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Chennault’s Flying Tigers — How They Got Their Name

Chennault’s Flying Tigers — How They Got Their Name

Here at the office, we love warbirds! One of our all-time favorites is the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. Forever connected with the name “Flying Tigers,” it remains a famous icon for the years just before the U.S. entered World War II. When it comes to WWII aviation history, one of the most often asked questions we have received is: how did the Flying Tigers get their name?

Here’s a quote from Claire L. Chennault’s book, “Way of a Fighter.”

When asked about the American Volunteer Group’s name “Flying Tigers” and the group’s insignia, Chennault says:

“Before I left the United States in the summer of 1941, I asked a few friends in Louisiana to watch the newspapers and send me any clippings about the A.V.G. Now I was being swamped with clippings from stateside newspapers, and my men were astonished to find themselves world famous as the “Flying Tigers”. The insignia we made famous was by no means original with the A.V.G. Our pilots copied the shark-tooth design on their P-40’s noses from a colored illustration in the India Illustrated Weekly depicting an R.A.F. squadron in the Libyan Desert with shark-nose P-40’s.

Even before that the German Air Force painted shark’s teeth on some of its Messerschmitt 210 fighters. With the pointed nose of a liquid cooled engine it was an apt and fearsome design. How the term Flying Tigers was derived from the shark-nosed P-40’s I never will know. At any rate we were somewhat surprised to find ourselves billed under that name. It was not until just before the A.V.G. was disbanded that we had any kind of group insignia. At the request of the China Defense Supplies in Washington, the Walt Disney organization in Hollywood designed our insignia consisting of a winged tiger flying through a large V for victory.”*

On July 4, 1942, the American Volunteer Group was disbanded and the USAAF’s China Air Task Force, commanded by General Chennault, officially took over air operations in China. In March 1943, the 14th Air Force was activated under Chennault’s command to replace the China Air Task Force. Chennault remained in command of the 14th Air Force until July 1945.

*Quoted portions from “Way of a Fighter” by Claire L. Chennault

To download PDFs of the old Wylam P-40 Scale Drawings Click the links below.



Updated: July 5, 2017 — 3:19 PM
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  1. The Book “Black Sheep one,” The Life of Gregory (Pappy) Boyington, by Bruce Gamble, published 2000. Page 181, Time Magazine published an article (last issue of 1941) using the name Flying Tigers. Prior to this the The New York Times did an article with the name. The people of China started calling them “fei hu,” which meant “Flying Tigers.” Most likely the way they attacked the Japanese airplanes. A reporter covering the area must have sent it back to the states.

  2. Great info, Gerry. My understanding fo the origin of the “Flying Tiger” name is that that’s what Chinese newspaper reporters began calling them in early ’42 after their initial successes against the Japanese, and the name was picked up by American reporters reporting from China.

    Bob Fish

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