Fighter jets that shot down Chinese balloon have ties to Arizona history

2nd Lt. Frank Luke was one of "the most spectacular fighter pilots of World War I," according...
2nd Lt. Frank Luke was one of "the most spectacular fighter pilots of World War I," according to the Air Force History and Museum.(U.S. Air Force)
Published: Feb. 5, 2023 at 8:43 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The two fighter jets that shot down the Chinese balloon on Saturday afternoon not far from Myrtle Beach has some ties to Arizona history, believe it or not!

The two had the call sign “Frank01″ and “Frank02,” intended to honor Phoenix-born 2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, a World War I pilot who shot down multiple German spy balloons and airplanes during the war. Call signs are used on military aircraft for both communication identity reasons and security.

Luke soon became known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” and the Air Force History and Museums site refers to him as “the most spectacular air fighter of World War I.” He trained in the Signal Corps’ Aviation Section in January 1918, trained further in Issoudun, France, and shot his first plane down on Aug. 16, 1918. During his career, Lt. Luke earned 2 Distinguished Service crosses.

He was killed at age 21 while on a mission behind enemy lines during an unauthorized balloon-hunting mission. Posthumously, Luke was awarded a Medal of Honor. The inscription given to the Medal reads as follows:

In fact, Luke Airforce Base is also named for him, and at the Arizona State Capitol, a statue was erected of him on Armistice Day in 1930.

President Joe Biden issued the order but had wanted the balloon downed even earlier, on Wednesday. He was advised that the best time for the operation would be when it was over water, U.S. officials said. Military officials determined that bringing it down over land from an altitude of 60,000 feet would pose an undue risk to people on the ground.

China responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticized the U.S. for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”

Associated Press contributed to this story