Incredible! At 96, American WW2 ‘Flying Tiger’ Veteran Rides in a P-40 Warhawk Again

Last weekend at Atlanta’s DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, Frank Losonsky, age 96, one of only three surviving members of the legendary Flying Tigers, climbed into the cockpit of a P-40 Curtis Warhawk for the first time since 1941. His flight and the reunion were sponsored by the Commemorative Air Force, which works to maintain historic fighters.

While the name Flying Tigers may not be recognizable, the planes with a dangerous looking shark’s mouth painted on the engine cowling starting behind the prop became an icon.

Losonsky was a 20-year-old soldier from Detroit, Michigan when a recruiter asked him if he would be willing to travel to Asia and become a volunteer defending China from Japanese aggression.

Recruits had to cross the Pacific on commercial ships using false identities.

Losonsky traveled incognito using a custom-made passport that stated his occupation as a missionary. Others made the trip posing as cowboys, circus performers, or plantation managers.

During his one-year tour of duty with the 1st American Volunteer Group he worked as crew chief in 3rd Squadron, keeping three and sometimes four planes airworthy.

Beginning with 99 planes, they achieved an impressive number of kills, destroying 297 enemy aircraft in China, Burma, and Thailand.

P-40 Warhawk painted with Flying Tigers shark face at the National Museum of the United States Air Force Photo Credit
P-40 Warhawk painted with Flying Tigers shark face at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Photo Credit

By keeping Japan concentrated on China, the US had the time needed to ready itself for the international conflict by producing planes, tanks and other weapons of war.

During his flight, Losonsky was calm and cool in the rear seat of the two-seat training aircraft.

Under domestic law, all Flying Tiger volunteers had to quit the military. That put them further into harm’s way because if they had been captured by the Japanese, they could be executed as spies.

Like many other Americans at the time, Losonsky didn’t want to stay out of the fighting.

It felt like he was doing something, he explained. He thought he could provide some assistance.

In 1942, the American Volunteer Group was disbanded. Their mission was assumed by the American Army. In total, 23 pilots and ground crew were missing or killed, according to the records of the AVG Flying Tiger Association, CNN reported.

Following the Second World War, Losonsky was a pilot for Trans-Asiatic Airlines.

The remaining survivors include Charles Baisden, 96, and Carl Brown, 99.

Check out the video below to see this awesome 96-year-old pilot in action.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE