by Steven A. Ruffin
The Lafayette Escadrille was an all-volunteer squadron of Americans who flew for France during World War I. One hundred years later, it is still arguably the best-known fighter squadron ever to take to the skies. In this work the entire history of these gallant volunteers is laid out in both text and pictorial form. In time for the centennial celebration, this work not only tells the fascinating story of the Lafayette Escadrille, it shows it.
I spent a full year sifting through university and museum archives in the United States and France for photographs and documents relating to the famed unit. To complement these images, I traveled extensively, taking snapshots of existing markers and memorials honoring the men of the Lafayette Escadrille. In France, I specifically sought out locations where the squadron operated and its pilots frequented. In several cases, I was able to match his present-day color photos with contemporary images of the same scene, thus creating an amazing then-and-now comparison. To add even more color, I included artwork and aircraft profiles by recognized illustrators, along with numerous full-color photographs of artifacts relating to the squadron’s men and airplanes, as they are displayed today in various museums in the United States and France.
The result is undoubtedly the finest photographic collection of the Lafayette Escadrille to appear in print. Along with the compelling narrative, revealing air-combat experiences as well as life at the front during the Great War, it is a visual history that both World War I aviation aficionados and those with a passing interest in history will appreciate.
The Lafayette Escadrille: A Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron has been officially endorsed by the United States World War I Centennial Commission.
Here’s what others have written…
“Given Ruffin’s 44 years of pilot experience and membership in the League of World War I Aviation Historians, he tells this rousing story as well as any predecessor…with the added benefit of research that cuts through the myths without harming the narrative. … All in all, The Lafayette Escadrille is a sufficiently worthy update to earn a spot in the WWI aviation enthusiast’s library.”
Jon Guttman, Aviation History Magazine
“Former Over the Front managing editor Steve Ruffin is well qualified to produce perhaps the most appealing treatment of the familiar subject: the Lafayette Escadrille of 1916-1918. The detailed, workmanlike text details ‘the life and times of the Lafayette.’ From formation of N.124 in April 1916, through disestablishment as SPA.124 nearly two years later, the author traces the fortunes of all 38 Americans and their French squadron mates. Ruffin earns high marks for objectivity. Not all the Lafayette brothers were valiant, and he addresses the heels as well as the heroes. The postwar fortunes of the survivors include reason for both admiration and gloom. Rare among Lafayette histories, Ruffin places the escadrille in context, acknowledging that it had an average record. Certainly its greatest contribution was in the propaganda realm, as intended. With more than 220 photos (nearly 40 in color) Ruffin’s volume contains rare images not only of people and aircraft, but uniforms, artifacts, documents, and memorials. Six aircraft profiles by Tomasz Gronczewski and Alan Toelle provide detailed examinations of Nieuport 11s, 17s, and SPAD 7s. Appendices include bases, a full pilot roster, and a lengthy bibliography. Ruffin’s book obviously is a labor of love that will be appreciated by Great War aerophiles for years to come.”
Barrett Tillman, prominent aviation historian and author
“… you’ve really written a masterpiece. Yes, you’ve succeeded in getting me interested in WWI aviation, something that I never thought would happen. You’ve made characters and events come alive, making it all real, not just words printed on a page. You’ve achieved every writer’s ultimate quest. You should be proud … I sure as hell am!”
Terry Irwin, Certified Flight Instructor, aviation authority
“… an excellent writer. The narrative flowed so easily and the tone of the work showed the expertise that you hold on the subject…. I really like how you integrated the various aspects of the history – military, technological, and the psychological – as well as placing the group in context of the period and demonstrating how they captured public attention. … I appreciated the honesty and accuracy of the presentation – and your use of primary materials to convey that part of the history. Congratulations on your excellent contribution to the history of this fabled group!”
Marc McClure, Ph.D, Professor of History
“… he’s really done his homework (he attended the recent 100th anniversary celebrations). He has walked the walk, and trodden the ground where the Escadrille fought, and played. I can unreservedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Escadrille 124.”
Greg VanWyngarden, widely recognized WWI aviation authority and author
“Just received Ruffin’s book, which I must say is splendid. Best ever treatment of the subject. I thought I knew something about the squadron and the people in it. Not so fast.”
General Merrill A. McPeak, 14th Chief of Staff of the Air Force, USAF (Ret.)
