown in and around and over a fog bank as big as all outdoors, and for once his motor was working in good shape. He didn’t stall.

The very next day he sent us a slip of paper about two by three inches in size with a few details of his life written on it. It wasn’t much, but it was something. He also enclosed a picture of himself in a service uniform. Our staff artist made a line drawing of it.

Robert Carter is a Southerner by birth, and a Georgia Tech graduate. We want to say here that that’s a good start for any man. We’ve seen the Georgia Tech football team in action. They don’t make ‘em any better than you’ll find ‘em down where the Georgia peaches grow.

When the World War started it didn’t take Robert Carter long to get in it. He flew a Bristol Fighter on the Italian front—a tricky little two-place ship, death on landing, and powered with a water-cooled motor. He taught a good many Italians how to fly. Then he got into the thick of the fighting, was shot down once and received some painful wounds during a night bombardment.

At the end of the war Carter came home with a limp, ten dollars in his pocket, and a decoration. He has fifteen hundred air hours logged and certified too. Carter is a regular fellow. He tried to forget his war experience; but no one would let him. Some bright editor insisted that he write air stories. He did, and there you are.

Like the other men who are writing for Air Trails, his stories ring true because he knows a joy stick from the clutch on a tin lizzie. He doesn’t need to take a ride in a carnival shoot-the-chutes to get air action and “atmosphere.”

“The Night-Raid Patrol” by Eustace Adams

Link - Posted by David on January 12, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a story from the prolific pen of Eustace L. Adams. Born in 1891, Adams was an editor and author who served in the American Ambulance Service and the US Naval Service during The Great War. His aviation themed stories started appearing in 1928 in the various war and aviation pulps—Air Trails, Flying Aces, War Stories, Wings, War Birds, Sky Birds, Under Fire, Air Stories and Argosy. He is probably best remembered for the dozen or so airplane boys adventure books he wrote for the Andy Lane series.

Lieutenant Bull Meehan, U.S.N., was in a mood. And when Bull was in a mood, let it be said that the United States Naval Air Station at Souilly-sur-mer was a place over which the sun hid behind lowering clouds; where red wine soured on the mess table; where flatfooted gob sentries paced their beats with the snap and the devotion to duty of Imperial Household Guardsmen and where the young naval aviators gathered in the lee of the hangars and cursed with great feeling and remarkable fluency. It was at this time, Ensign Wadsworth arrived wearing his Croix de Guerre under his gold naval aviator’s badge and had a record of two years’ flying service with the French Army…

From the August 1929 issue of Sky Birds, it’s Eustace Adams’ “The Night-Raid Patrol!”

A smashing hit! Follow this plucky Yankee flier through hell-popping adventure. See him zig-zag through the air, spewing havoc and destruction, locking wings with his venomous C.O. Here is a thrilling yam from the pen of a master of tale-spinner!


As a bonus, here’s an article about the author himself from the Akron Beacon Journal in 1940!

Argument With Wife Started Eustace Adams’ Career; Author of Adventure Tales Now Wants To Do ‘Better’ Things

by Naomi Bender • Akron Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio • Sunday, March 24, 1934, p.9-D

MIAMI, Fla., March 23.— Ever hear of Eustace L. Adams? Probably not, yet he’s in “Who’s Who”—there’s three inches of small type about him—he writes serials and short stories for most of the better magazines.

He’s had dozens of boys’ books published, as well as a few adventure novels. His works have been published in England. They’re called “Sovereign Thrillers” there, or, in the vernacular, “Shilling Shockers.” He’s 49 and he makes enough money out of his writing to be in the upper income brackets. He calls himself just a good “potboiler.”

“And I have no message for suffering humanity,” the athletic-looking author said, with a grin, as he puffed on a cigaret. We were seated in his workroom, at the rear of his home on Palm island overlooking the bay.

He’s a likable fellow, this Adams, with a nice grin, kindly blue eyes and a nautical air about him. That’s probably because, when he’s not working, you’ll usually find him on his tiny sailboat, for sailing is his one and only pastime.

