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)

Monkey Business

Eugene Bullard—the first African American to fly for the allies—had what was considered the final word in good luck: a monkey. Here Bullard poses next to his Nieuport 24 with “Jimmy” sitting on his arm. Bullard served with the Lafayette Escadrille and is credited with assisting in the shooting down of one or two German aircraft. After the war, he opened a jazz nightclub in Paris called “L’Escadrille.” Among those who frequented the club were Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, and French ace Charles Nungesser.


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