Distinguished Flying Cross

Updated: July 20, 2021

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    The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to those who exhibit heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. This honor was established in 1926 and recognizes “entirely distinctive” and “not routine” acts of heroism for accomplishments on or after April 6, 1917.

    The Distinguished Flying Cross may be awarded to officers, enlisted members, civilians (in rare cases, see below), and may be awarded to members of friendly foreign militaries as well.

    A Brief History Of The Distinguished Flying Cross

    Distinguished Flying Cross The Distinguished Flying Cross was created by an act of Congress on July 2, 1926 and the original intent was to honor those who served with distinction during World War One and beyond.

    Many of the early awards were made for long-distance flights and other record setting attempts. One source reports that only a single World War One-era military member has been honored with the award, posthumously.

    In 1927, an Executive Order was signed to establish the rules for the award. That was Executive Order 4601 signed on March 1, 1927.

    This honor is not exclusive to combat and is, as mentioned above, also presented to civilians. But that has tended to be the exception rather than the rule as doing so requires an act of Congress. Civilian flight pioneers have been recognized with a Distinguished Flying Cross on several occasions via acts of Congress including the Wright Brothers (posthumously).

    Civilian recipients include, but may not be limited to, the following:

    • Wiley Post
    • Jacqueline Cochran
    • Roscoe Turner
    • Glenn H. Curtiss
    • Eugene Ely
    • Orville Wright
    • Wilbur Wright

    The award is presented once in the form of a medal, and any subsequent awards to the same person are indicated by oak leaf clusters for Army and Air Force members.

    Navy and Marine Corps members who receive more than one Distinguished Flying Cross receive additional stars. Additional devices including Combat (“C”) and Valor (“V”) are also authorized.

    The Design Of The Distinguished Flying Cross

    The Commission of Fine Arts put out a call for designs and they came in from a multiplicity of sources; some came from commercial artists, others were submitted from the United States Mint and even the Office of the Quartermaster General.

    The final version of the Distinguished Flying Cross was designed by Elizabeth Will and Arthur E. DuBois but the final version was not available in time for the award’s first presentation. That happened in 1927, when President Calvin Coolidge honored Army Air Crew members who participated in the five-aircraft, 22,000-mile Pan American Goodwill Flight on May 2nd, 1927.

    The finalized design was first presented as a medal in June of 1927 to none other than Captain Charles A. Lindbergh, then of the Army Corps Reserve. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his solo, 3,600 mile flight across the Atlantic Ocean. And Lindbergh wasn’t the only flying pioneer to earn the medal.

    A Distinguished Flying Cross was also awarded in the same year to Commander Richard Byrd of the Navy Air Corps for his Trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. Some sources claim that the award was for Byrd’s flight to the North Pole but that effort did not earn Byrd the award.

    The first civilian award of the the Cross was to Amelia Earhart.

    A variety of U.S. astronauts have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, including:

    • Captain Robert Crippen
    • Captain Mark Kelly
    • Captain Scott Kelly
    • Captain Jim Lovell
    • Captain Wally Schirra
    • Captain John Young
    • Lieutenant Colonel Duane Carey
    • Lieutenant Colonel Gus Grissom
    • Commander Scott Carpenter

    One name missing from the lists of astronauts honored with the medal? Neil Armstrong, who was a civilian for his entire NASA career, and presenting Armstrong with the medal would require the authorization of an act of Congress.

    There are also a number of famous names who have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross including actor Jimmy Stewart, famous for It’s A Wonderful Life, but recognized  for his efforts as a Reserve Brigadier General and B-24 pilot during World War Two.

    Brigadier General Chuck Yeager was the first human to break the sound barrier–he, too, was awarded the Cross. Other famous names who have been so honored include but are not limited to:

    • Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Coleman, second baseman for the New York Yankees and broadcaster for the San Diego Padres
    • Major Clark Gable, star of Gone with the Wind
    • Captain Don “Mr. Wizard” Herbert, creator and host of the Watch Mr. Wizard and Wizard’s World television programs
    • Captain Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News


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