“The Flying Greek”
FIGHTING WITH RAF AND THEN USAAF HE DOWNED 10 ENEMY PLANES, HE WAS THE FIRST GREEK TO FLY OVER BERLIN, HE FOUGHT IN THE FRENCH RESISTANCE, HE WAS ONE OF THE THREE US AIR FORCE JET TEST PILOTS WHO CONDUCTED THE INITIAL TEST ON THE P-80 'SHOOTING STAR' JET FIGHTER AND LATER HE SERVED AS TECHNICAL ADVISER TO THE HELLENIC AIR FORCE WHEN THE FIRST GREEK PHANTOMS F4E WERE INTEGRATED
The writer of the present article considers as a particular honor having the chance of presenting the significant personality of their Greek compatriot. We are also grateful for the free material he offered us for the accomplishment of this research.
Almost all the text and material displayed below
originated from Steve (Spiros) Pisanos himself.
AN 'ICARUS' IS BORN IN KOLONOS !
On the 10th Nov 1919 , on 84 Petras Str , in the family of Nicos Pisanos , a subway driver from Sparta and Athena from Cefalonia , a new member was added : a son under the name Spiros. It is the 3rd child after Yianni and Chrysoula. There were to follow another 3 boys - Dimitri, Stamati and Yiorgo (George)
It was in the summer of 1930 when the 11 year old Spiros , while walking on his way to school one day, through the hill of Kolonos where the monument of Oedipus stands , when suddenly the roaring sound of an airplane attracted his attention. As Spiros looked up in the clouds of the Athenian blue sky he spotted the approaching of an olive green painted flying machine of the Hellenic Air Force. It was a Gloster Mars ( as he learned later ) that had come from the Dekelia Tatoi aerodrome, a Hellenic Air Force facility about 20 Km north of Athens. The airplane circled around and began to do some aerobatic maneuvers that left a deep impression on the young schoolboy . Then suddenly the biplane came around and flew very low over the hill of Kolonos as the aviator with helmet and goggles over his head waved at Spiros from his cockpit. That was the moment when the a burning feeling was planted in the young boy's heart and promised himself right then that "...when I grow up I'll become a military aviator and nothing else.." .
After that impressive episode with the biplane young Spiros started to skip school throughout the school years that followed and walk to Tatoi aerodrome in Dekelia by following the railway tracks. Young Spiros spent many a days watching the olive green and silver painted airplanes flying around the Tatoi airdrome from outside the fence but he wanted desperately to get into the airdrome so that he could watch and be close to the airplanes he had learned to love. Then one day he attempted to enter into the airdrome but he was stopped and turned away by the guards at the main entrance. That however did not deter young Spiros who was determined to find a way to get into Tatoi aerodrome . Later on his wish came true as he has found a way by crawling through the wine yards south of the airdrome and drop into the canyon of the west side. The young air enthusiast was able to sneak into the aerodrome undetected and wander around the planes kept inside and outside the hangars. Luck was with Spiros one day as he stood by a hangar when an NCO by the name Gerasimos Gavrilis approached the young boy and demanded not only his name but what was he doing there and where did he come from. When Spiros revealed his name and told the curious NCO that he was from Kolonos and he wanted to watch the airplanes the NCO was surprised and became friendly to Spiros because he was from Kolonos too. From that day on Spiros had found a friend in Tatoi who arranged for him to come and go as he wished through the main entrance. From Spiros visits to Tatoi in the days that followed he was able to spend his time in the hangars where the training planes AVRO and MORANE where kept. He began to help around by sweeping the hangar and help airmen push the planes to the flight line. From this friendship that emerged with Gerasimos Gavrilis and others Spiros was able to climb and sit in the cockpits of almost any airplane in Tatoi, including the Gloster Mars the biplane Spiros had fallen in love with !