Argument Changes Career

He was an aviator during the war. After that, he became a salesman for an advertising concern. Then fate stepped in and shoved him into a completely different profession.

It all started over an argument with his wife. Well, not exactly an argument, but it was like this:

Mr. Adams traveled quite a bit so his wife decided to take a course in journalism to keep herself busy. That started her writing short stories but, like many an amateur writer, her intentions were better than the results. She rarely, if ever, finished her stories.

So naturally, one day, friend husband said, with a very superior air: “I bet I could write one of those confession stories you’re always playing around with. I’ll show you how to do it.”

And naturally, friend wife, knowing her husband had never written a line in his life, reacted just as any wife would—with a big raspberry.

But this time the husband won the decision. He not only wrote the story, but he received a handsome check as first prize winner of a confession story contest.

This was very nice indeed, but Adams still thought a good job with an advertising concern was better than the doubtful security of writing.

Then Lindbergh made his sensational hop across the Atlantic, which might seem to have no connection with the life of Eustace L. Adams but did.

Adams had been a professional aviator; he had also won a confessional story contest. Lindbergh’s flight put a premium on stories with a factual aviation background. And the pulp magazine editor thought of Adams.

”It just happened that at the time I was one of the few literate persons who knew anything about flying,” Adams modestly explained.

He wrote a serial and five short stories in 60 days and sold them all.

From that time on, he has been a professional writer.

Starts Early, Quits Early

He says he keeps “regular office hours” but there are few offices where the employees arrive at 5 o’clock every morning. Adams works until noon each day on an electric typewriter and then he’s through for the day.

“I take only two holidays a year,” he said, “the 4th of July and Christmas.”

He reads a lot, chiefly better fiction and magazines, plenty of magazines.

“I’m just like an architect looking at other architects’ houses,” he stated. “Times change in popular fiction; each year there’s a tiny shift in fashions and I have to keep up with them if I want to sell my stuff.”

There are days when he’s wished he were a plumber or a dentist. “Anything,” he said, with a wry grin, “but what I am, which forces me to sit here at the typewriter whether I want to or not.”

And he does sit there, without doodling, for a stipulated time each day even when he can’t write a line he thinks is worth a hoot.

For, as with all authors, there are dry periods when things just won’t come through

“Then I try to remember what Edith Wharton once said. It’s helped me over many a tough spot when my mind’s as empty as a bass drum. ’Just put one word after another laboriously,’ she said, ’juat carry your hero along and keep on plodding, then all of a sudden things begin to go.’”

He works on one story at a time even though he does turn out millions of words each year. He doesn’t use a plot machine, either He’s tried it, he confesses, but it didn’t work. He sells the majority of the stories he writes. He has a little card file on which he keeps a record of each story he has written and its fate. If the story sells, the amount is marked down neatly, with the date and the publication to which it was sold. If it flopped, this is noted on cards that go into the rear of the file, marked “Rejected.” The number of these cards is very small.

Like all authors who depend on their writing for a living. Adams fears the day when he may run out of ideas or may not be able to sell his stories.

But when that day comes he hopes to have enough money so that he can sit back and relax and enjoy life.

Influence Isn’t Necessary

Here’s how he would advise those who aspire to be professional “entertainment writers.”

Study the magazines to which you want to sell your stories. “You can’t just write a story, send it around to every magazine from the pulps to the slicks and get it sold. It has to be directed to a particular publication.”

You don’t need any influence with magazine editors. If your stories are good, they’ll grab them.

“About the only break I get,” the author said, “is that if I send a story in that Isn’t quite right, I’ll get It back with something like this written on it. ‘On page 33, you stink. Or your heroine is out of line, fix her up.’ Then I revise the story, send it back and it has a good chance of being accepted.

“The chief handicap any young writer has to overcome,” Adams continued, “Is getting gun shy in front of the typewriter. Most amateurs have to cure themselves of buck fever before they can do their best. Once that’s licked, half battle is won.”

Tucked somewhere back in his mind is the thought that some day he may do a “real job of writing ”

He knows most popular authors feel that way and he’s not kidding himself.

