Dean Ivan Lamb and Phil Rader: First dogfight

Sometimes war can pit brother against brother, friend against friend. But when the fighting occurs 4 miles in the air, that is a different story. When Dean Ivan Lamb and Phil Rader met in the skies over Mexico, they were ordered to shoot and by doing so participated in the first aerial battle between aeroplanes.

Dean Ivan was a veteran mercenary who had taken part in a few Latin American conflicts. He had attended Curtiss flying school in Hammond Sport, New York where he obtained his flying credentials. Seeking adventure, Dean headed to Naco, Arizona. Just opposite Naco a battle was raging between the Carranzistas who occupied the town and the Huerta troops that besieged the town. Dean got in touch with the commander of the Carranza force, Gen. Benjamin Hill and when Gen. Hill heard that he was an aviator, promptly hired him and arranged for a Curtiss D pusher (feat. image) to be shipped down from New York State. Dean took on a reconnaissance role at first and soon discovered that his good friend, fellow aviator and former San Francisco newspaper Reporter Phil Rader had taken a job with the enemy,  Gen. Huerta. Phil was flying a Christofferson Pusher. In an era before air combat, Dean did not see a problem working for the opposing camp.

Christofferson Pusher | Source:
Curtiss D pusher similar to the one Dean Ivan Lamb flew| Source:

Phil rader, under the orders of Gen.Huerta, began to drop bombs over the besieged city and in retaliation, Gen. Hill insisted that Dean shoot down the enemy aircraft. The fact that they were both flying pushers meant that their propellers did not obstruct the line of fire. The propellers were situated behind the pilot (as if pushing the plane forward). On 30th November 1913, they spotted one another. The event is chronicled in Dean Ivan Lamb’s autobiography The incurable filibuster  (A really apt title for such a great story teller):

Sure enough, it was Phil Rader. He seemed to recognize me and while trying to edge a bit closer we nearly locked wings. He quickly sheered off shaking his fist at me, then straightened out flying parallel. He drew a pistol and fired downward below my machine. For a second my heart stopped beating as I drew my own ornate gun, but before starting action it occurred that he had not actually aimed at me, but beneath. Following his example, I fired twice and as he suddenly tilted his plane my heart jumped in my throat, thinking that by accident he had been hit. He straightened out again and copied my example by firing two shots.

Dean Ivan Lamb and Phil Rader
A depiction of the duel | Source:

After the “gun battle”, the duo went on a rampage and “turned back over Naco where [they] repeated the procedure of firing at anything that happened to strike [their] fancy”. As a finale, Dean fired on the US customs house because he thought that “Customs people are always irritating”. The duo never met in the air again as enemies but as members of the Royal Flying Corps years later.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s