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The fighter pilots that flew in the first and second world wars were, undoubtedly, very brave. This bravery had to be coupled with immense skill, to succeed in the ultimate battlefield. The most famous fighter pilots became known as aces, because of their outstanding record in air combat. All received military recognition in one form or another. The RAF, famous throughout the world for the skill of its pilots, had many aces, a few of which stand out from the others.
Albert Ball was recruited into the RAF at the age of eighteen, in 1914. He was considered to be a recluse who shunned the company of other people. Like many other former public schoolboys he was also incredibly devoted to his mother, and the war saw a constant stream of loving letters sent to her. In return he received parcels containing his favourite foodstuffs and such like. Ball was mainly successful as a fighter pilot because he had excellent reactions and good hand-eye coordination. His favoured method of attack was to fly underneath an enemy, and with his cannon pointing upwards, empty the ammunition drum into the body of the doomed aircraft. It is not known exactly how many kills he made, but he was awarded the Military Cross, the DSO and bar, and the Russian Order of St. George for his contributions. Albert Hall died in May 1917, when it is believed he lost control of his aircraft in heavy cloud and crashed.
The man people consider to be the RAF’s greatest ever ace is Mick Mannock. He had a quirky start to the war, being jailed in Turkey where he worked in 1914. He was subsequently released though because he had poor eyesight. The Turks surmised that he would not be able to fight in the war. How wrong they would prove to be!
Mannock had absolutely nil respect for the enemy, and was totally ruthless. On one sortie into enemy land he even attacked a German training group, killing every novice pilot, which was considered bad practise in those days. His route to becoming a pilot was not simple though, and he had to wait until 1917 before he got the chance to fly as one. His ruthlessness coupled with deadly accuracy helped him amass a total of over seventy kills. Considering he often let RAF novices take credit for pilots he had downed, this is a conservative estimate. He died towards the end of the war, after being hit following a Junkers CL1 aircraft and catching fire, something that he had preached to other pilots to avoid at all costs.
The Second World War saw the continuation of air battle. However, advances in technology meant better, more manoeuvrable aircraft, and superior weaponry. The basic requirements of a fighter pilot in battle were much the same though. Adolf Malan, who was born in South Africa, compiled ‘The Rules Of Air Fighting’, which were still being used as a basis for training fighter pilots long after the conclusion of the Second World War. They are as follows:

1. Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of one to two seconds, and only when your sights are definitely ‘on’.
2. Whilst shooting think of nothing else. Brace the whole of the body, have both hand on the stick, concentrate on your ring sight.
3. Always keep a sharp lookout. ‘Keep your finger out’.
4. Height gives you the initiative
5. Always turn and face the attack.
6. Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not of the best.
7. Never fly level and straight for more than thirty seconds in the combat area.
8. When diving to attack, always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as top guard.
9. INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE, AND TEAMWORK are words that MEAN something in air fighting
10. Go in quickly – punch hard – get out!

These simple, common sense rules were what helped Malan become supremely successful as a fighter pilot in the Second World War. His total of thirty-five kills stand testament to that fact. Like so many great heroes of war though, Malan prefers to be remembered for his peacetime activities, in this case him being president of an anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease took its grip on Malan, and he died prematurely