Luck and Death: WWI Pilots and their Superstitions

Cheating the Grim Reaper at the dawn of aerial combat.

In 1918 France, the 13th Aero Squadron painted a skeleton on the side of their SPAD, a stark reminder of their own mortality. (US Army)

“Old Charles”

French ace Georges Guynemer named his Nieuport 11 Le Vieux Charles, or “Old Charles” —why, we don’t know. When he upgraded to a better aircraft, Guynemer took the name with him, in the hope of transferring his (so far) good luck to to the new plane.

Unlike Nungesser, Guynemer was quiet and self-effacing. “Old Charles” seems to have been kind to its pilot, as Guynemer downed 53 enemy aircraft, while his planes stopped more German bullets than any other ace on either side. But his luck ran out on September 11, 1917, when he was shot down on a combat mission. His most notable quote: “Until one has given all, one has given nothing.” Guynemer’s SPAD VII—shown here—is preserved in the Le Musee de L’Air in Paris.


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