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Spiros Nickolas Pisanos


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'.



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Associated Place

  • Debden

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  • Martlesham Heath

    Military site : airfield
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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.


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

Added death date

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

AAM Database.

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

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

AAM Database.

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

AAM Database.

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

AAM Database.

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

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

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

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia /