Distinguished Flying Cross (United States)

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Distinguished Flying Cross in United States
Awarded by United States Military
Type Military medal (Decoration)
Awarded for "Heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight"
Status Current
Established 2 July 1926[1]
Next (higher) Legion of Merit[2]
Next (lower) Army – Soldier's Medal
Navy & Marine Corps – Navy and Marine Corps Medal
Air Force – Airman's Medal
Coast Guard – Coast Guard Medal
Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon.svg
LTG Ray Odierno presents Distinguished Flying Crosses to Army aviators in Iraq.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is a military decoration awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States Armed Forces who distinguishes himself or herself in support of operations by "heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, subsequent to November 11, 1918."[2][3]


The first award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was made by President Calvin Coolidge on May 2, 1927, to ten aviators of the Air Corps who had participated in the U.S. Army Pan American Flight, which took place from December 21, 1926 to May 2, 1927. Two of the airmen died in a mid-air collision trying to land at Buenos Aires on February 26, 1927, and received their awards posthumously. Since the award had only been authorized by Congress the previous year, no medals had yet been struck, and the Pan American airmen initially received only certificates. Among the ten airmen were Major Herbert A. Dargue, Captains Ira C. Eaker and Muir S. Fairchild, and 1st Lt. Ennis C. Whitehead.

Charles Lindbergh received the first presentation of the medal little more than a month later, from Coolidge during the Washington, D.C. homecoming reception on June 11, 1927, from his trans-Atlantic flight. The medal had hurriedly been struck and readied just for that occasion. Interestingly, the 1927 War Department General Order (G.O. 8), authorizing Lindbergh's DFC states that it was awarded by the President, while the General Order (G.O. 6) for the Pan American Flyers' DFC citation notes that the War Department awarded it "by direction of the President."

The first Distinguished Flying Cross to be awarded to a Naval Aviator was received by then-Commander Richard E. Byrd, for his trans-Atlantic flight from June 29 to July 1, 1927 from New York City to the coast of France. Byrd, along with pilot Floyd Bennett, received the Medal of Honor for their historic flight to the North Pole on May 9, 1926 but they did not receive the DFC for that flight as the DFC had not yet been created.

Numerous military recipients of the medal would later earn greater fame in other occupations—several astronauts, actors, and politicians (including former President George H. W. Bush) are Distinguished Flying Cross holders.

DFC awards could be retroactive to cover notable achievements back until the beginning of World War I. On February 23, 1929, Congress passed special legislation to allow the award of the DFC to the Wright brothers for their December 17, 1903 flight. Other civilians who have received the award include Wiley Post, Jacqueline Cochran, Roscoe Turner, Amelia Earhart, Glenn H. Curtiss and Eugene Ely. Eventually, it was limited to military personnel by an Executive Order.

Amelia Earhart became the first woman to receive the DFC on July 29, 1932 when it was presented to her by Vice President Charles Curtis in Los Angeles. Earhart received the decoration for her solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean earlier that year.

World War II

During World War II the medal's award criteria varied widely depending on the theater of operations, aerial combat, and the missions accomplished. In the Pacific oftentimes commissioned officers were awarded the DFC, while enlisted men were given the Air Medal. In Europe some bomber crews, often the sole survivors of their wing or group, received it for completing a tour of duty of twenty-five sorties; elsewhere different criteria were used.[4]

During wartime, members of the Armed Forces of friendly foreign nations serving with the United States are eligible for the Distinguished Flying Cross. It is also given to those who display heroism while working as instructors or students at flying schools.

Colonel Francis S. "Gabby" Gabreski, USAF, received 13 Distinguished Flying Crosses—the most earned by any individual. He is followed by Admiral Stan Arthur, USN, with 11 DFCs.


During the Vietnam War high ranking Army officers often received the DFC for directing combat operations from aircraft.[citation needed]


The Distinguished Flying Cross was authorized by Section 12 of the Air Corps Act enacted by the United States Congress on July 2, 1926,[5] as amended by Executive Order 7786 on January 8, 1938.[3] This act provided for award “to any person, while serving in any capacity with the Air Corps of the Army of the United States, including the National Guard and the Organized Reserves, or with the United States Navy, since the 6th day of April 1917, has distinguished, or who, after the approval of this Act, distinguishes himself, or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”[3]


The Distinguished Flying Cross was designed by Elizabeth Will and Arthur E. DuBois.[3] The medal is a bronze cross pattee, on whose obverse is superimposed a four-bladed propeller, 1 11/16 inches in width. Five rays extend from the reentrant angles, forming a one-inch square. The reverse is blank; it is suitable for engraving the recipient's name and rank. The cross is suspended from a rectangular bar.

The suspension and service ribbon of the medal is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes: 3/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118; 9/64 inch White 67101; 11/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118; 3/64 inch White 67101; center stripe 3/32 inch Old Glory Red 67156; 3/64 inch White 67101; 11/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118; 9/64 inch White 67101; 3/32 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118.[3]


Additional awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross are shown with bronze or silver Oak Leaf Clusters for the Army and Air Force, and by gold or silver 5/16 Inch Stars for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard.