“The story of the Lafayette Escadrille is one of the best known and enduring sagas of World War I aviation history. … for this 100th anniversary year of its founding, retired USAF Colonel Steven Ruffin took a fresh look at the 38 Americans in the Escadrille Américaine, as it was first called, to produce this voluminous account of the unit. In addition to mini-bios of each member, this narrative is complemented by a superb collection of black & white and color photos and other illustrations gathered during a year-long dedicated search for materials. That quest led to noteworthy discoveries, as the author points out: “I traveled extensively through … the United States and France to photograph existing markers and memorials honoring the men of the Lafayette Escadrille. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of these [monuments] … and how well maintained they generally were. The author also visited and photographed old Escadrille airfields and buildings depicted in old post cards and other media. “Then and Now” comparisons, color views of memorabilia and aircraft, as well as profiles of unit World War I aircraft, add visual dimensions that make this Lafayette Escadrille book a “must have.” Steven Ruffin’s The Lafayette Escadrille – A Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron is a finely researched, well written and well illustrated book. It is recommended highly.”
Peter Kilduff, Over the Front Journal
“When I heard Steve Ruffin had a book out on the subject I was excited. In the last few years Jon Guttman and I both had written books on the Lafayette Escadrille – albeit mine was a biography of one of its more “unique” pilots, the rogue Bert Hall. I had to wonder…would Ruffin’s book really be able to stand out? There are a lot of books about this unit out there over the century since the war. This one does stand out.
First, it is a photo history of the unit. Ruffin hit some of the same places I did for photos of the unit. What he brought to the table was context. Paul Rockwell’s photos are in boxes down at Washington and Lee University. Ninety-percent are unlabeled. Steve Ruffin dove into that treasure trove (and others) and not only identified the men, but where they were and when they were there. This book is chocked full of photographs, many of which we simply haven’t seen.
Some of my favorite images Ruffin included were side-by-side shots of the men and machines, then a modern shot to show the same camera angle at the same locale today. I loved these then-and-now images. It is a testimony to how he must have buried himself in the research. On top of that there are a lot of color images of the aircraft.
On the history itself, Mr. Ruffin did his work too. He did not give us a glossed-over summary of the unit but instead went to archival sources to tell the story. This is always a favorite of mine. Let the men speak in their own words – with their own letters.
Does Ruffin break new ground with this book? Yes. Some of the letters he has here have never seen the light of day in a century. He gives us some new tidbits that will appeal to WWI aviation historians.
The Lafayette Escadrille – a Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron, is available from Casemate Publishers for $37.95. It is well worth it if you are an aviation enthusiast of the era. If you are a buff, make sure you join the League of WWI Aviation Historians as well, www.overthefront.com
Blaine Pardoe, aviation historian and NY Times bestselling author
“I returned from a trip today and found your book waiting for me. It’s fantastic! I haven’t had time yet to read very much of it, but what I have read is very well written and the photos are gorgeous. Some are photos I’ve seen before, but never with such detail and clarity. I also found the “then and now” comparison photos to be fascinating.”
Steve Tom, Kiffin Rockwell researcher and author
“Got your magnificent book last week and marveled once again at the scope of your accomplishment both in research, writing and graphics. You have produced the quintessential treatment of the Lafayette Escadrille. You have captured the facts and data from start to finish on all of its members, all of its recorded locations, and virtually everything about the unit others have only treated in part. As in my first reading, I once again appreciated your writing style—crisp, clear, active—not to mention the masterful organization and incorporation of photos and graphics. I truly appreciate the depth of your research. … When I turned the last page of the book, the index at that, I had a sense of fullness like I’d just finished a magnificent feast. … Anyone who ever donned a uniform and climbed into a cockpit will race through this compelling story as I did.”
Colonel Terry Johnson, military aviator and author of Valiant Volunteers
“Mr. Steven A Ruffin is a keen champion and student of the squadron and its history. As a former Over the Front managing editor he is highly qualified to produce perhaps a fine offering of the Lafayette Escadrille 1916 – 1918. He spent a full year combing through university and museum archives in the United States and France for photographs and documents relating to the famed unit. His travels gave him the chance to take photo images of existing markers and memorials honoring the men of the Lafayette Escadrille. You will find more than 220 photos (almost 40 in color) contains rare images not only of people and aircraft, but uniforms, artifacts, documents, and memorials. The six aircraft profiles by Messers Tomasz Gronczewski and Alan Toelle provide detailed examinations of Nieuport XI, XVII, and SPAD VII. Though there really needs to be a follow up volume dedicated to just these subjects.
Much like another noted author (R.L. Brown), Mr. Ruffin specifically sought out locations and airfields where the squadron operated and its pilots frequented. In several cases, he matched his modern color photos with contemporary images of the same scene, thus creating a then-and-now comparison. Included you will find artwork and aircraft profiles by informed and talented illustrators. As previously mentioned there are also numerous full-color photographs of artifacts relating to the squadron’s men and aircraft, as they are displayed today in various museums in the United States and France. The author goes further and in the text you get an honest journalistic profile of each member. You get to see the heroes and the heels, both during the war and their post war lives that followed. Finally the appendices include a list of bases and a full pilot roster.