“Naturally I would like to do better things,” he confessed frankly. “It would be swell to have real genius, like Hemingway in ‘The Killer’ or ’The Sun Also Rises,’ or Steinbeck In ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ I would like to say to myself that, if I had five years I could do something good, too. I know it may be just an illusion, but I also know that many of our best writers got their training first in the pulp magazine field.”

“Flaming Bullets” by Franklin M. Ritchie

Link - Posted by David on January 5, 2024 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have another story by Franklin M. Ritchie. Ritchie only wrote aviation yarns and his entire output—roughly three dozen stories—was between 1927 and 1930. Today we have another one from the lawyer who wrote pulp stories on the side to satisfy his yen for flying. From an early issue of Sky Birds, Ritchie gives us a tale of the chivalry of the air—but from the German point of view. Enter young Oberleutnant Fritz von Hullesheim who gets himself into a real mess over his flight leaders use of incendiary bullets in his air battles.

From the April 1929 issue of Sky Birds, it’s Franklin M. Ritchie’s “Flaming Bullets!”

The amazing chivalry of the men of the air astounded the whole world during the war. They were true sportsmen, those sky-fighters. Here is a breath-taking yarn from behind the enemy lines showing how the picture looked through the eyes of German War Flyers!

“Flying Ghosts” by Franklin M. Ritchie

Link - Posted by David on November 10, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have another story by Franklin M. Ritchie. Ritchie only wrote aviation yarns and his entire output—roughly three dozen stories—was between 1927 and 1930. Today we have another one from the lawyer who wrote pulp stories on the side to satisfy his yen for flying. From the premier issue of the short lived Eagle of the Air, Ritchie tells the story of rookie pilot Eric Folsom and his rise to responsible squadron veteran.

From the October 1929 issue of Eagles of the Air, it’s Franklin M. Ritchie’s “Flying Ghosts!”

Battle on battle surged in the clouds—men leaped to death through tracer-scorched skies—but when the squadron leaders went down, Eric Folsom just had to find his wings!

“The Phantom Fokker” by Fred Denton Moon

Link - Posted by David on October 20, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have another one of the few stories from Fred Denton Moon. Moon was born in Athens, Georgia in 1905 and was a freelance writer. A former staff member of The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazinesince 1930, he was the first editor of the Journal’s wire photo service as well as former city editor of the Journal. He was member of the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi and retired from the Georgia Department of Labor in 1971. Moon died in 1982 at the age of 76.

Jeff Potts was the best-natured man in the Red Dot. Also, the most fearless. He’d won a string of medals before most of the other boys started realizing that a little scrap was going on in France. But he never bragged. In fact, Jeff Potts was so reckless in his fearlessness, a few of the men had an idea that he was just a little bit off. But even those who thought he was queer liked him a heap. The Red Dot actually seemed to centre around Jeff Potts. He was the life of the field. So when Jeff came back from a night time bombing mission with a story of a Phantom Fokker, the rest of the squadron didn’t quite know how to take it—or him. It wasn’t until long after the war that Jeff learned the truth behind “The Phantom Fokker!” From the pages of the March 1929 issue of Sky Birds.

A weird, strange story of a baffling encounter with a ghost of the air.

“Square—Hell!” by O.B. Myers

Link - Posted by David on October 6, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a story from the pen of a prolific pulp author O.B. Myers! Myers was a pilot himself, flying with the 147th Aero Squadron and carrying two credited victories and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

This time, Mr. Myers gives us a tale of the supposed chivalry among enemy pilots in “Square—Hell!” from the pages of the June 1929 number of War Novels!

“Give them both guns in the guts”—that was the flight commander’s treatment for disabled enemy flyers. But air warfare to Larry Fowler was still a game, to be played according to certain rules of sportsmanship.

“Sky Pictures” by Raoul Whitfield

Link - Posted by David on September 8, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a story from Raoul Whitfield. Whitfield was a prolific pulp writer primarily known for his hardboiled crime fiction published in the pages of Black Mask, but he was equally adept at lighter fair that might run in the pages of Breezy Stories. We’ve featured a number of his Buck Kent stories that ran in Air Trails, but this time we have a WWI tale!

