Charles Eugene Jules Marie Nungesser was born in Paris on the 15th of March, 1892. He was France's third leading ace with 45 victories. As a child, Nungesser became very interested in competitive sports. One of his interests was boxing. He attended the Ecole des Arts et Meiers where he was a fair student but excelled in sports. After a time at the school, he dropped out and sailed to Brazil. Nungesser had an uncle that lived there and went to meet him to get a job on his sugar plantation. When the ship arrived at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the uncle was no where to be found so, Charles went on to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
In Argentina, Nungesser found work as an auto mechanic, and became interested in racing cars. When he was just seventeen, he started racing cars professionally. While racing, he met another Frenchman that had access to an airplane. Nungesser talked his new found friend into letting him take the Bleriot into the air by himself, as it was a single seat aircraft. After flying the plane around for a few minutes, he made a successful landing. Nungesser flew for two weeks, learned to fly and started an aviation career.
After five years, Nungesser finally found his uncle and worked for him at his plantation. World War I broke out and Nungesser returned to France where he joined the Second Hussars. While on patrol one day, Nungesser and several fellow soldiers, stopped a German staff car, shot the occupants, and drove back behind their lines. His superiors were so impressed, they gave him the car and the Medaille Militaire. At this time Nungesser requested and was approved for a transfer to the Service Aeronautique. He received his brevet March 2, 1915.
Nungesser shot down his first plane, an Albatros, when he left his field without permission. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre and given eight days in house arrest. After this he requested to be sent to a fighter group and this was granted at the end of 1915.
While there, he did a bunch of wild flying over the nearby town, and many people complained. The commander of the squadron told Nungesser that he was going to do aerobatics, do them over the German lines. Nungesser jumped into his plane, flew to the nearest German field, and gave them quite a show. He reported back to his commander, told him what he did and was put under arrest again.
In January 1916, Nungesser had a very bad crash, breaking both legs, piercing the roof of his mouth with the planes control stick, and dislocating his jaw. His wounds were nursed back to health and he started flying again, March 29, 1916. One leg did not heal properly, so he underwent surgery and insisted that no anesthesia be given him. During his fighting career, he was wounded many times. He had many internal injuries, a scull fracture, concussion, fractures of the upper and lower jaws, dislocated wrist, clavicle, and ankle, cuts, bruises, and the loss of his teeth.
NUNGESSER'S NIEUPORT 17, N 1895, EARLY SUMMER 1916
Nungesser became a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, and got into a fierce competition with Rene Fonch. Nungesser's mechanics would carry him to his plane so he could fly. After his patrol, they would carry him back to the hospital. Because of his repeated hospital stays, Nungesser slowly lost ground in the contest and Fonch finished the war with 75 downed aircraft. The following paragraph about Nungesser shows up over and over in biographies about him and cuts to the quick as to who he was and how he conducted himself. Although the originating source for the quote is not clear I give credit to the source so cited:
One of Nungesser's drinking buddies was Jean Navarre, another flamboyant ace. The two of them almost created the image of fighter pilots as handsome, reckless, hard-living, womanizing rakes. They disliked military discipline and enjoyed Paris' many attractions as often as possible. Nungesser was known to show up for a morning patrol in a tuxedo, perhaps with his woman still on his arm. Once, Nungesser was driving into Paris, amidst heavy traffic, when he spotted his own aircraft heading that way. It was Navarre! He had borrowed Nungesser's airplane; he explained that his own had been shot up and that he "had forgotten what a woman looked like."(source)
Paris was crawling with French, British, Canadian, and American pilots during the war. They lived fast and died fast. It has been reported that Nungesser crossed paths with at least two, one an American, and one an Irishman, that became famous more or less anonymously in the the book by former World War I battlefield Ambulance Driver and British playwright and author William Somerset Maugham titled The Razor's Edge. The American was the role model for the novel's main character Larry Darrell. The Irishman died right before Darrell's eyes after saving his life following a dogfight with the Germans. The Irishman was twenty-two, Darrell only eighteen or nineteen.
It has been reported there was a onetime rather interesting connection between Charles Nungesser and an infamous Southern California madam named Fifie Malouf. The report alludes to the fact that in her youth Fifie spent her early formative years in Paris during World War I. Several years after her return to the U.S., Fifie, as it has been reputed, even by a few family members, became a "madam" --- that is, running a house of ill repute, otherwise known as a brothel, in Redondo Beach, California starting sometime around or just before World War II through to some eight years after. The following is found on the Fifie Malouf page linked below:
"(There) has always been a framed picture of Charles Nungesser that Fifie had on the wall of her establishment. The fact that the photo depicted Nungesser had long been confirmed to me by the oil well man who frequented the Happy Hour Cafe, had flown in WW I and knew Nungesser. One day the oil well man brought in a number of photographs of himself in WW I flight regalia sitting in and standing in front of biplanes during the war and spread them out all over for Fifie to look at. When he left Fifie gave him the picture of Nungesser, afterwhich I recognized it and saw it many times in conjunction with the other photographs at the repairman's shack where he lived in the oilfields along the Redondo Beach city line just east of Prospect Avenue. Fifie's usual response of 'Ooh, la, la always seemed to put the final touch on the story as I heard it."
