We usually think of fighter pilots as kick ass cowboys of the sky, living out our video game fantasies and handing out bitchin' nicknames all day long. But today's fighter pilots have nothing on the first of their kind -- the guys who appeared in the first world war when airplanes themselves were new and experimental.
That is, instead of being surrounded by huge, sturdy metal planes with state-of-the-art avionics, these guys sat in rickety frames of plywood wrapped in flammable fabric, next to large tanks of highly combustible fuel. Then they took to the skies and tried to kill each other.
So let's take a moment to salute...
Right off the bat, you're going to call bullshit on this story. We weren't there, all we can say is that the pilot himself spent 55 years insisting it was true.
Sir Grahame Donald started out like a lot of RAF pilots: young, brave and parachute-less. Which is often a problem when you're flying a machine held together by twine and good intentions. The official reason why the Allied forces didn't issue parachutes to pilots was not that they hadn't been invented yet, because they totally had, but that they feared pilots would abandon their planes as soon as they were hit rather than try to save them.
"It's not that the planes are worth more than your life, but...well, they are."
So with that in mind, Donald was 6,000 feet in the air when he discovered that his safety belt wasn't of the highest quality. Specifically, he discovered this tiny fact as he was hanging upside down in the middle of a looping maneuver and the belt snapped. Donald fell nearly 2,000 feet before BAM!
... He landed on the top wing of his own goddamned airplane, which had continued on its loop without him.
Which is not a situation they teach you how to handle in pilot school. Probably. None of us are pilots.
Grahame Donald was now frantically holding on to the edge of the wing, trying to stop himself from slipping into a whirling propeller while his plane hurtled toward the ground at 140 mph. His first attempt to reach his joystick sent the plane into a violent spin that nearly flung him off. Finally, he was able to hook the stick with his foot and bring the plane back under control, eventually slipping back into the cockpit with a whole 800 feet to spare. In a later interview, the pilot took the whole experience in stride:
"The first 2,000 feet passed very quickly and terra firma looked damnably 'firma'. As I fell I began to hear my faithful little Camel somewhere nearby. Suddenly I fell back onto her."
You know what? The man is a knight, and we're taking his word for it. Even though we haven't even been able to replicate that stunt in the Grand Theft Auto universe.
It took Billy Bishop less than two weeks in the Air Force to qualify as an ace (awarded for five or more enemy planes shot down), and he quickly gained a reputation as a fierce killing machine, knocking Germans out of the sky on such a regular basis that they nicknamed him Hell's Handmaiden. Now would be a good time to pause and contemplate exactly how much of a badass you have to be when Germans consider you scary.
It is clinically impossible to not look badass from the cockpit of a fighter plane.
Bishop's favorite method of attack was to play air chicken with his opponent. Air chicken is just like regular chicken, the difference being that instead of two small-town farm boys driving at each other in their daddies' tractors, it was two planes heading toward each other at a combined speed of nearly 300 mph. While pouring machine gun fire into each other's aircraft. And instead of getting branded "chicken," the loser died in a cascading hellish fireball.
See, here's Bishop without the plane. Way less badass.
After one jaunt, Bishop's mechanic counted over 200 bullet holes in his plane. And considering that his plane was just under 20 feet in length, that averages out to about 10 bullets per foot. That Bishop used this method not just once but in an estimated 100 confrontations is a testament to his sheer ballsiness.
Not to mention the fact that he got through the war without so much as a scratch, which seems to point to some sort of pact with Satan. Especially since Bishop ended the war with a mind-boggling total of 72 victories.
Which is 71 aircraft more than anyone at Cracked has managed to bring down. Apparently there's a reason they ask you to turn your cell phone off.
Frenchman Charles Nungesser was a character straight out of a Hemingway novel. Before the war he was an amateur boxer, race car driver and pilot. During the war he managed to score 45 victories between drinking and banging everything he could get his hands on in Paris. He even found time to regularly nail the legendary spy Mata Hari (well aware of her activities, he cheerfully fed her bullshit stories that she dutifully reported back to her German controllers).
She was hypnotized by his glittering chest.
His list of war time injuries reads like a recitation of everything that could go wrong on a body, ever, including but not limited to a skull fracture, a brain concussion, fractures of the upper and lower jaw, dislocation of both knees, bullet wounds in the mouth and ear AND SO ON.
So one day a German plane came flying low over Nungesser's airfield and challenged him to single combat at a specific time and place the next day. Despite his friends' attempts to point out the whole Germans + War = Dicks equation to him, Nungesser was unable to resist the challenge and duly set off to meet the enemy.
Note the skull and crossbones wearing a steak-hat and twirling canes.
It turned out his friends were right. The moment Nungesser reached the designated rendezvous, six German fighter planes came swooping out of the clouds in a coordinated attack.
Nungesser responded to this shocking turn of events by blowing one of the German planes out of the sky. Then another.
Getting cocky works.
At this point, with the odds whittled down to a much more reasonable 4-1, he broke off the engagement, presumably to run home and pick up more bullets. The remaining four Germans, no doubt in a state of shock and feeling like right dicks, simply watched him go.
A badass to the very end, Nungesser survived the war only to disappear mysteriously, presumably lost at sea as he attempted to fly from France to America just two weeks before Charles Lindbergh accomplished the feat traveling in the opposite direction.
His co-pilot's lack of depth perception may have played a role.