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Spiros Nickolas Pisanos

Military

Steve was born in Athens, Greece, in November 1919. Although he desperately wanted to fly, at the age of 18 he discovered that he did not have the academic qualifications required to enter the Greek Air Force Academy. Undaunted, he decided to go to America, where he understood he could get an excellent education free and learn to fly.
Getting to the U.S. was beset with obstacles; he din't speak English; he had no money; and he knew no one in America to help him. He tried to stow away on a luxury liner, but he was caught. He was able to join the Greek Merchant Marine, and soon found himself on a freighter bound for Baltimore. He managed to jump ship in the harbour and but a train ticket to New York. In New York, by sheer luck, he ran into a couple of men who were speaking Greek. Three days later he started working in a bakery owned by a Greek family. Unable to attend night school and take English lessons, he obtained a Greek/English dictionary and taught himself English.
About seven months later he had mastered enough English to take up flying lessons. Almost every dollar he made went for flying lessons, and he earned a private pilot's license from the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Meanwhile, the war in Europe was in full swing, so he tried to join the U.S. Army but was turned down because he wasn't a U.S. citizen.
Desperate to get into the war, he contacted the Clayton-Knight Committee and joined the RAF. Training in England as a fighter pilot, he graduated as a Pilot Officer and was assigned to No. 228 Squadron. He was later transferred to No. 71 Eagle Squadron, even though he was not a U.S. citizen. In May 1943, Steve was naturalised in London. He thus became the first person in American history to become a U.S. citizen on foreign soil. He recalled this as being the happiest day of his life. That night the sign at the bar in Debden read "Tonight all drinks are on Steve Pisanos, American".
On a mission on 5 March 1943, fifty feet into the air and wheels up on takeoff, His Spitfire's engine lost power - he crashed and nosed over. One crash was not enough, however; while being towed to the hangar the cart on which the Spitfire was being towed broke down and the plane again crashed to the ground!
On 5 March 1944, after more than 100 combat missions in Spitfires, P-47s, and a P-51 Mustangs named "Miss Plainfield", and the destruction of 10 enemy aircraft in the air, Steve's luck ran out. His engine quit on an escort mission over France and he was forced to crash land. He had decided to bail out at 2000 feet. He trimmed the aircraft to fly on its own, released the canopy, and tried to stand up and step out on the port wing, but was hung up by something in the cockpit. He saw that the plug at the end of his nylon dinghy cord was caught somewhere underneath the seat. His tried in vain to loosen it, so he reached for his escape knife in his right boot, but it wasn't there. He sat down and worked the cord free, so again he stood up and stepped onto the wing. Just as he was about to slide down the wing he saw that he was too close to the ground to bail out, and he saw that the powerless plane was headed for the roof of a barn in the clearing where he was planning to land. fearing that he would hit the barn, and with no time left, he reached into the cockpit and pulled back on the stick, barely missing the roof. Passing the barn, his right wingtip hit the soft ground and the plane skidded along with Steve on his knees on the wing hanging on for dear life.. The plane stopped suddenly and Steve was hurled through the air, and landed thirty feet away.
When he regained consciousness severe pain made him think he had lost his left arm, but he soon discovered it was still attached to his body. In spite of the intense pain, he crawled back to his plane and to set it on fire. He dragged his parachute and placed it in the cockpit. Then he took off his silk scarf, dipped it into the wing tank to soak it with fuel, and while searching for a match in his escape kit, he became aware of soldiers running toward him, shooting as they ran. With no time to finish the job he scrambled down from the wing and ran full bore into a nearby wood. By doubling back in the wood he eluded the soldiers and he spent the next five days distancing himself from the scene.
Finally, he made contact with the French Resistance. They verified his identity, hid him, and arranged medical treatment for his shoulder, which had been dislocated.
He soon became involved in sabotage with his French comrades. After six months working with the Resistance in Paris, Steve was able to escape from occupied territory and make his was back to England. His knowledge of the Resistance made it too risky for him to return to combat operations, so he was sent back to the States.
Steve was assigned to Wright Field as a test pilot. He tested all types of aircraft including Me-109s, Fw-190s, and Me262s. He later tested the new Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star at Muroc Lake, California. In 1946 he left the service and went with TWA as a First Officer. He was recalled to active duty in 1948 and served at the Pentagon. He later was assigned for a tour with NATO.
He flew 375 combat missions in Vietnam while commanding an airlift squadron. Steve was promoted to the rank of Colonel and made Deputy Commander of a SAC ICBM Wing.
In 1973, with 30 years of distinguished service and 7,000 hours of flying in over 50 types of aircraft, he retired from the Air Force as a Colonel.
He had shot down 10 enemy aircraft, and received over 25 decorations from four different countries. Among his awards were the Legion of Merit with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with four Oak Leaf Clusters, the Purple Heart, the British Star, the french Croix de Guerre/Silver Star, and the Vietnamese Medal of Honor, 1st Class.
He later published his autobiography entitled 'The Flying Greek'.

Service

People

  • William Curtin

    Military | Squadron Leader | Fighter Controller
    William G Curtin joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1938, where he trained at Hornchurch, Essex to become a flight controller, working in the operations room. He was stationed at Hornchurch throughout the Battle of Britain, when the station came under...

