William George Barker was a Canadian soldier who became one a famous air ace in WWI. Barker started The Great War in 1915 the First Canadian Mounted Rifles but a taste of life in the trenches soon had him applying to the Royal Flying Corps.
He began his flight career in 1916 as an observer, spending more than a year in the second seat where he won accolades for his gunnery skills. He was credited with helping to end the First Battle of the Somme when he spotted a concentration of about 4,000 German troops massing for an attack. He called in a top priority artillery strike and the German force was destroyed.
In 1917 he became a pilot, starting in the observer group but towards the end of 1917 transferring to a fighter group equipped with Sopwith Camels. He became an ace fighting with this group before the RAF transferred his squadron to Italy.
In this phase of his air combat career, Barker became not only a top ace but also a balloon buster, devising an attack strategy that allowed his squadron to clear the front of observation balloons with minimal losses.
In September of 1918 Barker was ordered back to England to command a fighter pilot school. He convinced the school that he needed to tour the Western Front before beginning to teach, and they gave in.
During his tour, he spotted a large German reconnaissance craft and downed it after a long battle. But during the battle he was spotted by the upper Jasta of a "flying circus" of Fokker DVIIs. Attacked by over 20 aircraft, Barker was hit in both legs, but downed two of the Fokkers before passing out.
The rush of air from his spinning plane revived him, and he found himself plummeting into another Jasta of Fokkers, which attacked. Woozily, he tried to ram one of the Fokkers, but a lucky burst from his guns downed the enemy plane before impact. Barker was hit in the left elbow by a bullet and passed out.
Again Barker passed out, and again revived to find himself in trouble, having dropped into the third and lowest Jasta of the Fokker flying circus. Amazingly, he shot down yet another Fokker before turning for the Allied lines. He crashed in flames but survived, and was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was officially credited with a career total of 50 enemy kills (although he usually claimed 53, perhaps counting the observation balloons as aircraft). Remarkably, 46 of the kills came in the same aircraft, Sopwith Camel #B6313. The other 4 came in his last flight in the Sopwith Snipe he'd borrowed to tour the trenches.
After a long and painful recovery from his war wounds, Barker formed a short-lived air company with Billy Bishop, then joined the fledgling RCAF as a recruiter.
In 1930 while trying out a new two-seater aircraft, Barker pulled the plane into a steep climb. It stalled, flipped and crashed, killing Barker. Suicide was suspected as Barker had never fully recovered, physically or mentally, from The Great War.
William George Barker appears as a minor character in The Magic Labyrinth, Book IV of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld tetralogy.