What are the chances of two men from the same squadron, assigned to the same D.H. for reconnaissance photos, having the same picture of a girl from back home on their coop walls? From the June 1929 number of Over The Top, it’s Raoul Whitfield’s “The Sky Joker!”

Photographs, military and otherwise, bring trouble to a certain American flying squadron in France.

“Knights of the Nieuport” by Andrew A. Caffrey

Link - Posted by David on August 18, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have another story from one of the new flight of authors on the site this year—Andrew A. Caffrey. Caffrey, who was in the American Air Service in France during The Great War and worked for the air mail service upon his return, was a prolific author of aviation and adventure stories for both the pulps and slicks from the 1920’s through 1950. For the second issue of Sky Birds, Caffrey tells the story of Lieutenant Mike Harris—a.k.a. “Coupe Mike” due to his proclivity to overuse the coupe button during his training—fresh up from Issoudon after extensive training.

Caffrey himself gives a vague bit of the background for the tale while praising Hersey on his great line of aviation titles in a letter in the Ailerons column from the same issue:

From the February 1929 issue of Sky Birds:

“Coupe Mike,” they called him. He was named a Lieutenant by the War Department, and Michael by an adoring mother. However, Fate dubbed him a Black Cat for luck until Fate changed his mind and so furnished the material for a bang-up air novelette.


As a bonus, here’s a brief autobiography of sorts by Andrew that ran in the April 1928 New McClures Magazine:

MY LONG-LOAFING experience was started back in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on the coldest March the eleventh that 1891 knew. That makes me twenty-one by actual count.

Early in May, 1917, I talked the War over with a recruiting sergeant in San Francisco and he promised that it would last long enough. Well, before I was in that uniform for one full lay I knew that the War had lasted too long. And it was more than three years before I gazed at a bird in a mirror of a New York automat and wondered why he looked back at me, and like me. It was so long since I had seen me in civvies that I was startled, as someone has said, to stillness. Yet, for the first time in a long while i liked me.

After the War I was with air mail in San Francisco. Later I went as a civilian employee to McCook Field, Dayton. There I worked with the cross-country section and flew much over the East. When Clover Field, Santa Monica, came into existence I came here as Chief Mechanic. Out of Clover Field I flew on much long-distance work; coast to coast and north and south. We were trying to prove that aviation had arrived. It hadn’t and it hasn’t: and I, for one, know that there’ll be lots of good flying ten years from now. And wanting to be in on some of the good flying, I gave the thing up till such time as some great skill unfolds the future of air. Over periods of years at a time we followers of air lose track of old pals. But sooner or later we always find them, and in the same place—in the crashed and killed news. As long as that is true flying has not arrived. The game today is just as dangerous as it was when the Wrights hopped off at kitty Hawk. That’s why the one living Wright, Curtiss, Martin and the old men of the air stay on the ground. They know, and better than anybody else realize, that the patron saint of aviation is the Fool Killer.

Fact is, I am one of an ex-army of broken men. And I tell you what: it’s been a hard quiet war for a lot of us boys ever since a certain long lank kid clapped a cool blue eye to a periscope and found Paris. . . Find Paris! Say, isn’t it just possible that a lot of us should get off the controls and let somebody fly who can fly? . . . But it’s tough to be running around with clipped wings and have no willing ears to tell it to. Lindy has done a lot for aviation, but look what he’s done to the rest of us!

Well, I’m sure sorry for the rest of the boys, but just so long as McClure’s will let me fly now and then I’ll try to keep a stiff upper lip and the rest of the fixings.


* The above picture of Andrew A. Caffrey is cropped from a picture that accompanied Caffrey’s article “West is East (Or Delivering the General’s Nickel-Plated Dog Kennel)” that appeared in the pages of the December 1923 issue of U.S. Air Service.

