WHAT WAS LEARNED: The Red Baron, a German World War I flying ace, would have never been in a position to be shot down if he hadn’t suffered from a severe head injury, MU and other researchers say. They say Baron Manfred von Richthofen showed definite signs of traumatic brain injury, which led to errors in judgment — resulting in his death in a 1918 air battle over British territory.
HOW IT WAS DONE: Daniel Orme, MU health psychology clinical associate professor, and retired neuropsychologist Thomas Hyatt of Cincinnati studied von Richthofen’s medical records following a head injury he sustained nine months before his death. The records indicated personality and cognitive changes, both symptoms of brain trauma. He exhibited “target fixation” the day he was shot down, following a British plane into enemy territory — something the Baron normally didn’t do.
WHY IT MATTERS: The Red Baron, credited with 80 kills in battle, wouldn’t be allowed to fly a plane after a head injury by today’s standards. Orme, a retired Air Force officer who evaluated aviators’ flying capabilities following head trauma or neurological illnesses, says von Richthofen should not have returned to flying, but found his way around the regulations in place at the time.
The results of Orme and Hyatt’s research will be published this fall in the international journal Human Factors and Aerospace Safety.