Wings of War: René Paul Fonck

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René Fonck was born at Saulcy-sur-Merthe, a small village at the foot of the Vosges, on March 27th, 1894. In 1915, after serving in the Engineering Corps, he began training as an air pilot, first at Saint-Cyr and later at Le Crotoy. He was credited with shooting down his first plane in July 1916: other 74 victories followed, although Fonck claimed he shot down 127 enemy planes. His score including officially 75 victories, placing René Fonck in first place among Allied aces, and second only to Manfred Von Richthofen.

Described as "maniacal" by his own friends, Fonck was never wounded in combat but actually specialized in shooting down enemies with the shortest bursts, to save ammunition; on two different occasions he was able to shoot down six planes within the same day. On May 9th 1918, for example, having held a lesson on how to win in air duels, he was challenged by two US pilots, Frank Leaman Baylies and Edwin Charles Parsons, who wished to establish who would be the first to shoot down an enemy plane: the prize was to be a bottle of champagne. Baylies attacked and destroyed a Halberstadt CLII, but Fonck pointed out that bad weather had stopped him winning the bet, and proposed to transform the wager into a contest as to who would score the largest number of victories during the day. He then managed to shoot down six aircraft: between four o'clock and five past four in the afternoon he was able to shoot down a reconnaissance plane, and two escort planes, and at twenty past six he shot down another recon plane. Then he took on nine enemy planes including Fokker D. VII and Albatros, shot down two and returned to base.

He continued to fly after the Armistice, dreaming he'd be the first to cross the Atlantic. Together with Igor Sikorsky he planned a three-engined aircraft capable of flying from Paris to New York, which however encountered a series of technical problems. The plane was almost destroyed in a terrible accident which claimed the lives of two crew members. Fonck and Sikorsky were carrying out repairs, when they learnt that Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic.

Up to 1939 Fonck took the post of France's Inspector of Pursuit Aviation. He died in June 1953 in Paris, aged 59.

René Fonck obtained 52 out of 75 of his officially recognized victories while flying SPAD XIII. The plane we show was painted with SPAD standard camouflage colouring produced by Kellner. The red star on the upper wing is Fonck's personal device: previously the star had been the symbol of the whole squadron, the Spa 103, which had taken the place of the stork emblem in 1916. He flew at least two SPAD XIII: one with a VI code on the fuselage and one with the code XI, which we show. He also flew SPAD XII, a curious variation including a 37 mm cannon capable of shooting through a hollow propeller shaft, with a similar colouring and the code VI on the fuselage.

SPAD XIII c/n 15295, serial number S5295, now held by the Musée de l'Air et de L'Espace at Paris airport Le Bourget, bears the same colouring of one of Fonck's plane: code VI.