The concept of flying ace goes back to World War One, in 1915. The ground war in France had turned into a murderous slaughter on a huge scale. Combat between aircraft was in its infancy in 1915, but began to provide an alternative narrative of the war, as fighter pilots came to be seen as the modern equivalent of medieval knights. Somehow the concept of “ace” settled on a minimum of five enemy aircraft shot down. Aces were celebrated in the media as heroes, and given tumultuous recognition by the public. Governments showered them with honors, as part of a deliberate propaganda effort to divert attention from the grim carnage of the Western Front. The top ace of that war was the famed Red Baron, the German Manfred von Richthofen, with 80 kills. Other aces included the American Eddie Rickenbacker, with 26 kills. In the next World War, governments again tried, with great success, to present aces as knights of the air. The grim reality was usually skilled veteran pilots shooting down inexperienced pilots. More than a hundred German aces had a hundred or more kills. That war saw two women who became aces, Lydia Litvyak with 12 kills and Yekaterina Budanova with 11.
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