The need for speed
The mount of virtually all the great French aces, and leading Americans such as Eddie
Rickenbacker and Frank Luke Jr, the SPAD XIII was responsive yet steady in combat. This made
it the perfect machine for an experienced pilot, but like its British contemporary, the Camel,
the French ghter was tricky for a novice to handle. It could, however, withstand the stress of
dives at speeds in excess of 280mph, followed by steep climbs. The aircraft manoeuvred easily
in the vertical plane, but was not as agile in tight turns as its contemporaries. Nevertheless,
units equipped with the SPAD XIII enjoyed an advantage over the enemy until the arrival of the
Fokker D.VII in the spring of 1918.
The advantage in level and especially diving speed that the SPAD XIII held over even the
BMW-engined Fokker D.VII was attested to by Ltn Richard Wenzl of Jasta 6 as he described
several combats he had with American ghters on 30 October 1918: ‘The scene was always
the same. A tight turn, then the SPAD was overtaken and saved itself by a vertical nosedive.
Naturally we couldn’t follow them. So we forced an entire SPAD ight of seven aircraft down in
turn. My rage over this bunch knew no bounds.’
Left and right: SPAD XIII S15202 of 2 Lt Frank
Luke Jr of 27th Aero Squadron 1918. Luke
was an American ghter ace, ranking second
among US Army Air Service pilots after Capt
Eddie Rickenbacker in number of aerial victories
during World War 1 (Rickenbacker was credited
with 26 victories, while Luke’s o cial score was
18). However, on 28 September Luke was shot
down and mortally wounded by anti-aircraft
re. Posthumously, Frank Luke was the rst
airman to receive the Medal of Honor.
Above: Pictured at Foucaucourt Airdrome, France, in November 1918, is SPAD XIII of 93rd Aero
Squadron. The unit was assigned as a Day Pursuit (Fighter) Squadron as part of the 3rd Pursuit Group,
First United States Army.