|Joyride through the clouds|
His hometown mysteriously now Eagle Rock, Arizona (Frank Luke hailed from Phoenix), as opposed to the Mustang Valley, Wyoming of earlier stories, Savage recalls his father's training - young Steve became a superb marksman, and put those skills to use, defending himself from hometown thugs that didn't appreciate the 'white trash' presence of the Savages in town.
Savage comes out of his daydream remembrances to see not only a lone eagle much like the one he identified himself with back home (an interesting contrast with the wolf companion of The Enemy Ace), but also a couple of German observation balloons. Bustin' balloons is what a Balloon Buster does best, so Savage goes to town, avoiding heavy artillery, while converting 3 balloons into gigantic fireballs.
|Excellent Dan Spiegle battle sequence|
|A gentleman's agreement NOT to kill each other|
Recommended reading: Terror of the Autumn Skies: The True Story of Frank Luke, America's Rogue Ace of World War I by Blaine Pardoe (Skyhorse Publishing, 2008).
When beginning this documentation of the adventures of Steve Savage, The Balloon Buster, I was surprised to learn that the character was based on real-life WWI pilot Frank Luke. Robert Kanigher must have been familiar with the details of Luke's life & service, as many details from the Balloon Buster stories are pulled right from Luke's demeanor and experiences.
Luke hailed from the west (the newly admitted state of Arizona), and was something of a loner among his squadron and was a frequent insubordinate, leading to the threat of court martial from his superior officer. In a very short time, Luke developed a knack for taking out the heavily protected German balloons, and gained some notoriety both at home and abroad.
Luke was tragically shot down near the end of the war, after taking out multiple balloons, against orders (he was grounded at the time). There has been some disagreement amongst scholars and apparent eye-witnesses as to the exact manner of Luke's death - he may have succumbed to wounds taken in the air; he may have had an out-in-the-blaze-of-glory shoot out with the German infantry after landing.
Both of these scenarios, and more, are explored in Terror of the Autumn Skies, a very well-researched book (that maybe could have been edited a bit better) detailing the life and brief military career of Frank Luke. Anyone interested in WWI, aviation, or even just in good stories would do well to check it out.