The result is undoubtedly the finest photographic collection of the Lafayette Escadrille to appear in print. Along with the expert text revealing air-combat experiences as well as life at the front during the Great War, it is a never-before-seen visual history that both World War I aviation aficionados and those with a passing interest in history will appreciate.
When its all said and done I can highly recommend this book to any and all enthusiasts of the WWI aviation genre.”
Flights of No Return: Aviation History’s Most Infamous One-Way Tickets to Immortality (Zenith Press, 2015)
by Steven A. Ruffin
A celebrated millionaire—who was also the world’s foremost aviator—lifted off in a small plane one clear morning in 2007 and disappeared. Was his loss an accident, or something more sinister?
The glamorous son of a beloved president took off on a hazy summer night in 1999 and plunged himself and two others into the Atlantic Ocean. Was an infamous “curse” to blame? Or did he simply make a bad decision?
In 1943, Nazi fighters deliberately shot down a civilian airliner carrying the famous movie star best known for his role in the epic movie Gone with the Wind. Was he the target? Or was this atrocity the result of mistaken identity?
A US Navy blimp landed one Sunday morning in 1942 in the middle of a street in Daly City, California, with no one aboard. What happened to the crew? Were they victims of enemy action, espionage—or, perhaps, even of their own government?
What is the real story behind the perplexing disappearance of Amelia Earhart? Did the Japanese execute her as a spy? Did she die of starvation and exposure on a remote Pacific island? Or did she live to a ripe old age as a housewife in New Jersey?
Some of these tragic flights terminated by accident. Others ended intentionally. A few ended for reasons that to this day remain unknown. What each flight described in Flights of No Return has in common, however, is that it is unique and compelling in its own way, and ended unhappily for the occupants under unusual, mysterious, controversial—or, in some cases, downright spooky—circumstances.
The events described in Flights of No Return cover the entire 230-year span of manned flight. They occurred during both war and peace, over land and sea, and in aircraft of all types: from balloons, blimps, and dirigibles to propeller-driven biplanes, triplanes, and monoplanes to jets and rocket planes. Readers will experience what the doomed occupants of these aircraft—some of them rich, famous, and/or powerful—experienced as they battled, unsuccessfully, a wide variety of deadly aerial adversaries. These include bad weather, bad judgment, enemy combatants, criminal activity, mysterious unknown forces, and a lethal dose of every aviator’s nemesis: bad luck.
Readers will discover true accounts of great aviation mysteries; ghosts and derelicts; aircraft—and the people in them—that seemingly vanished into thin air; political intrigue and conspiracy; an occasional sprinkling of the supernatural; and criminals who committed heinous acts in the air. All these factual events unfold here exactly as they occurred. It is aviation history and human drama at their best—fascinating, informative, poignant, and provocative.
What the Critics Have to Say …
“In all, an entertaining and informative anthology for buffs and historians alike.”
Barrett Tillman, well-known aviation authority and author
“Flights of No Return should become a handy first reference for anyone interested in these enduring mysteries of aviation, but the quality of the storytelling is guaranteed to keep you reading whether you have a lifelong fascination with the subject or are approaching it for the first time.”
Chuck Oldham, editor, Defense Media Network
“Though the title may cause your fellow air travelers some concern when you get this book out to read on your next flight, Steve Ruffin’s Flights of No Return is a fascinating page turner that will keep you riveted all the way to touchdown….All-in-all Flights of No Return is a book that manages to be as entertaining as it is educational.”
Guy Norris in “Things with Wings,” Aviationweek.com
“Get Flights of No Return for its honest assessment of known, as well as less known, flights into aviation’s history. Each made aviation safer and seen as a whole this book concisely encapsulates a significant span of aviation history.”
Joseph May, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle PI.com
“…one of the really fascinating aviation reads in recent memory….”
Mark Rhodes, IN FLIGHT USA
“We just bought this book and it is excellent, a must read….once my husband started reading I couldn’t get my hands on it until he was done and all he could do was rave on how well written it is and how he learned many facts….I agree, we plan on buying for our grandson.”
Dianna Raczniak, medical professional and aviation enthusiast
“Well written and graphically excellent (glossy paper throughout, lots of illustrations all well presented), this book would seem particularly well suited to the young adult market. While there have been several similar books in past decades, the author has worked hard to bring the stories up to date and has provided a several-page bibliography.”
