George A. Vaughn, Jr. is the greatest living ace of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. With 13 aerial victories, only the aces Rickenbacker, Luke, and Lufberry surpassed him. Born in 1897, Vaughn grew up in Brooklyn and learned to fly the Curtis Jenny as one of the first students in Princeton University's Aero Club. When America entered World War I, he left school and enlisted in the fledgling aviation section of the US Army Signal Corps.
He completed flight training in a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) School and, in May 1918, entered combat with No. 84 Squadron, RFC. His tour with the British was designed to gain fighter experience before joining American squadrons, then forming in France. In 3 months, Vaughn downed six planes and an observation balloon while flying the British SE-5A. His English commander, Sholto Douglas, who later became Chief of the RAF Fighter Command in World War II, described Vaughn as a superlative shot with an instinct for combat tactics and the most successful American under his command. In August 1918, he transferred to the US Air Service as a flight commander of the 17th Aero Squadron flying the British-built Sopwith Camel.
In less than 2 months, he shot down six more aircraft and thus became an ace in both the Royal Air Force and the US Air Service. After the war, he completed his engineering degree at Princeton, gained practical experience as an engineer, and founded the Eastern Aeronautical Corporation in 1928. He also served in the New York National Guard and became its commander before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1937. In retirement, George Vaughn served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Academy of Aeronautics, a firm he cofounded in 1932. The firm trained thousands of aviation technicians during World War II.
George Vaughn won his first eight victories in the SE-5A, an airplane that was fast, extremely strong, and easy to fly. The painting shows Vaughn about to score his first victory after a bright yellow Pfalz D III took a shot at him. He was shocked and outraged. Breaking formation, Vaughn made a climbing turn to the right pursuing the Pfalz, and closed the range as the enemy pilot headed east into Germany. His adversary dove as the range continued to close. Vaughn opened fire at 100 yards and expended 200 rounds of ammunition from his Vickers gun. The Pfalz began smoking, fell some 500 feet, and burst into flames.