A meticulously researched biography that reclaims WW I's unchallenged ace of aces from the mists and myths of time. Drawing on previously unavailable archives (including his subject's personal papers) and standard references, historian Kilduff sheds new light not only on the short, violent life of Manfred Albrecht von Richthofen but also on the development of military aviation in imperial Germany during what once was called the Great War. A scion of the Prussian nobility, Richthofen was a 22-year-old cavalry officer when hostilities broke out between the Central Powers and the Allies. Transferring to the fledgling Air Service in search of action, he qualified as a pilot and joined a fighter squadron on the Western Front in the summer of 1916. By the time Richthofen was killed in a dogfight over the Somme on April 21, 1918, he had been credited with 80 victories in aerial combat against British and French foes. A hunter by heritage as well as inclination, the deadly young aviator had a flair for the dramatic (exemplified in the blood-red color of his planes) and a penchant for collecting trophies from the aircraft of downed victims. A national hero long before his death, Richthofen also proved an aggressive tactician and talented commander. Kilduff provides a wealth of perspectives on the so-called Red Baron (""a 20th-century man with 19th-century ideals""), at one point likening him to the Teutonic knights who rampaged through Medieval Europe. In another vein, the author makes a fine job of distinguishing among the capabilities of the open-cockpit ""crates"" that vied for control of the unfriendly skies -- Albatrosses, Fokkers, Nieuports, Sopwiths, Spads, etc. A vivid, tellingly detailed account of a master airman and the convulsive conflict in which he made a name for himself.