Steve Pisanos' 2006 Gathering of Eagles Lithograph
|Nickname(s)||The Flying Greek|
November 10, 1919 |
Metaxourgeio, Athens, Greece
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1942–1974 (32 years)|
|Unit||4th Fighter Group
No. 71 Squadron RAF
|Battles/wars||World War II
Steve Pisanos (born November 10, 1919 as Spiros Pisanos (Greek: Σπύρος Πίσανος)) του Νικολάου και της Αθηνάς) is a USAF Colonel (retired) who served successfully as a fighter pilot with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Air Force (USAF) 4th Fighter Group in World War II, having been credited with 10 victories and thus considered an ace. By the end of his career in 1974, he received 33 decorations and distinctions. He is author of the book The Flying Greek, published in April 2008, where he has meticulously recorded all of his personal adventures and detailed war fighting experiences. The book is commented by his friends and renowned USAF aviators Gabby Gabreski and Charles Yeager.
Pisanos was born in Metaxourgeio, Athens, Greece. The son of a railroad engineer, he was fascinated as a young boy by the sight of a Greek biplane maneuvering over his head in Kolonos and became obsessed by the wish to become a flyer. For the time being, he had to settle for frequent trips to a military aerodrome in the north of Athens, Dekelia (Tatoi), to watch the planes up close. Eventually, he became known to the personnel there who allowed him to wander in the hangars and sit in the planes. When he left school he searched for a chance to go to the United States where he knew he could take private flying lessons. In 1938 he was employed as a navy merchant seaman but at first chance he fled his ship to the docks of Baltimore and then to New York where he started working as a clandestine immigrant in US.
As a licensed pilot joins the RAF
Starting with only a few dollars into his pocket he worked in a bakery, then as a tray boy in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent most of his income for English and flying lessons, finally earning a private pilot license in 1939. His popularity at work and at home enabled him to convert from an illegal alien to a lawful immigrant worker in the United States. For convenience people started calling him ‘Steve’ a short name that was later to replace his original Greek name. After the war broke out and Greece was attacked in 1940, he tried to join the US Air Force but he was denied due to US neutrality. However, the RAF was informally recruiting aviators in English speaking countries; Britain, being an ally of Greece, accepted him. Candidates were evaluated in an airfield in California, where Pisanos was chosen as a Pilot Officer for the RAF and, after initial training in Canada and England, joined the American Volunteers 71st RAF Eagle Squadron while still a Greek citizen. He mainly flew Spitfires Vb on low level strafing attack missions over occupied Europe. He was again a very popular person and pilot within his group.
In the USAF at World War II
When the United States entered World War II and started establishing air bases in England, the pilots in ‘Eagle Squadron’ were the only combat experienced American pilots in Europe. A decision was made to integrate them into the official USAF units. However, the pilots had developed strong links between them and preferred to stay in the same units with their present composition as pilots of the newly established 4th Fighter Group. Pisanos' lack of American citizenship prevented him from joining a purely American combat unit. At the same time, the Greek government, exiled in London, was recruiting him for one of its new squadrons created in N. Africa. Pisanos' colleagues decided the solution was to convince the United States to grant him citizenship under the name of Steve Pisanos, which it did on May 3, 1942, with the help of his commander Colonel Chesley Peterson. Pisanos became the first naturalized American citizen while on foreign soil.
The 4th FG started flying the new P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. Pisanos was flying in the QP-D plane with serial number 27945 and the emblem of ‘Miss Plainfield’ painted as a nose-art. He scored his 2 first victories over NE Belgium escorting US Bombers while he had another 2 non-confirmed ones almost at the same time. He became wingman in his team and was soon to raise to the grade of the Flying Lieutenant. He had participated in numerous sorties in a variety of fighter tasks mainly over NW France, achieving another 4 official air kills against Messerschmidt 109 and Focke Wulf 190 fighters. Back in New Jersey people who knew him and heard the news of his successes prompted the local press to write an article. The title of the first one was 'The Flying Greek'. This was a title to influence him some 60 years later and name his book after it.
Until then he had 6 confirmed and 2 probable air victories. The 4th FG received the new Mustang P-51 fighters, in early 1944. On a mission over Southern France, on the May 5, 1944, when he escorted B-17 bombers to Bordeaux, he flew the QP-D Mustang P-51B type serial number 36798. There he has scored another 2 official kills against Me109 fighters. On his return his engine began running rough and he had to belly-land between Le Havre and Évreux in France. Although initially blamed on a spark plug malfunction, it is more likely due to use of 150 octane fuel. Once the USAAF switched to 100 octane fuel problems with spark plug burn out ceased. On this very mission, on the same day, Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager was downed as well albeit near the Pyrenees and was thus able to escape to Spain.
In the French Resistance
Pisanos was helped by the French Resistance to hide and was then given a false identity to pass as a distant family member. Escaping via Spain was not easy in those days with D-Day approaching. Instead, he stayed in the French Resistance and was later moved to Paris. From there he established contact with US secret agents of OSS collecting information about traffic movement in the area and participated in a number of local fights with the French freedom fighters until the liberation of Paris. All downed pilots were considered unsuitable for flying again over enemy territory on the fear of being captured and succumbing to torture to reveal the Resistance networks. This is why Pisanos was moved back to US and was given the task of pilot testing enemy fighters to analyze their performance.
After World War II service with USAF
After WW2, Pisanos flew the first operational USAAF jet fighter P-80 Shooting Star, a top-secret machine at the time. After having followed a short career with Civil Aviation as a pilot of 4-engined airliners with TWA, he returned to USAF due to his jet flying experience as a Captain. Pisanos attended the USAAF Flight Performance School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School) and graduated with class 45D. Major Pisanos was tasked with testing advanced jet fighters, namely the F-102 Delta jet with which he often flew at the supersonic speed of Mach 1.5 at an altitude of 50,000 feet. He continued serving with units testing new weapons development. He also served in Vietnam and near his career as a Colonel, a member of JUSMAAG, helped the Hellenic Air Force to integrate the F-4E fighter. In 1974, he retired and now (2009) lives in San Diego, California, with his wife Sofia. He has a sister living at Liosia, in Athens and is a great-grandfather.
In 2010, Pisanos was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the French Republic's highest decoration, in a ceremony at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The award, presented by the Consul General of France in Los Angeles, recognized Pisano's outstanding achievements in World War II as a fighter pilot and in support of the French Resistance.
- Himchak (2009).
- "Pisanos' Biography". Gathering of Eagles. United States Air Force Air University. 2006. Retrieved August 13, 2009.
- SHAEF. "150/100 Octane Iinitial Testing and Proposals". USAAF Material Command. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
- (1994) USAF Test Pilot School 50 Years and Beyond, p. 247
- Lopez (2010).
- Himchak, Elizabeth Marie (August 13, 2009). "RB WWII hero recounts life story in 'The Flying Greek'". Poway News Chieftain (Poway, California: Pomerado Newspaper Group). p. A11.
- Lopez, Manny (March 6, 2010). "Rancho Bernardo: Man receives French medal for WWII service". North County Times (Escondido, California: Lee Enterprises). Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- The Flying Greek, by Col Steve N. Pisanos, USAF (Ret.), Potomac Books Inc., Washington, D.C., 2008
- USAF Test Pilot School: 50 Years and Beyond. Privately Published. 1994.
- 4th Fighter Group Association WWII