The spirit of Lamb and Rader
Over the dusty town of Naco in Mexico, two American mercenary aviators– Dean Ivan Lamb, in a Curtiss biplane and Phil Rader in a Christofferson pusher– flying for rival factions in that country’s revolution, decided to settle who had control of the sky through an impromptu handgun duel. Lamb reportedly circled to reload while resting his revolver inside his shirt while he retrieved spare cartridges from his belt and then stuck the wheelgun between his legs to feed the cylinder with one hand while keeping control of his aircraft with the other.
The duel ended without bloodshed, although distances between the two flying machines at the time was reportedly much less than 50 feet and it has been debated if the two, who were associates, simply put on a show for the benefit of their respective employers. Regardless, the date, often given as 30 November 1913, makes this action between the airborne soldiers of fortune the first recorded aerial combat and was only a decade after the Wright Brothers took to the clouds.
Fast forward to 2019 and you still have aerial mercenaries, such as Borys Reyes, a former Ecuadorian fighter jock, whose vintage (1978-79 model) French-made Dassault Mirage F1 strike fighter was shot down by Libyan National Army forces near al-Watiyah on 23 April.
Another F1 driver, a pilot flying for the rival Libyan Government of National Accord who was shot down by the LNA in May and was recently turned over, is 31-year-old Florida resident Jamie Sponaugle.
A U.S. Air Force vet, Sponaugle was an enlisted man and later NCO who worked on a ground crew on active duty and in the Florida Air Guard for a total of 10 years while he picked up a private pilot’s license.
Of course, Sponaugle just spent six weeks as a GNA POW in Libya but he has one hell of a story to tell.
As for the official line: “We are always pleased to see Americans held captive overseas returned home to their friends and family,” Ambassador Robert O’Brien, President Trump’s envoy for hostage affairs, told media. “We appreciate his captors’ decision to release him. We also thank the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its role in resolving this case.”