“Martyrs of the Air: Frank Luke” by R.C. Wardell

Link - Posted by David on July 3, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we present an early Flying Aces cover from March 1929 by the incomparable R.C. Wardell. Wardell turned out numerous covers for the pulps in the late ’20’s and early ’30’s for magazines like Under Fire, Flyers, Flying Stories, Prison Stories, Sky Birds, Prize Air Pilot Stories, Far East Adventure Stories, Murder Stories, Murder Mysteries, Zoom! and of course Flying Aces, signing most of this work as “R.C. Wardel.” Here he depicts American Ace Frank Luke, shot down behind enemy lines waiting for the enemy troops to advance and take him prisoner—if they can!

Martyrs of the Air: Frank Luke

A German in name, but a fiery, patriotic American at heart, Frank Luke, the greatest ace that ever emblazoned his name in aviation annals, died as he had lived—a flaming, fighting, fast-winged warbird.


How much the name means to those few who knew how he fought, and died. And contrarily, how little it means to the vast majority of the great American people who knew so little about him.

Lieutenant Frank Luke’s career was short, hectic, and dynamic. He blazed across the wartorn skies of France like a flaming meteor and with equal brilliance. Very few people ever see the same blazing meteor in its dazzling course across the night skies; very few people ever heard of Lieutenant Frank Luke during his short but sensational career on the western front.

But to those who did come in contact with him, his valorous deeds and manner of dying will ever remain in their memories as long as they live. Frank Luke was the most courageous, the most audacious war bird that ever handled a control stick and pressed the Bowden triggers mounted on it.

Only Eddie Rickenbacker topped him in the final list of American Aces after the war was ended. Rickenbacker was officially credited with 26 victories. Frank Luke had 21. But the comparison is hardly fair to Frank Luke, for Eddie Rickenbacker was on the front for almost six months.

Luke’s front line career lasted only a little over two weeks, and even in that short space of time he was at one time the American Ace of Aces and there is no telling what score he would have run up if he hadn’t died. And how he died!

Bom of a German father who had emigrated to this country in the early days, and carrying a German name, Luke was looked upon with suspicion by his squadron mates who fraternized very little with him. Little did they suspect the intense hatred for the Germans that Luke harbored in his breast. He hated the enemy with an intensity of feeling that was only equalled by his supreme courage, and he swore when living that no German would ever take him alive. No German did.

There was another pilot in his squadron who had a German name and was of German parentage, a Lieutenant Wehner. The two, because they were more or less ostracized by the other members of the squadron, teamed up together. And what a team it was. The Germans soon learned to recognize the pair as twin furies of the skies, and would dash for cover as soon as the pair came in sight.

They were such dashing, daring fighters that the Germans gave them a clear sky when they came over, not even bothering to tarry and fight with them. Then it was that Luke originated his plans for bringing down German sausage balloons.

And what a terror the pair were to the German sausage observers—balloon after balloon fell before their streaking tracer fire. Finally, Wehner was killed while holding off an upper flight of German Fokkers who were trying to get at Luke below when he was diving on a German sausage with his twin Vickers guns blazing molten lead. Luke got the sausage, but the Fokkers got Wehner, and from that late afternoon on, Luke was never the same. He loved Wehner like a brother, and the Huns had got him.

“They’ll pay!” Luke stormed, and clenched his fists. “More than one Hun will pay for Wehner’s death.”

And more than one Hun did!

HE HAD been a terror before. After Wehner’s death he became a raving, tearing madman of the skies. Flying alone thereafter, he was the Lone Wolf of the sky trails. He had but one consuming passion; that was to get the Huns and then more Huns. Flying wherever he willed he tore up and down the front lines in search of Hun meat.

He paid no attention to orders and had absolutely no regard for discipline. One night would see his Spad plane bivouaced at some strange French airdrome far from his own squadron. The next night he would be way across France over in Lorraine somewhere. During his flights between he left a path of desolation. The German feldwebels dubbed him the Scourge of the Skies and scurried for cover whenever they saw Luke’s plane skirting down the trench lines.

His own commanding officer never knew where he was or what he was doing. An old army sergeant, one John Monroe, who had charge of an advanced emergency landing field right behind the front lines perhaps knew more of Luke’s movements during his short career on the front than any other man. Luke spent many a night sleeping with Monroe in his pup tent.