FIFIE MALOUF: ENTREPRENEUR, SOCIALITE, MADAME
Charles Nungesser received many medals for his service for France and was very well liked by his countrymen. After the war, he opened a flying school in France but could not get that many students. He then got into barnstorming for a while, came to the U.S. and appeared in several movies as a combat pilot. Some people have thought that Nungesser was one of the stunt pilots killed in the filming of Hell's Angels, the Howard Hughes epic movie of RAF pilots battling Zeppelins over England. He wasn't. While traveling in the circles of high society and the Hollywood elite he met and married a woman of some flash by the name of Consuelo. He was married to her when he decided to try his hand at crossing the Atlantic ocean. On May 8, 1927 Charles Nungesser left Le Bourget airfield in France with Captain Francois Coli, his navigator. The plane, a Levasseur P.L.8 biplane, painted with his World War I insignia of a black heart, two burning candles, a coffin, and skull and cross bones, set out over the Atlantic ocean. Lieutenant Charles Nungesser, Captain Coli, and their plane, the Oiseau Blanc (White Bird), were never officially seen again. In fact, however, his plane was reported over Newfoundland and sighted over Maine. While he no doubt crashed, Nungesser did make the crossing before Lindbergh. As far as it is known, remains of the plane or occupants have never been found and are still lying in the woods of the Penobscot. So ended the life of one of France's famous Aces.(see)
The following quote, which is related to Nungesser, is found in of all places on a page about what are called Code-O-Graphs, a 1940s Captain Midnight Radio Premium Offer. In turn it stems from Captain Midnight's biography which was so adroitly put together by author Stephen A. Kallis Jr. following hours-and-hours of researching and sifting through piles and piles of background material, notes, and archived original radio scripts. Kallis combined all he gathered into a book he titled Radio's Captain Midnight: The Wartime Biography (2000) and in the book, as found in the quote, Kallis comes to the conclusion that Captain Midnight flew a Nieuport 17, the same type plane as flown by Nungesser.
"My mentor was a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, having joined by going through Canada, flying for the British while Captain Midnight flew for the French under the branching umbrella of the Lafayette Flying Corps. My mentor's aircraft was the venerable British made Sopwith Camel while Midnight's was said to be a French built Nieuport 17, the same type of aircraft as flown by Charles Nungesser, France's third leading ace with 45 victories, and of whom my mentor knew personally in real life."
CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT: The Code-O-Graphs
(AVIATION ANIMATION COPYRIGHT JAMES M. SELF)
LEONARDO DA VINCI AND HIS FLYING MACHINES
ZEPPELINS: HIGH ALTITUDE WARSHIPS
LAFAYETTE FLYING CORPS
RAF SOPWITH CAMEL
ON THE RAZOR'S
With thanks to:
WORLD WAR I AVIATION HOMEPAGE
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN DARRELL'S LIFE OTHER THAN THE MAHARSHI:
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF CHARLES NUNGESSER
Nungesser's plane, the White Bird, simply vanished and was never seen again. It was not until 1980 when Gunnar Hanson, a freelance writer, researched and published an article on a man by the name of Anson Berry who was living near Machias, Maine, in 1927 and who claimed to hear an aircraft fly over his isolated camp late in the afternoon of May 9th, 1927. Anson, told several friends and neighbors he had heard the plane overhead in the overcast and but could not see it. He also stated the engine sounded erratic and it sounded to him as if the plane crashed in the distance.
Gunner dug deeper and found a number of other reports and a few sightings beginning in Newfoundland and traveling on a line south past Nova Scotia and into the coastal region of Maine. He then ran onto a report by a hunter who said he'd found an old engine buried in the ground sometime in 1950. The site was within a mile of where Anson Berry heard the plane pass. (source)
Before totally disappearing from the pages of history Consuelo went on to some notoriety herself a few years later as recorded in the book Here Lies the Heartby feminine seductress Mercedes De Acosta outlining De Acosta's life and she and Consuelo's quest to meet the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Consuelo, the former Consuelo Hatmaker, married Nungesser May 25, 1923 in New York state. Three years later when Nungesser tried to fly west over the Atlantic at the same time Lindbergh flew east, he disappeared. Following Nungesser's disappearnce Consuelo married Alfredo Sides, cohort of Rene Gimpel, one of the foremost art dealers in Paris during the time between the two World Wars. Sides and Gimpel dealt primarily only in Rembrandts, medieval tapestries, and so-called newcomers such as Picasso and Matisse. No doubt both Gimpel and Sides were well known to W. Somerset Maugham as Maugham himself was beginning to put together a rather extensive art collection around the same time, including both Picasso and Matisse.
THE ART COLLECTION OF W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
Consuelo became a follower of Sri Meher Baba and intended to stay in India several years under his auspices, but when Alfredo came to the station to see she and De Acosta off, he told De Acosta: "Don't let Consuelo do anything foolish," the implication being, if at all possible, not to allow Consuelo to hook up with Meher Baba.
De Acosta had met Meher Baba in California and for some time carried what seemed to be considerable respect for him. However, her faith in him waned prior to her arrival in India, and once there, it all but dissipated. At Meher Baba's request---one of the few she consented to---De Acosta first made a tour of India, delaying her visit to the Maharshi.
After their stay at the Ramana Ashram Consuelo went to Ceylon with De Acosta. Together they "sailed on the S.S. Victoria from Colombo," the same ship they arrived in India on. Two days later the ship docked in Bombay. Consuelo was unable make up her mind if she should get off and stay in India a "few weeks" or go back to Europe. At the last minute she got off and De Acosta sailed on to Europe without her. Little is recorded formally of her after that, and for the most part, just like the Beat Generation's missing woman Hope Savage years later, except for minor rumors here and there, she more or less just disappears from the pages of history.
For the most part the quoted paragraph is attributed to Stephen E. Sherman who started the AcePilots.com in 1999. His Nungesser page shows up with the paragraph for the first time in archived pages February 8, 2002. It also shows up in the now long defunct Nungesser page by Realm Bodhisattva for the first time October 1, 2002. Sherman lists four or five sources used in his research to compose his page. It is not known if that particular quote shows up intact in one of those sources or not. However, it is my belief during his research he simply compiled the contents of the paragraph by extrapolating what he learned or already knew.
STEPHEN E. SHERMAN