(Note : Read here about the Gloster Mars history)
Spiros in Kolonos
While Spiros was going to school and kept on visiting Tatoi his ambition was that when he came on age, to enter the Air Force Academy, the only school where the military aviators were trained. Unfortunately when Spiros had reached 18 his academic qualifications were not enough to apply for this prestigious school. Without hesitation one day Spiros sent a letter to those in the government of the dictator John Metaxas asking for consideration even without any academic or even social qualification. No one in the government of course took action to answer his letter that had the connotation of beginning.
From then on Spiros who was disappointed with everything began to think and plan of leaving his place of birth and go somewhere else to learn to fly planes. It was during a soccer game on a weekend when Spiros met a Greek American boy from new York who was visiting Athens and told Spiros that if he wanted to learn to fly airplanes America was the place to go. In America there are many flying schools where anyone can learn to fly easily. That gave Spiros not only the idea of going there but an unparalleled determination to find a way. Leaving Greece was another reason also to avoid being involved in the subway of Athens where his father worked as a motorman. His father tried hard to convince Spiros that a job in the subway would be good for him. Spiros however didn't want to be a motorman. He loved the subway but only to ride on and go to the sea by Faliron and swim with friends.
Spiros first episode to get to America was when he attempted to stowaway in the Italian liner 'REX' at the port of Piraias. he got aboard the oceanic liner alright but was discovered as he was trying to find a place to hide. He was of course taken off the ship. As determined as he was to leave Greece , he finally got a job on a Greek freighter and sailed away on March 25, 1938. Spiros learned that the ship he was hired as an assistant fireman, was destined fro America after it had made a stop at Oran (Algeria) to pick up its load of iron ore for US. He was not only lucky but the happiest one aboard. This ship was taking him to the part of the world he wanted to go on his very first voyage. After fighting its way through the vicious storm in the middle of the Atlantic arrived at Baltimore US on a Friday middle April and was anchored outside the harbor to wait for a berth.
Two days later very early on Sunday morning , while everyone aboard the ship was asleep, Spiros with seven dollars in his pocket managed to sneak swiftly off the ship, while still anchored outside the harbor and away from ashore. Minutes later he was on American soil with a bouncing heart and somewhat scared. After wandering almost all day in the city of Baltimore, he found a train station by following the railway tracks , purchased his ticket and boarded the train for New York city, without been able to speak English. How he did it , is hard to believe but still he made it.
When he came out of the train station on the 34th street and 8th avenue in NY city he started walking on the 8th avenue and luckily he ran into two men who were speaking in Greek about a movie they were planning to see. Spiros did not hesitate and joined up in the conversation . These two men turned out to be brothers who immigrated to USA from Cyprus , were impressed by the way Spiros was speaking Greek and asked him were he came from. He told them the truth, that he was coming from Athens, that he has left his ship in Baltimore , that that he did not want to go back and that he wanted to stay in America and learn to fly airplanes. The two brothers were impressed with his escapade sympathized with the boys predicament and offered him to stay with them in Brooklyn until he was situated in the new country. The elder man named Christos who was a chief of a restaurant in NY two days later found Spiros a job through a friend in uptown NY in a bakery owned by a Greek making 13 dollars a week. About 2 weeks later Spiros moved and rented a room from one of the co-workers at the bakery so that he could be close to the place he worked. Spiro's immediate objective was to learn English but the long hours spending at work prevented him from going to a night school so he decided to teach himself. About August-September 1938 just as Spiros began to understand English he started flying lessons from a small flying school in Brooklyn , NY . Early 1939 he finally soloed in a Piper J-3 Cub and it was then when he started accumulating flying hours by spending almost all the money he earned from the bakery. As days went by Spiros discovered that things were getting difficult for him taking expensive flying lessons at Floyd between the field and trying to support himself with 13 dollars a week. So in the middle of 1940 having learned that flying lessons in New Jersey were costing much less at Floyd Bennett field he moved away from NY and luckily he found a new job as pantry man in the kitchen at Park Hotel in Plainfield New Jersey and started to fly in the nearby West Field airport. He was now happy and continued not only his English but air navigation, weather reporting, aircraft and engines and CAA rules and regulations preparing himself for the private pilot's license doing all his writing on the back side of the discarded dinning menus.