The sergeant would service his plane for him each night he landed and make it ready to take off before dawn the next day. Then while the two laid in the tent trying to go to sleep, Luke would tell the sergeant of the events of the day as he saw them from the sky.

Luke’s last day on earth was a spectacular one. He brought down two sausage balloons and one Hun plane, and was himself shot down about five miles behind the German lines near the little town of Murveaux. Luke was not shot to death in the air, but bullets from a Hun Spandau had shattered his propellor and damaged his engine such that he had to make a forced landing behind the German lines.

In addition he had two slight flesh wounds which were not in themselves serious enough to cause death, but they did make him somewhat weak from loss of blood. While the crippled plane was Winging down to a landing with the Hun attackers hovering overhead, Luke spied a cutover wheat-field and by agile manoeuvering, managed to set his plane down safely on it.

To any ordinary pilot, that would have meant the end of the war. But, not so with Luke. A small company of German infantry were stationed at Murveaux not far from the wheatfield, and when they saw Luke’s plane land, they sauntered out to take him prisoner.

When Luke’s plane staggered to a dead stop Luke jumped out of the cockpit on the side nearest the approaching soldiers. His left hand dangled loosely from his-shoulder and blood was on his tunic sleeve. His right hand he kept inside the cockpit, apparently holding himself up, for his knees buckled and he was half slumped to the ground, and so the approaching captors thought.
Luke looked at them and let them come. On they came in sort of a half run with their bayonets fixed. Luke watched them out of the corner of his eyes, and clenched his right hand tighter. His body swayed a little and he reeled slightly, nevertheless he held his feet, and when th approaching Germans got within about 50 feet of him, he snapped his right hand out of the cockpit. In it was a Colt Automatic. Luke leveled it and fired pointblank into the faces of the captors.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

Five successive shots rang out. Five of the approaching Germans fell dead, shot through the heart each and every one of them.

More shots rang out, from the German’s rifles this time. Luke slumped over by the side of his machine, dead, his body riddled like a sieve by the German fire.

But think of the cold, raw courage that was Luke’s. In the height of battle man might do that, many of them. But Luke had time to think while his would-be captors approached.

“Surrender, and live through the war? Or die fighting with the blood of his comrade Wehner further avenged?”

Frank Luke died, and how gallantly!

The Ships on The Cover
“Martyrs of the Air: Frank Luke”
Flying Aces, March 1929 by R.C. Wardell

“Crumpled Buzzard” by Franklin M. Ritchie

Link - Posted by David on June 16, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a story by Franklin M. Ritchie. Ritchie only wrote aviation yarns and his entire output—roughly three dozen stories—was between 1927 and 1930, but Ritchie was not your typical pulp author.

After reading “Crumpled Buzzards” I tried to find out a little about Ritchie to include in this post. I thought he had been covered in a biographical piece in Air Trails or Sky Birds, but couldn’t find anything. So I turned to the internet.

In putting in the name some great stuff comes up—letters from when he was a cadet to teachers back at Rutgers; a long letter to the folks back at Central New Jersey Home News where he was reporter before the war; he married fellow Erasmus High grad Elizabeth Farrish before enlisting; and this brief biographical piece from the Perth Amboy Evening News (September 23, 1922)—

All this good stuff was tied to this Lawyer fellow from New Brunswick. He seems to have an incredibly full life, when would he have time write pulp stories? But then I found a letter from Ritchie buried in the April 1929 issue of Sky Birds that explains it all:

Ritchie retired from all that in ‘58, moved out west and become a pastor at a Presbyterian church in Lakewood, California. He passed away at 84 in 1978.

With all that in mind, from the July 1929 number of Sky Birds, it’s Franklin M. Ritchie’s “Crumpled Buzzards!”

Lanky Jeff Dayton, a war bird, saw nothin’ to get het up about in this man’s war, but when he did, he saw red—red streaks of flame jetting from angry guns.

