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Luke's Field - Army Airfield on Ford Island Named After The Most Daring Aviator and Greatest Fighter Pilot

by Nov 17, 2019

We drive past it every day, the often-overgrown airfield best known as site of Amelia Earhart’s aborted first take-off attempt on her round-the-world journey.

The airfield last functioned as a Naval Auxiliary Landing Field where “touch-and-goes” were performed by pilots in training, and where vintage Japanese and American WWII aircraft took off and landed during filming of the Hollywood movie Pearl Harbor.

But beneath the surface there is history rooted firmly in the early days of aviation.

Less than twenty years after Orville and Wilbur Wright first launched their “flying machine” at Kitty Hawk in 1903, there was an Army airfield established on Ford Island, and aircraft were being used in combat as World War I raged in Europe.

Among Americans drawn both to aviation and to the war in Europe, was a young aviator from Arizona, Frank Luke, Jr.

During World War I, Both sides used hydrogen-filled observation balloons that were heavily defended by ground fire. Attacking aircraft, made of wood and doped fabric, had no defense.

In combat over the span of a few weeks, Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., earned the title of America’s “Ace of Aces” and a reputation as the “Balloon Buster”.

The facts surrounding Luke’s last hours, often blurred behind the legend, have been extensively researched by historians Royal D. Frey, chief of the research division at the Air Force Museum, and historian and author Stephen Skinner, as summarized below:

On September 29th after downing two balloons, Luke approached his third target a mile west of the village of Murvaux. The balloon was tethered at 1300 yards altitude, near the hill of Cote St. Germain, where German gunners awaited.

Luke fired upon the balloon and set it afire as gunfire from Cote St. Germain erupted. Two miles east, severely wounded and his aircraft damaged, Luke brought his aircraft down in a valley near the village. His body was later found some 200 yards from the crash site. Luke was buried by the villagers in a shallow grave near the village church. After the war, Luke was reburied in the American Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, 10 miles from Murvaux.

Fellow American Ace, Eddie Rickenbacker described Luke as: “the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war.” (with 18 victories in only 10 sorties flown over eight days)

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Italian War Cross.

In 1919 the Army airfield on Ford Island was named in his honor.