THE FLYING TIGERS—How they got their name!

Jan 10, 2012 7 Comments by

At the Model Airplane News 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 WW 2. When it comes to WW2 aviation history, one of the most often asked questions we have recieved 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.



Featured News

About the author

Senior Technical Editor About Me: I have a lifelong passion for all things scale, and I love to design, build and fly scale RC airplanes. With 20 plus years as part of the Air Age family of magazines, I love producing Model Airplane News and Electric Flight.

7 Responses to “THE FLYING TIGERS—How they got their name!”

  1. Pete says:

    I was part of the Flying Tigers with the 75th FS at Pope AFB. There is a lot more history then just how they got the name. They are the ONLY SQ that can fly with teeth! That is a fact.


    • Heidi Bradford says:

      We would like to talk or email someone who flew with the Flying Tigers. I am a teacher at Evans Middle School in Iowa I have 5, 8th grade boys who are doing a presentation on the Flying Tigers for National History Day. Please contact me if you would be willing to talk to them.

      • Computer Publishing Concepts says:

        I wish I had seen this when you posted it. You should contact the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum. Their web site can be found here: The grandaughter of Claire Chennault, Nell Calloway, is the museum director. Another place you might want to contact is the Pacific Aviation Museum at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their web site is at:

        I hope all this helps if you try to get one of the Flying Tigers in the future.

        As you can see, I’m a huge admirer of the Flying Tigers, the Black Sheep Squadron, the Royal Air Force, and the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails Squadron. I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but the Black Sheep Squadron leader, Greg “Pappy” Boyington, served in the Flying Tigers before he got the Black Sheep Squadron.

  2. Larry Launstein Jr says:

    Of all the warbirds, the P-40 Warhawk with the Tiger Shark insignia is my favorite plane. It just had that look about it.

  3. The Chief from Cali says:

    My dad was with General Chennault as part of the China Air Task Force that later became the 23rd Fighter Group.
    He was stationed in Kwelin and Kunming. He was a Staff Sargent in Air Ground Control. He knew Joe Lopes who later became assistant superintendent at the National Air and Space

  4. karin says:

    My uncle was a flying tiger –he received an award –maybe 15 years ago from the Nationalist Republic of China–I think his plane was called Easy Aces or something similar—do you have any info on it

  5. robert says:

    In revelation chapter 9 it speaks of flying machines with lions teath

Copyright © 2015 Air Age Media. All rights reserved.