“The Sky Joker” by Raoul Whitfield

Link - Posted by David on June 9, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

THIS week we have a story from Raoul Whitfield. Whitfield was a prolific pulp writer primarily known for his hardboiled crime fiction published in the pages of Black Mask, but he was equally adept at lighter fair that might run in the pages of Breezy Stories. We’ve featured a number of his Buck Kent stories that ran in Air Trails, but this time we have a WWI tale!

The Thirty-ninth was located pretty far up front, for a squadron field. The enemy had bombed them out of two fields, and the third one that Staff had assigned them was just a little worse than the other two had been. Worse for landings and take-offs, and considerably worse in the matter of camouflaging from the enemy. The Boche had already come over several times to say hi—they didn’t do very much damage, just raised hell in general. But the morale of the outfit took a sharp drop. It was into this humorless squadron that Lieutenant Bill Roberts and his very large sense of humor was transferred and the Thirty-ninth wanted none of it!

From the February 1929 number of Over The Top, it’s Raoul Whitfield’s “The Sky Joker!”

He brought a sense of humor to a hard-boiled squadron, this laughing lieutenant, but it took the squadron a long time to appreciate his wisecracking.

“Aces of the Sea” by Ralph Oppenheim

Link - Posted by David on March 24, 2023 @ 6:00 am in

Navy Stories Ad
An ad for “Aces of the Sea” from the pages of the March 1929 Sky Riders

THEIR familiar war cry rings out—“Let’s Go!” The greatest fighting war-birds on the Western Front are once again roaring into action. The three Spads flying in a V formation so precise that they seemed as one. On their trim khaki fuselages, were three identical insignias—each a huge, black-painted picture of a grim-looking mosquito. In the cockpits sat the reckless, inseparable trio known as the “Three Mosquitoes.” Captain Kirby, their impetuous young leader, always flying point. On his right, “Shorty” Carn, the mild-eyed, corpulent little Mosquito, who loved his sleep. And on Kirby’s left, completing the V, the eldest and wisest of the trio—long-faced and taciturn Travis.

Were back with the third of three Three Mosquitoes stories we’re presenting this month. This week it’s a bit of a departure for the inseparable trio when they are loaned out to the Navy. Somehow, under our very noses in the heavily mined and patrolled waters of the English Channel, six ships have disappeared without a trace and no survivors. The Navy has designed a trap that they hope will catch or reveal what has happened to their missing ships and The Three Mosquitoes are to fly over the area to observe whatever happens. And that’s just the tip of this iceberg—events lead Kirby to be an unwilling passenger/prisoner aboard a U-boat bent on a hellish suicide mission to destroy Englands new super dreadnaught about to set sail! From the March 1929 issue of Navy Stories, it’s “Aces of the Sea!”

Every day Allied ships were being sunk in their own barricaded stronghold—and always there came the strange report, “No Survivors.” It was to solve this mystery that the navy called those three famous aces, Kirby, Carn and Travis, from the skies. A gripping novel in which the “Three Mosquitoes” go to sea!

If you enjoyed this tale of our intrepid trio, check out some of the other stories of The Three Mosquitoes we have posted by clicking the Three Mosquitoes tag or check out one of the four volumes we’ve published on our books page! A fifth volume will be out later this year. And come back next Friday or another exciting tale.

“Buck Kent’s Air Push” by Raoul Whitfield

Link - Posted by David on September 16, 2022 @ 8:04 pm in

THIS week we have another of Raoul Whitfield’s ‘Buck’ Kent stories from the pages of Air Trails magazine. Whitfield is primarily known for his hardboiled crime fiction published in the pages of Black Mask, but he was equally adept at lighter fair that might run in the pages of Breezy Stories. ‘Buck’ Kent, along with his pal Lou Parrish, is an adventurous pilot for hire. These stories, although more in the juvenile fiction vein, do occasionally feature some elements of his harder prose.

The Buck Kent story in the January 1929 issue of Air Trails, follows on from the December installment. After saving Joan Dean from the runaway balloon in the December story, Buck and Lou must protect her from a rival air carnival’s goons set on destroying her trapeze act she does dangling from a plane.

They took a desperate chance when they tried to push “Buck” Kent out of the sky!

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