Distinguished Flying Cross (United States)

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Distinguished Flying Cross
Awarded by the
Department of the Army[1]
Department of the Navy[2]
Department of the Air Force[3]
Department of Homeland Security[4]
TypeMilitary medal (Decoration)
Awarded for"Heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight"
StatusCurrently awarded
Established2 July 1926[5]
Next (higher)Legion of Merit[6]
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
Service Ribbon

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."[6][7]


LTG Ray Odierno presents Distinguished Flying Crosses to Army aviators in Iraq.

The first award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was made by President Calvin Coolidge on May 2, 1927, to ten aviators of the U.S. Army 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. 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, USN for his trans-Atlantic flight from June 29 to July 1, 1927 from New York City to the coast of France. Byrd, along with his pilot, Machinist Floyd Bennett, had 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—a number of astronauts, actors, and politicians (including former President George H. W. Bush) have been Distinguished Flying Cross recipients.

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[edit]

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 crews often received it for performances throughout a tour of duty; elsewhere different criteria were used.[8]

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.


The Distinguished Flying Cross was authorized by Section 12 of the Air Corps Act enacted by the United States Congress on July 2, 1926,[9] as amended by Executive Order 7786 on January 8, 1938.[7] 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.”[7]


The Distinguished Flying Cross was designed by Elizabeth Will and Arthur E. DuBois.[7] 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.[7]


Additional awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross are shown with bronze or silver Oak Leaf Clusters for the Army and Air Force, and gold and sliver 516 Inch Stars for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps may authorize the "V" device for wear on the DFC to denote valor in combat; Navy and Marine Corps, Combat "V". The Army does not authorize the "V" device to be worn on the DFC (even though the Army awards the DFC "for single acts of heroism" or "extraordinary achievement" while participating in aerial flight). The other services can also award the DFC for extraordinary achievement without the "V" device.

DFC National Memorial Act[edit]

In July 2014, the United States Senate passed the Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial Act. The act was sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer, 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.[10] The act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 25, 2014.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

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, Commander Harmon Rabb, USN (played by David James Elliott), was a US Navy aviator and a two-time recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In the 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year), Fred Derry gives his medals and citations to his father. One of them is the DFC, along with a written citation by General James Doolittle.

In the 1964 movie Seven Days in May the character of General James Matoon Scott, USAF (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.

In the movie Dr. Strangelove Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper, USAF (played by Sterling Hayden), was a recipient of the DFC.

In the television series The Pretender, Kyle (played by Jeffrey Donovan) had a Distinguished Flying Cross supposedly given to him by his father. Before his death, Kyle gave the medal to his brother Jarod (played by Michael T. Weiss).

In the movie Kong: Skull Island the character of Lt. Col. Preston Packard, US Army Air Cavalry (played by Samuel L. Jackson), was a recipient of the DFC.

Notable recipients of the DFC[edit]

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


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[edit]


  • Glenn Curtiss: Aircraft designer. Posthumously awarded in 1933.[12]
  • Amelia Earhart: Legendary aviatrix. First woman to receive the DFC by an act of Congress in 1932.[13]
  • Eugene Burton Ely: First person to make a ship-board landing in an aircraft. Posthumously awarded in 1933.
  • Harold Gatty: Navigator with Wiley Post on record-breaking around the world flight. Awarded in 1932.[14]
  • Wiley Post: Completed record-breaking around-the-world flight and was the first person to fly solo around the world. Awarded in 1932.[15]
  • Roscoe Turner: Flamboyant air racing champion. Presented in 1952. (Last award of the DFC to a civilian.)[16]
  • Orville Wright: Aviation pioneer. Awarded by Act of Congress on December 18, 1928.[17]
  • Wilbur Wright: Aviation pioneer. Posthumously awarded by Act of Congress on December 18, 1928.[17]

Foreign citizens[edit]

  • Wing Commander James Blackburn RAF: Distinguished British pilot during World War II.
  • Wing Commander A. Warburton, RAF: Distinguished British reconnaissance pilot during World War II.
  • Colonel Francesco De Pinedo, Italian Air Force: Completed the Four Continents Flight in a flying boat in 1927.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Dieudonné Costes, French Army: Completed around the world flight.
  • Lieutenant Commander Joseph Le Brix, French Navy: Completed around the world flight.
  • Commandant James Fitzmaurice, Irish Air Corps. Flew on first non-stop westward crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on the Bremen.
  • 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, Army Air Forces and Army Air Corps[edit]

United States Marine Corps[edit]

United States Navy[edit]

United States Coast Guard[edit]

United States Army[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-11. Retrieved 2018-01-10.
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-16. Retrieved 2012-02-16.
  3. ^ "Production publication" (PDF). static.e-publishing.af.mil.
  4. ^ "Info" (PDF). media.defense.gov. 2017.
  5. ^ "Executive Order 4601". U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 26 September 2012. External link in |publisher= (help)
  6. ^ a b "Department of Defense Manual 1348.33-V3" (PDF). US Department of Defense. 23 November 2010. pp. 17–18, 50. Retrieved 26 September 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Distinguished Flying Cross". The Institute of Heraldry: Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the ARMY. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2013-12-21.
  8. ^ http://www.afhra.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130506-007.pdf[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ 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). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-27. Retrieved 14 Dec 2010., Appendix 5, p. 127.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-11-01. Retrieved 2014-11-01.
  11. ^ "Senator Boxer: President Obama Signs the Distinguished Flying Cross National Memorial Act". senate.gov. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2016.
  12. ^ Awarded by Act of Congress March 1, 1933.
  13. ^ Awarded by Act of Congress July 2, 1932.
  14. ^ Awarded by Act of Congress July 11, 1932.
  15. ^ Awarded by Act of Congress July 11, 1932. Died in a plane crash with Will Rogers.
  16. ^ Awarded by Act of Congress in 1949 and presented in 1952.
  17. ^ a b Awarded by Act of Congress December 18, 1928.
  18. ^ MacArthur, Douglas (1964). Reminiscences. Annapolis: Bluejacket Books. pp. 372–373. ISBN 1-55750-483-0. OCLC 220661276.
  19. ^ "Valor awards for James Francis Hollingsworth". militarytimes.com. Archived from the original on 9 November 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2016.

External links[edit]