His first Air Training
Then it all happened at the later part of the 1940. He took both the CAA examination and the flight check for the aviator's license and passed them both with flying colors. At one time he tried to join the US Army but was turned down as not having the citizenship. Later in 1941 he learned from a friend at West Field that the British were asking for American civilian pilots to serve in the RAF to get trained and fight the Germans. This of course was done without publicity due to the American Neutrality Act. Spiros was more than excited and anxious to fight the Germans who by that time were occupying Greece and felt deeply sorry for the misery inflicted to his countrymen. On his day off he traveled to NY to the famous Woldorf Astoria Hotel to the people responsible for recruitment presenting his license and log book. Despite recruitment demanding for 200 flying hours, his application was accepted for consideration although he was credited only with 170. Few days later he was informed from the people in Astoria that although he was not an American he could still be accepted provided he would pass a physical examination and a flight check. After having met the requirements he was sent to the 'POLARIS flight academy' contracted to train American civilian pilots to the RAF. So Spiros who was unable to join the Hellenic AF Academy was already on his way to attend a flying academy in America. After he had received another 100 hours in 3 different plane types that displayed the workings of the US Air Force, in February 1942 he was shipped to England via Canada along with other classmates. Out of a class of 15 volunteers , eight were appointed as Pilot Officers and the other seven as were assigned the rank of Flying Sergeants .
VOLUNTEER IN THE R.A.F
In England he attended the RAF officers training schools when he was sent to an operational training unit (OTU) where he flew Milmasters, Hurricanes , P-40s and P-51As. Upon completion of his training he was posted to the 268th Army Co-operation Fighter Squadron at Snailwell aerodrome in Newmarket where he flew P-51As Mustangs on low level missions off the Dutch coast against coastal targets.
'...it was the best day of my life ...'
Spiros says : " When I was wearing for the first time the RAF uniform I was the happiest of man and then this image of the Gloster mars over my head at Colonos came back again "
While in London a day in July 1942, his squadron mates started calling him 'Steve' or the 'Flying Greek' and he met the squadron leader Chesley Peterson an American who was then CO of the 71st American Eagles Squadron of RAF - one of the 3 American volunteer squadrons active in RAF at that time. In early September 1942 S/L Peterson arranged to have Spiros transferred to his squadron in Debden to prevent Spiros from been snatched by the Greek Government representatives exiled in London to be sent to a Greek squadron in Egypt being a Greek citizen.
In the 71st Spiros was trained with Spitfires Mk Vb on sweep and escort missions over the Northern France and convoy patrols. The instructors paid much attention on really low and 'blind' flying. You had to memorize the instrument panel as you did not have the time to spent on them ( flying at 100 m with some 500 Km/h ) and you were supposed to 'touch' the treetops. Low flying makes it hard for the flak gunner to spot and hit you and Spiros did appreciate this training later when RAF started daily ground attacks over occupied France
Spiro's RAF 71st 'American Eagles' XR-K Spitfire Vb EN783
STEVE PISANOS "The Flying Greek" in USAAF
At the end of September 1942 the 3 American squadrons in the RAF , the 71st, 122nd and 133rd equipped with Spitfires Mk Vb were transferred to the US Army Air Force and redesignated as the 334,335 and 336 squadrons of the 4th Fighting Group of the 8th Fighter Command. Spiros belonged to the 334. The insignia of the spitfires were replaced by the white-blue American star. It is interesting to note that although Spiros was not an American he was still taken to the USAF along with all the rest pilots of the 'Eagles'. The closest friend to Spiros in Debden also his roommate was Don Gentile of the 336.
