THE FLYING TIGERS—How they got their name!

THE FLYING TIGERS—How they got their name!

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?

Flying Tigers Emblem

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.”*

Flying Tigers

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.

Wylam P-40 Scale Drawings



Updated: July 15, 2015 — 3:37 PM


  1. 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.


    1. 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.

      1. 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. I am still alive and was a flying tiger tail gunner on b24 bomber which used p40 warhawks as our body guards when flying near the hump an flying missions in china 1n 44 &45. 93 years old. william peterson

        1. Thank you sir for your service! My father was 1st Lt. James B. Reed, a navigator. His last mission was on 5 May 1945. I have his patches and flight records. He flew on a few different planes, but the picture I have of him and his crew is in front of “Little Egypt.” I believe it was a B-24J. I am eternally grateful to you and the men who sacrificed so much to allow America to enjoy the fruits of your efforts and the freedom our forefathers gave us!

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

  6. The flying tiger took advantage of the fear of tiger sharks of the Japanese. Many Japanese fishermen lost their lives as the large, aggressive man eaters would capsize the small fishing boats and make a meal of the occupant.

  7. William Donald Peterson – WOW! Are you sharing stories of your missions?
    Thanks for your service and I would love to talk to you. My dad was in the Pacific Theater as a battleship gunner and recently died at the age of 96. I lost another lifetime friend that drove a generals jeep in France. Walt had many stories that support you are the greatest generation.


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