Show more

Units served with

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force


    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 67th Fighter Wing
  • 334th Fighter Squadron

    334th Fighter Squadron

    Squadron
    The 334th Fighter Squadron was the successor to No. 71 Eagle squadron of the Royal Air Force when the 4th Fighter Group was activated on 12 September 1942. They were based at Debden Field, Essex. The "Fighting Eagles" as they were called, flew...

  • No. 71 'Eagle' Squadron

    No. 71 'Eagle' Squadron

    Squadron
    'On 19 September 1940, No. 71 was reformed at Church Fenton as the first 'Eagle' Squadron to be manned by American personnel. The Squadron received Hurricanes in November and became operational on defensive duties on 5 February 1941. No. 71 converted...

Aircraft

  • 43-6798

    P-51 Mustang
    Assigned to 334FS, 4FG, 8AF USAAF. Failed to Return from Bomber escort/support mission, engine failed due to mechanical failure. Pilot Capt Spiros N Pissanos abandoned A/C, evading capture. MACR 3046.

  • 42-7945 'Miss Plainfield'

    P-47 Thunderbolt
    'Steve' Pisanos' first Thunderbolt, named for a girl from the town in New Jersey in which he settled after emigrating from Greece in 1938, survived nine months of combat before being transferred out of the 4th Fighter Group on 28 February 1944. Pisanos...

  • AA841

    Spitfire
    Supermarine Spitfire AA841 Mk Vb, Const #2125 Built at Eastleigh. ...

  • BL376 'Stinky'

    Spitfire
    Supermarine Spitfire BL376 Mk Vb, Built at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory. ...

  • EN783

    Spitfire
    Supermarine Spitfire EN783 Mk Vb, Built at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory. ...

Missions

  • VIII Fighter Command FO - 26 SWEEP & PATROL

    21 May 1943
    The main operation for the fighter groups today is a sweep of the Ostend/Ghent coastal area by a combined force of 105 P-47s from 4FG, 56FG and 78FG. 3 P-47s are MIA but 2 are due to a mid-air collision, 2 pilots KIA; and 1 loss due to abandonedment of...

  • VIII Fighter Command FO-99 FIGHTER SWEEP

    12 August 1943
    27 P-47s from 353FG are despatched to perform a high altitude sweep over the Westhoffd/Eekloo/Ostend area of Belgium. This is the first Group despatch for the 353rd Fighter Group. There are no losses or claims.

  • VIII Fighter Command FO 221 BOMBER ESCORT

    21 January 1944
    This is a bomber escort fighter operation composed of a combination of three fighter types: P-38s, P-47s and P51s totalling 628 aircraft despatched to escort the heavy bombers attacking V-Weapon sites in the Pas-de-Calaise area and the Cherbourg area...

  • 8th Air Force FO 261 BOMBER ESCORT

    5 March 1944
    A combined force of 307 fighters of types: P-38; P-47 and P-51 are despatched to provide escort to heavy bombers attacking German airfields in France. Mission Summary follows: ...

Associated Place

  • Debden

    Military site : airfield
    RAF Debden, construction of which began in 1935, is perhaps most famous as a Battle of Britain fighter airfield, partly responsible for the defence of London in 1940. In 1942 it was also home to three RAF 'Eagle Squadrons’ of volunteer American pilots...

  • Kirton-in-Lindsey

    Military site : airfield
    Used as an RFC and RAF Home Defence landing ground during the First World War, Kirton-in-Lindsey was built during 1938-40 as an RAF fighter station. It had two grass runways, 10 hardstandings, three grouped C hangars and four over-blister hangars....

  • Martlesham Heath

    Military site : airfield
    Opened in 1917 as home to the RFC Aeroplane Experimental Unit, Martlesham Heath became well known during the 1920s-30s as home to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment. Used as an RAF fighter station from 1939, with only a grass airfield...

Events

Event Location Date
Born Metaxourgeio, Athens 104 36, Greece 10 November 1919
Left Greece Athens, Greece 1938

Employed as a navy merchant seaman left Greece.

Skipped ship Baltimore, MD, USA 1938

Skipped ship in Baltimore.

Attempted join USAAF 1940

Tried to join the USAAF but he was denied due to US neutrality and being a non National.

Joined RAF California, USA 29 January 1942

Joined RAF, evaluated by 'POLARIS flight academy' at an airfield in California, chosen as a Pilot Officer candidate for the RAF. earned wings 29-1-42.

Shipped Overseas England, UK February 1942

February 1942 he was shipped to England via Canada.

Assigned Snailwell, Newmarket, Cambridgeshire CB8, UK April 1942

After further training on an OTU, assigned to 268th Army Co-operation Fighter Squadron RAF, flying P-51A Mustangs against coastal targets on the Dutch Coast.

Naturalized American Great Britain, United Kingdom 3 May 1942

With the help of his commander Colonel Chesley Peterson. Pisanos became the first American citizen naturalized while on foreign soil. 3-5-42

Transferred Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK 13 September 1942

Sq Ldr Chesley Peterson arranged transfer to 71 [Eagle] Sqn RAF.