David C. Isby
“… Steven Ruffin, a former US Air Force officer and award-winning aviation writer, delivers the mother lode with this book.”
Philip Handleman, Aviation History Magazine
“Though the title may cause your fellow air travelers some concern when you get this book out to read on your next flight, Steve Ruffin’s Flights of No Return is a fascinating page-turner that will keep you riveted all the way to touchdown.”
Guy Norris, Things with Wings
“As a civilian that has next to no aviation history background, “Flights of No Return” hits the mark, a great read!! Steve Ruffin, with his vast experiences, has a way of drawing you into the different stories. He uses pictures and diagrams to embellish the facts. His synopsis at the end of each mystery lets the reader draw his own conclusion. I had heard of many of these disappearances/mysteries but others I had no clue. Most interesting. Great book and very enjoyable!! Couldn’t put it down.”
Richard Starr, aviation enthusiast
“Steven Ruffin has put together a collection of unsolved crashes, some of which are well-known, while others are quite obscure; all are fascinating to read about. I can’t say enough good things about this book; a page-turner I couldn’t put down.”
Jonathan H. Proctor
“The book is extremely well researched and well written. The level of detail is exceptional and meticulous….I haven’t yet found any area of the book that I felt needed improvement or embellishment.”
Alan Roesler, aviation historian, author, and editor
“I just finished reading this Steven Ruffin book. The tragic historic events of failed aviation woven into the chapters in this book form a patchwork of stories we have either seen on screen, read or heard about, or lived through. Steven has collected the scraps from many sources and put together this literary quilt that anyone who marvels at the wonder of manned flight must acquire this book.”
Todd Tifft, aviation enthusiast and blogger
“The book is lavishly illustrated and organized such that it can be read cover to cover, or picked apart more leisurely, mystery by mystery depending on the reader’s interests and schedule. For each story Ruffin sets the scene as a writer of a film noir might do, then like the Hollywood private dicks that starred in such films, he plods through the known facts and the often intriguing theories of each investigation.”
Glen Moyer, Ballooning
Aviation’s Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Winged Wonders, Lucky Landings, and Other Aerial Oddities (Potomac Books, 2005)
by Steven A. Ruffin
Ever since the caveman gazed longingly at the winged creatures above him, mankind has been enamored with the idea of flight—of just taking off and soaring away. Steven A. Ruffin celebrates that spirit, that sense of wonder, with Aviation’s Most Wanted™: The Top 10 Book of Winged Wonders, Lucky Landings, and Other Aerial Oddities. With dozens of top-ten lists focusing on notable flights, memorable planes, famous and infamous aviators, aircraft combat, air travel—even space travel—and so much more, Ruffin provides a treasure trove of fun facts and amazing anecdotes celebrating the world’s love affair with flight, plus the hurt that accompanies any deep love. Will Rogers died in a plane crash near Point Barrow, Alaska, with aviation legend Wiley Post at the controls. Rogers was writing an article at the time of the crash; eerily, the last word he typed was “death.” Isoroku Yamamoto, who masterminded the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, met his fate in similarly sneaky fashion. U.S. forces intercepted and decoded information on Yamamoto’s travel plans and “Pearl Harbored” his plane, shooting it down into the island jungle of Bougainville. The safest seat in a crash depends on if you crash on takeoff or on landing—so flip a coin! You’ll read about the first and worst of flight, aces and races, and everything from crimes, sex, and controversy to planes so fast they can outrun the sun. With Aviation’s Most Wanted you’ll get the history of flight from the early balloon adventures of the eighteenth century until the present, laid out with trivia and tales to amuse and amaze.
I’ve also written quite a few articles that were published in various publications. I’ve listed some of my favorites below, and posted a few in their entirety elsewhere on this site, along with some photos. Let me know if you have questions or comments about any of them.
Men and the Machines: Human Factors Research (in the NASA book series NACA/NASA Contributions to Aviation)
A Time for Laws – The Creation of the FAA (in the FAA publication Moving America Safely—50 Years of the Federal Aviation Administration)
“Dutch Girl” Over the Argonne: The 50th Aero Squadron in WWI
Mortal-Immortal: Goettler & Bleckley, 50th Aero Squadron Medal of Honor Airmen
Flying in France with the Fiftieth: 1/Lt. Floyd M. Pickrell, USAS
“The Luckiest Man in the Army”- Milton K. Lockwood, Aerial Observer, 50th Aero Squadron
Flying in the Great War: Rx for Misery
The “Unknown Writer” Behind the “Unknown Aviator”: The Story of War Birds
They Found the ‘Lost Battalion’