What’s an ‘Ace?’
Before World War I the term “flying ace” was not a household term. That’s because airplanes had never been used before in combat.
The Wright brothers — Orville and Wilbur — are credited with inventing and building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903. From 1905 to 1907, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft.
Aircraft development continued, and by the time World War I began in July 1914, the major powers each had their own designs. Planes were mostly used for reconnaissance at first, however, but they were quickly adapted to combat.
The term “ace” (more commonly flying ace) was first used by French newspapers during the war to describe Adolphe Pégoud as l’as (the ace), after he downed five German planes.
When aircraft began to shoot or force down other aircraft, then systems to count “air victories” were developed. The American qualification of five victories eventually became the standard, even though other air services had previously used differing figures.