Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1982 1983 1985 1989

Eagle Biography

George A. Vaughn Jr

Lieutenant Colonel George A. Vaughn, Jr. is the greatest living ace who served in the World War I American Expeditionary Force. Only Rickenbacker, Luke, and Lufbery surpassed his 13 aerial victories. Of these great aces, Vaughn and Rickenbacker were the only two who survived the war. Born in 1897, Vaughn grew up in Brooklyn and learned to fly the Curtis Jenny with the Princeton University Aero Club. When the United States entered the war in 1917, he left school and joined the Aviation Section of the US Army Signal Corps. Vaughn completed flight training with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and, in May 1918, entered combat with Flying No. 84 Squadron, RFC.

The combat tour with the British was intended to provide him fighter experience before he joined one of the American squadrons forming in France. Flying the SE-5A for 3 months with the British, Vaughn downed six enemy aircraft and an observation balloon. His English commander, Sholto Douglas, described him as a very good shot in "Dead-Eye-Dick fashion." During his time with No. 84 Squadron, Vaughn was the most successful American fighter pilot in the unit and was one of the first American pilots to receive the British Distinguished Flying Cross. In August 1918, he transferred to the US Air Service as a flight commander with the 17th Aero Squadron and transitioned to Sopwith Camels.

In less than 2 months he shot down six more aircraft, becoming an ace with both the Royal Flying Corps and the US Air Service. After the war, he returned to Brooklyn where he was welcomed as a hero and given a homecoming parade. He later completed his engineering degree at Princeton and, in 1928, founded the Eastern Aeronautical Corporation. Vaughn also helped organize the first post-war National Guard Air Squadron in New York and commanded the unit from 1923 to 1931. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1940. Vaughn served as Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Trustees of the Academy of Aeronautics, a firm he cofounded in 1932.

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Lieutenant Colonel Vaughn gained his first seven victories in the SE-5A and was reluctant to change to the Sopwith "Camel when he transferred to the 17th Aero Squadron. However, after a little experience, he found the Camel to be an "exceptionally satisfactory craft." Some of Vaughn's combat action in the Camel is graphically described in the citation accompanying his award of the Distinguished Service Cross: "Lieutenant Vaughn, while leading an offensive flight patrol, sighted eighteen enemy Fokkers about to attack a group of five Allied planes flying at low level. Although outnumbered nearly five to one, he attacked the enemy group, personally shooting down two more. His courage and daring enabled the group of five Allied planes to escape. Again, on 28 September 1918, he alone attacked an enemy advance plane which was supported by seven Fokkers, and shot the advance plane down in flames."

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