Photo Gallery: The Flying Tigers

On December 20, 1941, a bunch of volunteer American mercenary pilots faced a squad of Japanese bombers to protect China. 

The American Volunteer Group (AVG)—better known as the “Flying Tigers”—would go on to down nine out of 10 Japanese bombers in the first of many air battles in a seven-month campaign that helped keep Japan from expanding into China.

Here’s a photographical look back at that amazing group.

The American Volunteer Group flew the Curtiss P-40. It was heavy, sturdy, well-armored, and had self-sealing fuel tanks. Its superior diving speed figured in AVG tactics of attacking from altitude, breaking off, and regaining altitude. The P-40 was not suited to close-turning dogfights with light, nimble Japanese Zero fighters. [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.]
American maintainers work on an AVG P-40 while a Chinese soldier stands guard. Images like this showed cooperation and common goals. Maintenance was a challenge, as spare parts were scarce, the aircraft were constantly in combat, and the group had fewer technicians than it needed.  [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.]
Armorers work on a 3d Pursuit Squadron P-40B’s guns. The P-40B was well-armed with two .50-caliber and four .30-caliber guns. This punch made the AVG’s diving attacks against comparatively light Japanese aircraft effective. [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force]
Captain Claire Chennault at the Air Corps Tactical School, Maxwell Field, Montgomery, AL, in 1932. [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force]
Claire Chennault (far right) with Chinese head of state Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang. Chennault dealt directly with national leaders on war-fighting policy. [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force]
Primitive maintenance was the rule for the American Volunteer Group. Here, a Chinese crew works on a P-40 fighter. [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force]
Major General Chennault. Note the Chinese wings over his right pocket, along with his USAAF Command Pilot’s wings. [Courtesy: National Museum of the U.S. Air Force]


New to Flying?


Already have an account?