He was known as 'the Falcon of Malta.'That was because his eagle eyes and quick trigger finger sent a record number of attacking German and Italian pilots spinning to the ground in flames during the Second World War. In fact, he racked up an amazing 31 aerial dogfight kills.George Beurling was a loner, a difficult man who twice rejected an officer’s commission.Wrote Air historian Dan McCaffery : “They called him ‘Screwball,’ ‘Buzz’ and the ‘Falcon of Malta’ [and] he was the greatest Allied fighter pilot of the Second World War."“[He] was a complex, even paradoxical individual … he craved fame but cared nothing for promotions. He loved attention but had little use for intimacy. And when he died, he was remembered as Canada’s most successful and tragic combat hero of World War II.”According to legend, Beurling disliked his new cap, so he pitched it into the air and put a blast from his shotgun through it. He felt this made it more suitable.Oh, and he also disliked his wing commander … very much. Serving with 403 Wolf Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), based at Headcorn, Kent, England, he saw his wing commander flying overhead in a De Havilland Tiger Moth.He couldn’t resist … blasting away at the plane with his shotgun, leaving a few small holes in the bottom of the plane’s left wing. Alas, his ground crew did not report him.While Beurling disliked officers, he was generally liked by his ground crew. George Beurling was born in Montreal in 1921 and was first drawn to flying when his father made him a small wooden airplane when he was seven, according to a CTV News report.He took his first flying lesson when he was just 14. Flying for a cargo company in Gravenhurst, ON, when the Second World War broke out, he wanted to join the Royal Canadian Air Force.They turned him down because he hadn't finished high school. Undaunted, he would go to England and join the Royal Air Force.That wasn't easy either, even though the British were desperate for pilots as the threat of Nazi invasion loomed, CTV News reported. He signed on with a converted cattle ship ferrying supplies to the embattled country, planning to jump ship in England and then sign up with the RAF.But again, he was stymied. He was too young (18), didn’t have a birth certificate and didn’t have a letter of approval from his parents. According to his brother, Richard Beurling, they said, "Look, lad, go and get that and then come back.“And that is exactly what he did.Beurling said his brother had some issues trying to fit in with others in the RAF and later the RCAF because he was younger, wasn't as educated, didn't smoke or drink strong liquor and hewed to his deep faith.He always climbed into his cockpit with a small Bible given to him by his mother tucked into his pocket, CTV News reported.Whatever his traits, no one could dispute his prowess behind a gunsight, particularly on the besieged island of Malta — the perfect place from which to attack Axis supplies headed to North Africa.But the Malta assignment would take a toll.Poor rations put him in hospital with dysentery and he was shot down four times, suffering wounds to his heel, elbow and ribs. In his last encounter on Malta, he launched a head-on attack on enemy bombers, destroying one before he saw his leader being attacked.Although wounded, he took out that enemy fighter and then climbed again to shoot down another as his aircraft was peppered with German shells and shot down, CTV News reported.Years later, pieces of shrapnel would work out of his body, little pieces would just fester and come to the surface, his brother recalled.Despite his bravery in the cockpit, however, Beurling had to grapple with the horrors he had seen and experienced. While present-day soldiers can receive help for post-traumatic stress disorder, which in Beurling's era was described as "battle fatigue" or "shell shock," such treatment wasn't available then.He would be haunted by the close-quarters combat, Beurling's brother said. "It was a big problem because he saw the men he'd killed. Sometimes he said he could look right in their eyes. He could see them because he would be that close to them."For all his accolades, Beurling found it hard to get back into the air after leaving the military. Commercial airlines, including Air Canada, took a pass when he applied.Because of his age and because of the reputation, nobody would even consider it, his brother said. Still wanting to contribute, it would be the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 that finally provided an opportunity.He was sought out by the Arabs, who offered him large amounts of money to train their pilots but he turned them down because his sympathies lay with Israel.Former RCAF ace Sydney Shulemson, said Beurling believed the Jewish people were supposed to go back to Israel. "He wanted to be part of it," Shulemson said.It was then that fate would take a dark turn.One of Beurling’s first duties was to ferry a new aircraft to Israel. But the plane would burst into flames shortly after getting airborne on May 20, 1948. There was talk of sabotage, but nothing was ever concluded.Beurling would be laid to rest in Haifa and is still celebrated by the Israeli military decades after his death.