The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps may authorize the "V" device for wear to denote valor in combat; Navy and Marine Corps, Combat "V". The "V" device is not authorized for wear by the Army. In the Army, the Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded for single acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight. The other services can also award the medal for "extraordinary achievement".

DFC National Memorial Act

In July 2014, the United States Senate passed the Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial Act. The act was sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer, and seeks to designate the Distinguished Flying Cross memorial at March Field Air Museum adjacent to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California as a national memorial to recognize members of United States Armed Forces who have distinguished themselves by heroism in aerial flight. [6] The act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 25, 2014. [7]

In popular culture

In the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian the character of Amelia Earhart (played by Amy Adams) mentions that she received "the Flying Cross". The real life Amelia Earhart did, in fact, receive the Distinguished Flying Cross and was the first woman and civilian to do so.

In the popular TV series JAG, the lead character, Harmon Rabb (played by David James Elliott), was a US Navy aviator and a two-time recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In the 1964 movie Seven Days in May the character of General James Matoon Scott (played by Burt Lancaster) was a recipient of three DFCs.

In the TV series I Dream of Jeannie the regular character of Colonel Alfred Bellows, MD (played by Hayden Rorke) was a recipient of the DFC.

Notable recipients of the DFC

Note - the rank indicated is the highest held by the individual.

Medal of Honor recipients


Note - Although astronaut Neil Armstrong's achievements as an aviator and an astronaut more than exceeded the requirements for the DFC, he was ineligible for the DFC as he was a civilian for his entire career with NASA.

Political figures


Foreign Citizens

  • Wing Commander James Blackburn DSO, DFC, RAF - Distinguished British pilot during World War II.
  • Wing Commader W.H. Burbury, DFC, AFC, RAF - RAF Distinguished British pilot during World War II.
  • Squadron Leader Peter Cannam (70114) RAF - "as Flight Commander 241 Squadron displayed fortitude & courage whilst engaged in Fighter Bomber Operations in support of the 5th Army, during the drive on Bologna his flight inflicted great damage and casualties on the enemy thus reducing the number of casualties suffered by the American Army."
  • Lieutenant Colonel Dieudonné Costes, French Army - Completed around the world flight.
  • Lieutenant Commander Joseph Le Brix, French Navy - Completed around the world flight.
  • Major James Fitzmaurice, Irish Free State Air Force - Flew on first non-stop westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Major Hsi-Chon Hua, Chinese Air Force - Awarded DFC for extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight on 3 August 1959, while serving as and aircraft commander in the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Light.
  • Captain Hermann Köhl, German Army - Flew on first non-stop westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld, German aristocrat - Flew on first non-stop westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

United States Air Force and Army Air Forces

United States Marine Corps

United States Navy

United States Coast Guard

  • Captain Richard L. Burke, USCG - Distinguished rescue pilot and recipient of two DFCs. [13]
  • Lieutenant John A. Pritchard, Jr., USCG - Died attempting to rescue stranded aviators in Greenland in November 1942.
  • Lieutenant Jack C. Rittichier, USCG - Recipient of the Silver Star and two DFCs.
  • Radioman First Class Benjamin A. Bottoms, USCG - Radio operator in an aircraft rescuing stranded aviators in Greenland in November 1942.
  • Petty Officer 2nd Class Randy Haba, USCG - Rescue swimmer.
  • Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Todd, USCG - Rescue swimmer.

United States Army


Several highly distinguished military aviators never received the DFC. These include the following -

See also


  1. "Executive Order 4601". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 26 September 2012. External link in |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Department of Defense Manual 1348.33-V3" (PDF). US Department of Defense. 23 November 2010. pp. 17–18, 50. Retrieved 26 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "Distinguished Flying Cross". The Institute of Heraldry: Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the ARMY. Retrieved 2013-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130506-007.pdf
  5. Mooney, Charles C. and Layman, Martha E. (1944). "Organization of Military Aeronautics, 1907-1935 (Congressional and War Department Action)" (PDF). Air Force Historical Study No. 25. AFHRA (USAF). Retrieved 14 Dec 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>, Appendix 5, p. 127.
  6. http://www.boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/071014.cfm
  7. http://www.boxer.senate.gov/press/update/senator-boxer-president-obama-signs-the-distinguished-flying-cross-national-memorial-act/
  8. Awarded by Act of Congress March 1, 1933.
  9. Awarded by Act of Congress July 2, 1932.
  10. Awarded by Act of Congress July 11, 1932.
  11. Awarded by Act of Congress in 1949 and presented in 1952.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Awarded by Act of Congress December 18, 1928.
  13. http://www.uscg.mil/yotf/cg12C/docs/pdf/ELN/burke.pdf
  14. http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=7487
  15. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=49714387

External links