Enlisted Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK 24 September 1942

Transferred to 334th FS, 4th FG, 8th AF.

Crashed Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK 20 January 1943

Spit Vb AA841 Take Off Accident Debden, Saffron Walden Cat 5 damage pilot Spiros N Pissanos, 20-1-43.

E/A Probable x 2 Germany March 1943

2 x Bf109 Probable, Germany 3-43. P-47D 42-7945 QP-D.

E/A Destroyed x 2 Belgium March 1943

2 x Bf109 Destroyed, Germany 3-43. P-47D 42-7945 QP-D.

Crashed Debden, Saffron Walden, Essex CB11, UK 1 March 1943

Spit Vb BL376 Crash landing Engine Failure Debden/Sta 356 Cat 3 damage pilot Spiros N Pissanos, 1-3-43.

E/A Damaged Ghent, Belgium 21 May 1943

Fw190 Damaged, Ghent 21-5-43. P-47D 42-7945 QP-D.

E/A Destroyed Walcheren, 3524 Utrecht, Netherlands 12 August 1943

Bf109 Destroyed, West Walchern 12-8-43. P-47D 42-7945 QP-D.

E/A Destroyed x 2 Aachen, Germany 21 January 1944

2 x Bf109 Destroyed Aachen, 21-1-44. P-47D 42-7945 QP-D.

E/A Destroyed x 2 5 March 1944

2 x Bf109 Destroyed Bordeaux, 5-3-44. P-51B 43-6798 QP D.

E/A Probable x 2 5 March 1944

2 x Bf109 Probable Bordeaux, 5-3-44. P-51B 43-6798 QP D.

Evaded Le Havre, France 5 March 1944

Forced to attempt bale out of A/C due to engine failure 5-3-44. Aborted bale out, dingy cord snagged on seat, once resolved too low to bale safely, crash landed and thrown from A/C. MACR 3046. Pilot EVD.

Evaded France 5 March 1944 – August 1944

Evaded capture and fought alongside the Resistance up to the fall of Paris.

Test pilot Wright's Field, Dresden, OH 43821, USA 9 September 1944

As Lieutenant of USAAF took over his new duties in Wright Field Dayton, Ohio as test pilot.

Post war USAAF career United States 18 June 1945 – 1 January 1974

Post war career in USAAF, including service in Vietnam and near the end of his career as a Colonel, and a member of JUSMAAG, helped the Hellenic Air Force to integrate the F-4E fighter.

Died San Diego, CA, USA 6 June 2016

He was truly a great man.

Lived in San Diego, CA, USA

San Diego, California, USA.

Lived in Plainfield, NJ, USA
Worked in Bakery New York, NY, USA

Worked as clandestine immigrant in Bakery NY.

Revisions

Date Contributor Update
14 June 2016 20:53:20 WD-C Mustang Changes to events
Sources

Added death date
http://www.4thfightergroupassociation.org/gone-west.html

Date Contributor Update
26 February 2016 18:05:06 Al_Skiff Changes to unit associations and place associations
Sources

AAM Database.
http://imansolas.freeservers.com/Aces/Pisanos_english.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Pisanos
http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbmsn.asp?SN=43-6798&Submit6=Go
http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbapi.asp?Pilot=Pissanos&Submit7=Go

Date Contributor Update
15 September 2015 12:20:28 Lucy May Changes to events
Sources

Combined duplicate entries into a single entry for Spiros 'Steve' Pisanos. This entry now includes information from the following sources:
MACR 3046 / Paul Andrews, Project Bits and Pieces, 8th Air Force Roll of Honor database / Ted Damick, VIII Fighter Command pilots list
Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / Losses of the 8th & 9th Air Forces

Date Contributor Update
09 September 2015 15:45:00 Al_Skiff Changes to service number, role, unit associations and mission associations
Sources

AAM Database.
http://imansolas.freeservers.com/Aces/Pisanos_english.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Pisanos
http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbmsn.asp?SN=43-6798&Submit6=Go
http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbapi.asp?Pilot=Pissanos&Submit7=Go

Date Contributor Update
09 September 2015 15:31:56 Al_Skiff Changes to middlename, nickname, biography, awards, events, aircraft associations and media associations
Sources

AAM Database.
http://imansolas.freeservers.com/Aces/Pisanos_english.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Pisanos
http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbmsn.asp?SN=43-6798&Submit6=Go
http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/dbapi.asp?Pilot=Pissanos&Submit7=Go

Date Contributor Update
26 March 2015 10:27:54 Al_Skiff Changes to nickname and unit associations
Sources

AAM Database.

Date Contributor Update
21 March 2015 15:39:14 apollo11 Changes to firstname and nickname
Sources

Personal research & 'The Debden Warbirds' by Frank Speer.

Date Contributor Update
06 March 2015 20:45:46 apollo11 Changes to nickname, highest rank, biography, awards, events, unit associations and place associations
Sources

Personal research & 'Eighty-One Aces of the 4th Fighter Group' by Frank Speer.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:25:26 AAM AAM ingest
Sources

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / http://www.4thfightergroupassociation.org/pilots.html

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