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Flying Tigers

The Sharks of the Air

The Sharks of the Air

If you should find yourself in the Coachella Valley, one of the best places to visit is the Palm Springs Air Museum. There are flying museums all across the country, including one within walking distance of me in Santa Monica. But none I have visited could hold a candle to the one alongside the Palm Springs International Airport.

One would think you can do justice to such a museum in an hour or so. Well … not exactly! There are not only three large hangars full of WWII warbirds, but several dozen planes are also scattered outside on the tarmac. Along the walls of the hangars are numerous exhibits, some with videos on a loop, about selected topics.

What interested me the most was a unit called the Flying Tigers. In 1941-1942, there were pilots from all three air services recruited and organized as the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force (probably because they were originally constituted before the United States entered the war). Included also were also a number of Chinese pilots trained by the Americans. All were led by General Claire Lee Chennault.

The mission of the Flying Tigers was to defend China from the Japanese Air Force. And this they did with a vengeance using a hundred-odd fighters painted with a fierce shark face as in the photo above.

Their success was stunning. The Japanese planes were not well-armored against fighter attacks, with the result that the Japanese lost some 296 planes to the Flying Tigers’ 14. In time, the Japanese had come to fear the sharks’ teeth aimed at their throats.