|Painting Major Steve Pisanos|
|Chevalier légion d'honneur France's Highest Military Award|
Steve Pisanos (born Spiros Pisanos (Greek: Σπύρος Πίσανος του Νικολάου και της Αθηνάς); November 10, 1919 – June 6, 2016) was a Colonel who served successfully as a fighter pilot with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the United States Army Air Forces 4th Fighter Group in World War II, having been credited with 10 victories and thus considered an ace. By the end of his career in 1974, he received 33 decorations and distinctions. He was the author of the book The Flying Greek, published in April 2008, where he has meticulously recorded all of his personal adventures and detailed war fighting experiences. The book is commented by his friends and renowned USAF aviators Gabby Gabreski and Charles Yeager.
US Army Air Forces Career
Pisanos' lack of American citizenship prevented him from joining a purely American combat unit (i.e. one commanded by American officers) At the same time, the Greek government-in-exile was recruiting him for one of its new squadrons created in North Africa. Pisanos' comrades decided the solution was to convince the United States government to grant him citizenship under the name of 'Steve Pisanos', which it did on May 3, 1942, with the help of his commander Colonel Chesley Peterson. Pisanos became the first American citizen naturalized while on foreign soil. When the United States entered World War II and started establishing air bases in England, the pilots in the three ‘Eagle Squadrons' were the only combat-experienced American pilots in Europe. A decision was made to integrate them into the US Army Air Forces. However, the pilots had developed strong links between them and preferred to stay in the same units with their present composition as pilots of the newly established 4th Fighter Group. Thus, Pisanos' unit, No. 71 Squadron RAF, became the 334th Fighter Squadron in September 1942.
In March 1943, the 4th Fighter Group started flying the new P-47 Thunderbolt fighter. As a member of the 334th Fighter Squadron, Pisanos' plane (P-47D-23-AAF Serial Number 42-27945) was coded QP-D and had an emblem of ‘Miss Plainfield’ painted on it as nose art. He scored his 2 first confirmed victories over northeastern Belgium escorting US bombers while he had another 2 non-confirmed ones around the same time. He became wingman in his squadron and was soon promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He participated in more sorties in a variety of fighter tasks mainly over northwestern France, achieving another 4 confirmed kills against Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Back in New Jersey people who knew him and heard the news of his successes prompted the local press to write an article. The title of the first one was 'The Flying Greek'. This title influenced him, and some 60 years later he named his book after it. At the end of 1943, Pisanos had 6 confirmed and 2 probable air victories. In January 1944, the 4th Fighter Group received the new P-51 Mustang fighter. Pisanos' new plane (P-51B-7-NA, AAF Serial Number 43-6798) was also coded QP-B. On a mission over southern France on May 5, 1944, when he escorted B-17 bombers to Bordeaux, he scored another 2 confirmed victories. On his return his engine began running rough, and he had to belly-land between Le Havre and Évreux in France. Although initially blamed on a spark plug malfunction, it is more likely due to use of 150-octane fuel. Once the USAAF switched to 100-octane fuel, problems with spark plug burn out ceased. On this very mission, on the same day, Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager was downed as well, near the Pyrenees, and was able to escape to Spain.
In the French Resistance
Pisanos was helped by the French Resistance to hide from the Germans and was then given a false identity to pass as a distant family member to escape via Spain Instead, he stayed in the French Resistance and was later moved to Paris. From there he established contact with agents of the OSS, collecting information about German traffic movement in the area and participated in a number of local fights with the French until the liberation of Paris. Nearly all downed American pilots who evaded capture were returned home to the United States for fear of being recaptured by the Germans and succumbing to torture that could reveal the French helpers and their Resistance networks. After Pisanos was moved back to the US, he was given the task of flight-testing captured enemy planes to analyze their performance.
Post-WWII service with the USAF After World War II, Pisanos flew the first operational United States jet fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star, a top-secret machine at the time. After having a short career as a commercial pilot of 4-engined airliners with TWA, he returned to the United States Air Force due to his jet-flying experience as a Captain. Pisanos attended the USAF Flight Performance School (now the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School) and graduated with class 45D. Major Pisanos was tasked with testing advanced jet fighters, namely the F-102 Delta Dagger, with which he often flew at the supersonic speed of Mach 1.5 at an altitude of 50,000 feet. He continued serving with other units, testing new weapons development. He also served 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 Phantom II jet fighter. In 1974, he retired from the Air Force and lived in San Diego, California, with his wife Sofia. He has a sister who lives at Liosia, in Athens. Pisanos is a great-grandfather.
In 2010, Pisanos was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the French Republic's highest decoration, in a ceremony at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The award, presented by the Consul General of France in Los Angeles, recognized Pisanos' outstanding achievements in World War II as a fighter pilot and in support of the French Resistance.
Col. Steve N. Pisanos, USAF, (Ret.), a World War II fighter double ace who served with the United States Army Air Corps, United States Air Force and as a volunteer member of the famed Eagle Squadrons of Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, has passed away, his family confirmed today. Pisanos was 96.