The WWII Pilot Who Flew His P-51 Through the Arches of Eiffel Tower

Extraordinary artwork depicting one of Bill Overstreet’s most dramatic aerial victories, by Len Krenzler of Action Art (Image Credit: Len Krenzler / Action Art )

Since our childhood, stories of fighter pilots kicking ass have always been the subject of our fantasies of badassery. But even the most valiant fighter pilots of today seem like amateurs to the pioneers who set standards of such achievements that could teach Chuck Norris a few tricks. We’re talking about the fighter pilots of the Second World War.

Almost until the end of World War II, the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) believed in the idea that “a bomber will always get through”. Hence, any and all advancements that were made in aviation were included in the bomber planes. Fighter planes were generally simple and unsuitable for such combat, since the bomber pilots were believed to be able to fend off enemy fighter pilots on their own. Putting it simply, fighter pilots were assigned planes that were held together by metal and good intentions.

So, imagine the daring it took to create heroes who took what they had and made the most of it, without complaining.

Bill Overstreet is regarded as one of the American veteran aviators who, in the words of Robert Frost, took the path “less traveled by” and created a trail for aspiring fighting pilots to tread on.

Born in Virginia on April 10, 1921 as William Bruce Overstreet Jr., Bill was working as a statistical engineer when the Japanese attacked the Pearl Harbor. He quickly enlisted and became a private by the February of 1942. He completed his preflight training in Santa Anna, California and after several months, was sent to Rankin Aeronautical Academy.

One thing you need to know about the Rankin Aeronautical Academy: It was basically your favorite action movie protagonist’s training dojo. Except with planes flying at hundreds of feet above ground. Trainers used unusual methods to test the new recruits’ limits, one of the favorite techniques being leaving the landing of a 500-feet above, upside down Stearman to a surprised trainee, with the engine cut.

As action movies will tell you, being trained by people wild enough to go to great lengths to teach you how to survive tends to rub the crazy on you and turns you into someone destined for greatness. You can attest this fact as true since Bill Overstreet accomplished something that the United States and France still talk about: he chased a German Messerschmitt Bf 109G underneath the Eiffel Tower’s arch in his P-51C Mustang in 1944.

While Overstreet, now in the 357th Fighter Group, was in solo hot pursuit of the German pilot, the enemy had reckoned that the anti-aircraft artillery on the ground would do away with the American, but they had seriously underestimated Overstreet, who maneuvered through the intense enemy flak and shot the German plane.

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