Gail E. ‘Jake' Jacobson, decorated WWII flying ace

Even as a little boy, Jake Jacobson loved airplanes.

The only child of Fred and June Jacobson of Des Moines, Iowa, used to make his own out of wood, then fly them with rubber bands or attached wires, said his wife, Elaine Jacobson of Sandy Springs.

Mr. Jacobson would go on to become a highly-decorated World War II flying ace and retire as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, but he never put away his boyhood hobby.

He was a P-51 fighter pilot who shot down five enemy planes -- the fifth kill he shared with another pilot -- and destroyed six other aircraft on the ground during the war.

Later in retirement, his military experience helped make him a national champion several times in radio-controlled model aircraft racing.

His hand-eye coordination and peripheral vision were excellent, observed long-time friend and racing partner John Landers of Ellenwood. That’s what helped him spot enemy planes during the war and later make high-speed sharp turns with miniature models, Mr. Landers said.

“He had tremendous vision,” Mr. Landers said. “Even in his old age he had tremendous vision.”

Mr. Landers said Mr. Jacobson, more than 30 years his elder, became his mentor in model racing. Together, they competed in contests across the country, and Mr. Jacobson was well-known nationally for his racing skills.

“He was so good because he worked at it night and day,” Mr. Landers said. “He even designed some of the airplanes that we flew.”

Gail E. “Jake” Jacobson, 85, of Sandy Springs died June 1 at Northside Hospital in Atlanta of complications from a recent fall. A memorial service will be announced at a later date, with arrangements by the Cremation Society of Georgia.

During the war, Mr. Jacobson was stationed with the 8th U.S. Air Force 434th Fighter Squadron in Wattisham, England. His plane was called “Burn ’n Bernie,” and his mission was to protect the bombers, mostly B-24s, his wife said.

Just months after arriving in England, the 18-year-old downed two German fighter planes in one mission, and a third one shortly after that, according to an article published in Model Aviation.

After the war Mr. Jacobson returned home and met his future wife while they were students at what is now Iowa State University. They married in 1946, then he re-entered the U.S. Air Force and made it a career. When he retired in his late 40s he had 18 career air medals.

Making and flying model planes became Mr. Jacobson's passion during retirement. At first, he maneuvered them by wires, then made the switch to radio control when it became available.

“Over the years, the planes became more and more sophisticated,” Mrs. Jacobson said. “It was an expensive hobby, especially when they crashed, and they often did.”

Mr. Jacobson stayed current on model aircraft technology, buying two of every new engine that came out so he would have an extra on hand in case of a crash, Mr. Landers said.

“He had some of the most computerized stuff available,” Mr. Landers said. “He stayed on top of the hottest stuff all the time.”

The two men were racing partners for 10 years, specializing in quarter midget pylon racing. Mr. Jacobson was national champion for many years, his friend said.

He was also active in the Atlanta RC Club, serving as president and contest director for racing events.

Though he had to quit racing several years ago due to health problems, his house remained filled with model aircraft ready to fly, Mr. Landers said.

Other survivors include two daughters, two grandchildren and one great grandchild.