Call Signs of F-22s That Downed Chinese Surveillance Balloon Carry a Big Meaning

History flew on the wings of the F-22 fighters dispatched to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon on Saturday.

The balloon — which had drifted for days across the United States, igniting a political firestorm around President Joe Biden and a diplomatic one around China — was shot down with one Sidewinder missile shortly after 2:40 p.m. on Saturday off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The two F-22s that closed in on the balloon had the call signs FRANK01 and FRANK02 in recognition of one of the most famous American pilots who preyed on observation balloons in World War I  — Frank Luke Jr.

“From U.S. Northern Command, I can confirm the call sign was a nod to Frank Luke,” Air Force Col. Elizabeth Mathias, a NORTHCOM representative, told The Drive on Saturday.

Luke was known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster” for his short time in combat during 1918 when he destroyed 14 German balloons and four aircraft.

Luke arrived in France in September 1918 and served for less than three weeks, according to Air and Space Forces magazine.


“I will make myself known or go where most of them do,” he wrote in a letter to his sister, the magazine reported.

On Sept. 18, only 11 days before he died in combat at the age of 21, Luke downed five targets in one day.

The top American ace of World War I, Capt. Edward Rickenbacker, said Luke’s brief career topped even that of the famous German flier, Manfred “The Red Baron” von Richthofen

“He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down 14 enemy aircraft, including 10 balloons, in eight days. No other Ace … even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that,” Rickenbacker said, according to the Air Force website.

Luke went out in a blaze of glory and bullets, according to the U.K. Daily Mail, basing its account on reports from the villagers of Murvaux, France.

Luke was being chased by German planes, but he downed two observation balloons while eluding the enemy. He downed one more balloon after being wounded, then he landed.

Reports have varied over the years, with some, unconfirmed, claiming Luke took some German soldiers with him before he died. He was buried in a grave marked “Unknown American Aviator.”

Communication being what it was in 1918, no one knew what had happened to him until January 1919, Air and Space Forces reported.

According to the Daily Mail, Luke’s commander, Maj. H.E. Hartney, recalled him this way:  “No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front.”

“We had any number of expert pilots, and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.”

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.