- On Saturday, F-22 pilots shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon floating near South Carolina.
- The pilots went by the callsigns “FRANK01” and “FRANK02,” an apparent homage to a WWI hero.
- Frank Luke Jr. was an airman credited with shooting down 14 German balloons during the war.
On Saturday, as F-22 pilots shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon floating near South Carolina, the callsigns of the airmen contained an apparent homage to a WWI hero.
Onlookers cheered as the pilots, identified as “FRANK01” and “FRANK02,” circled China’s spy balloon near Myrtle Beach as it floated over the Atlantic Ocean, waiting until the object was safely away from civilians on the ground to avoid the risk of falling debris.
Pilots use callsigns in place of their names when communicating, both for security and identification purposes. The “FRANK” callsigns appear to be a reference to a WWI pilot, Frank Luke, the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor after shooting down over a dozen aircraft, including 10 spy balloons, in just eight days during World War I.
“The military jets using the call sign “FRANK” is significant,” Marcus Weisgerber, global business editor for the global security news outlet Defense One, tweeted after the callsigns were identified by an airspace monitoring account. “Frank Luke Jr. was an American fighter ace in World War I better known as the ‘Arizona Balloon Buster.’ He is credited with shooting down 14 German surveillance balloons.”
Luke’s achievement in battle was unsurpassed by any other pilot in the war, according to Air & Space Forces Magazine. The brash, young pilot was driven by a desire for glory, the outlet reported — and his name and reputation have survived more than 100 years after his death at the hands of German soldiers.
“I will make myself known or go where most of them do,” Air & Space Forces Magazine reported Luke wrote to his sister during his days in the 27th Squadron.
Luke, a second lieutenant, was killed after attempting an unauthorized balloon-hunting mission behind enemy lines. His reputation as a hero was so prolific that, after his death, it was rumored he killed seven additional German soldiers who approached him as he lay dying before succumbing to a lethal machine gun wound.
He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for his military victories and bravery.
“He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war,” Captain “Eddie” V. Rickenbacker said of Luke, according to the Air Force. Rickenbacker was the leading Ace while Luke was America’s second-ranking Ace in World War I. Ace airmen are credited with shooting down five or more aircraft — and Luke achieved the status in two missions over the course of two days.
Rickenbacker added: “His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service.”
The Air Force did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The modern-day balloon surveillance device shot down on Saturday — which Chinese officials acknowledge came from their country, but maintain was a civilian airship “used for research, mainly meteorological, purposes” — had been drifting over the continental United States for five days before it was shot down.
The balloon was spotted in Alaska, over parts of Canada, and in rural Montana near a US nuclear base housing 150 Minuteman ICBMs before floating eastward over Missouri and finally to South Carolina, where it was shot down.
A second Chinese surveillance balloon has been spotted floating over Latin America.