The Luckiest Flying Ace Alive

Samuel Reason | January 12th, 2018

Captain John Herbert Hedley flew fighter planes for Britain during World War I. He once fell out of his plane and survived. I know what you are thinking, he simply opened his parachute? Well back in the days of World War I, the army thought pilots would not be aggressive enough if they had an easy escape plan. Yes, that is right he fell out of his plane without a parachute and survived!

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Hedley was actually what the Royal Air Force called an Observer during World War I, he was in the back of the aircraft and would shoot at enemy aircraft. Observers were an extra set of eyes for the pilot and would operate any guns aboard also. Basically, he was a gunner, but they were also tasked with keeping the score for their pilots. They would count how many aircrafts their pilot and themselves shot down during the dogfights. Hedley is credited with being a flying ace, as he shot down 11 planes during the war. As aerial fighting was still very new at the time, being a skilled pilot and gunner could pretty much give your nation the edge during the battle of the skies.

Fighter aces came images of cult heroes to the public, especially if you had such an amazing tale as Captain Herbert! In January 1918, during a dogfight Lieutenant Makepeace steered his Bristol F.2B fighter plane into an immense dive to escape an enemy fighter on his tail. The huge amount of force experienced by the negative Gs caused gunner Hedley to be thrown out of the seat! Suddenly Hedley was falling in the skies with no parachute!

Essentially Hedley bound to die, or was there a way out? Hedley tumbled in the air for hundreds of feet, but so did the F.2B as it continued to dive. The gunner and the plane suddenly came together and Hedley grabbed on to the top set of wings, it was his only hope! He pulled himself back into his cockpit, and without fear continued the fight.

Such an amazing tale earned him the title of “The Luckiest Man Alive” from the Chicago Tribune. But was it actually possible? Well, some aviators and scientist definitely do believe it was true, the theory is that Hedley managed to get stuck in his plane’s slipstream which caused him to fall at the same speed as the plane. And his luck does not stop there.

In March 1918, Hedley was shot down but miraculously was able to crash land without any injury. He survived being imprisoned by the enemy until the end of the war. He then moved to America and made his living giving lectures about his amazing dogfights.

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