Pilots of the F-22 Raptors that shot down the Chinese spy balloon may have taken their callsigns from a famous World War I flying ace. The modern pilots, whose fighter jets on Saturday took off from Langley Air Force base in Virginia, used the callsigns ‘FRANK01’ and ‘FRANK02,’ in honor of First Lt. Frank Luke Jr., who destroyed 14 German observation balloons in World War I.
Frank Luke, known as “the most spectacular air fighter of World War I,” shot down 18 aircraft before he was killed in action at age 21. Known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” Luke was a fighter pilot for the 27th Aero Squadron, now known as the 27th Fighter Squadron.
Luke earned the reputation of being a “lone fighter,” preferring to seek out and destroy the enemy on his own initiative. Thirteen of his victories were obtained in a five day span in September.
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During the St. Mihiel offensive in Sept. 1918, Luke and another pilot, Lt. Joseph Wehner, destroyed three balloons in one day at Reville, Mangiennes, and Romagne. Two days later, they downed two more near Labeuville. On the latter mission, the pair became separated, and Luke shot down three enemy planes.
Lieutenant Luke’s final day was Sept. 29, 1918. He had been grounded the previous day for being absent without permission, and now he went to the air without authorization. He destroyed three enemy observation balloons in the Meuse region, but was hit and wounded during the encounter. He was chased by eight enemy Fokker planes that were protecting the balloons he shot down, and he also came under heavy fire from ground batteries.
Luke’s actions that day are described in a narrative for when he posthumously was given the Medal of Honor.
“Severely wounded, Lieutenant Luke descended to within 50 meters of the ground and, flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux, opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more,” the narrative reads. “Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.”
During his short career, Frank Luke also earned two Distinguished Service Crosses for extraordinary heroism in air action in the face of heavy enemy fire.
“He is a big name for the 27th Fighter Squadron,” said Joshua Lashley, 1st Fighter Wing historian. “That mentality, that courage, that bravery, that spirit is something they still carry out today.”
Such as when taking out a Chinese spy balloon. In that mission that unfolded live on video, one F-22 Raptor launched an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, puncturing the balloon and detaching it from its solar-powered spy payload.