On This Day – Lieutenant Edward O’Hare Becomes Navy’s First Flying Ace


Lieutenant Commander Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare (1914-1943) was an Irish-American naval aviator of the United States Navy who, on February 20 1942, became the Navy’s first flying ace when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching his aircraft carrier. A flying ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. Despite his limited amount of ammunition, he managed to shoot down or damage several enemy bombers and became the first Naval recipient of the Medal of Honour in World War II.

On the night of February 20, LT O’Hare and his wingman were the only U.S. Navy fighters available in the air when a second wave of Japanese bombers were attacking his aircraft carrier Lexington. O’Hare’s initial maneuver was a high-side diving attack employing accurate deflection shooting. He accurately placed bursts of gunfire into a Betty’s right engine and wing fuel tanks. O’Hare’s fighter had been hit by only one bullet during his flight.

By shooting down five bombers, O’Hare became a flying ace and was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander. He later died on mission in November 1943 after his plane went missing, leading to his declaration of death a year later.