Monday, May 15, 2006

Steve Pisanos 1919-2016

Steve Pisanos flew 110 combat missions in Spitfires, P-47 Thunderbolts, and P-51 Mustangs during World War II becoming a double ace.

He was born in Athens, Greece, in 1919, the son of a subway driver. At the age of 11, he heard the humming sound of a Royal Hellenic Air Force biplane and as the pilot performed acrobatic maneuvers, it left Pisanos with a yearning to become an aviator. In March 1938, after a chance encounter with a Greek-American boy from New York, he was hired on a Greek freighter bound for America. Although he arrived in Baltimore with only $7 to his name, Pisanos made his way to New York City and began work in a Greek-owned bakery. After teaching himself some English, he began flying lessons six months later and soloed in 1939.

Despite having only 120 hours of flying experience, Pisanos was accepted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941. In England, Pisanos began flying P-51As on low-level missions off the Dutch coast. Later, in 1942, he was assigned to the 71st Eagle Squadron, one of three squadrons in the RAF comprised of American volunteers flying Spitfires. When the US absorbed the American members of the Eagle Squadrons in September 1942, and even though not an American citizen, Pisanos was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Forces. Naturalized in London on 3 May 1943, he became the first individual to be naturalized outside the continental US. While flying his P-47 named “Miss Plainfield,” he scored his first victory on 21 May 1943, when he downed a German Fw 190 over Ghent, Belgium. By January 1944, he had become an ace with six confirmed victories and on March 5, 1944, he earned four more aerial victories, making him a double ace.

While returning from an escort mission in his P-51B, he experienced engine failure and crash-landed south of Le Havre in German-occupied France. For six months he evaded the Germans and worked with the French Resistance in Paris. After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, he returned to England along with hundreds of downed allied pilots hiding in France. Because of his association with the French Resistance, he was prohibited from flying further combat missions. Upon his return to the United States, he was assigned to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, Ohio, where he completed test pilot school and conducted the service tests of the first American jet fighter, the YP-80 Shooting Star. He returned to active duty in 1948 to assist the USAF conversion program to jet aircraft. His last assignment sent him back to Greece where he was instrumental in the Greek government’s acquisition of the F-4E Phantom II.