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TOP GUN meets ENGARDE

The French were the first to institute the ace system

 

  The authorities encouraged the division by grouping the best Nieuport Pilots in one Escadrille. The original Escadrille selected was N.3 (Nieuport Equipped) and every pilot identified himself as being one of that select company by painting a white stork in flight on the side of the fuselage.

 

  The only unit in the French Air Service that could rival the Cigognes in reputation and extravagance was N.77 {Nieuport Equipped}, known as Les Sportifs on account of the number sportsman and playboys who passed through its ranks

 

  The Escadrille N.77 was an exclusive club where the private incomes of the members lavishly supplemented their pay from the Republic. They brought their own servants and motorcars and quartered their ladies in the most expensive hotels in the area. Their contacts and influences,  particularly that of Capitaine l'Hermite, their Commanding Officer, ensured that both their equipment and publicity were the best.

 

  In contrast the Cigognes were more desperate men and among them rivalries and loyalties burned fiercely. Some of them were poor and had to subsist on their income as officers, but the system of grants from private sources which the Michelin brothers had started was an extra incentive to raise their tallies. They were lionized in Parisian Society and hostesses would send their Delaunay limousines to wait beside the hangars so that when the pilots landed from the afternoon patrols their favorites could be hurried back to Paris in time for the night's festivities

 

  In such a setting the glamorous airmen were prestigious toys to be courted and shown on every occasion.

  During late 1916 and early 1917 the Cigognes were expanded to include Escadrilles 3, 26, 73, 103, and 167 and re-equipped with Spad VII replacing the Nieuport 17.

 

ACES HIGH  Alan Clark (1973) pages 168-170