Spiros (Steve) with the Eagle Squadron and from 24th October 1942 in the Sq 334 of USAAF leaning on his XR-K with the RAF insignia replaced by the American star. You may notice that the serial number EN783 is not displayed - confirmed also by its original picture
Spiros and bodies kept flying all sorts of missions but early in 1943 the 4th FG changed aircraft type to the P-47 Thunderbolt. A 7 tn fighter with 2000 hp engine and 8 guns of the 0.50 caliber the P-47 was an amazing fighter that could outdive anything the Luftwaffe had at that time, it could reach a diving speed close to the speed of sound , could fight well at high altitudes , take heavy punishment and still bring the pilot home. It was also good for strafing but you had to be a clever pilot to tackle a wise German at low altitude.
May the 3rd 1942, through the efforts of Col. Peterson ( Deputy Commander of the 4th FG) and a friend in the US Embassy in England , Mr. John Winant, Spiros, the only non American pilot of the 4th FG will get the American Nationality at the London Embassy - a unique situation for someone to be named American outside the soil of USA - registered under the name 'Steve Pisanos'. Next day out of the officers' mess a sign was announcing : "Beers offered by the American Steve Pisanos" . His mates would still however call him the 'Flying Greek'.
The Flying Greek !
On the 21st of May 1942 Steve flies on the P-47 carrying the letters QP-D decorated with the 'Miss Plainfield' emblem.. On the first encounters with German fighter Me109s and Fw190s of the very famous III/JG26 Spiros has his first kill over Gend (Belgium ) shooting down a Fw190. The 4th FG continued to fly the rugged Thunderbolt in all sorts of missions, fighter sweeps, escorting heavy bombers into Germany and France and ground strafing upon return from the missions. Steve was becoming more experience and was looking for more victories but he knew that in order to get them you had to have not only good eyesight but also a fair amount of guts, determination and aggressive mind. He knew in a fight you had to be ready to outsmart the opponent. He learned not only the rules of air fighting and the limitations of the plane he was flying but the capabilities of the machine of the enemy as well and Steve believed that this was the only way to survive against the mighty Luftwaffe . But it seems a fighter pilot had also some 'additional' virtues, Steve says : " A fighter pilot would enter a bar or a hotel leaving the first top button of his tunic open. That was a clear sign of him and would eventually attract the attention of the opposite sex ".
Spiro's P-47 QP-D and Miss Plainfield
The TIME magazine reporting on the USAAF pilots. The photo is from a preflight briefing where Spiros (Steve) keeps a prominent front place !
In the early hours of the 12th 1943 August Spiros was escorting a bombing mission which proved to be a most successful one for the German Pilots but in the big lull Spiros was scoring his second victory , a Me109 over Holland. On the 29th January 1944 Spiros is escorting a huge group of 803 B-17 bombers over Frankfurt where Luftwaffe will fail to get all its forces organized. This very day Spiros has a double victory over Aachen bringing his score to 6 . He was now an ace and was looking for more kills. In February 1944 the 4th FG was reequipped with a new fighter the P-51B Mustang , an incredible fighter having the starfighter qualities able to escort the B-17s deep over Germany and back. On the March the 3rd, 1944 the 4th FG escorted the B-17s first time over Berlin catching the Luftwaffe by surprise. Steve was in his new P-51B the QP-D without the Miss Plainfield emblem as the squadron artist Sgt. Allen had no time to do it as things were moving fast.
The planes Spiros was flying with in 4th FG , Sq 334. A P-47C Thunderbolt ( number 27946) and a P-51B Mustang ( number 36798 ) that both carried the letters QP-D. 'Miss Plainfield' is not painted on the Mustang as there was not enough time for the FG artist
on the 5th of May 1944 Steve was escorting bombers to Bordeaux over Southern France
a day to remain in his mind. They were attached by many Me109s and in the dogfight that
followed many fighters were mixed together here and there. At
a particular moment Spiros detects an exposed Me109 and shooting his tail
he gets another victory then soon after over the Pyrenees he shoots
another Me109 while getting another 2 who escaped in flames within clouds
as witnessed by other pilots. 4 victories in a day and Spiros enters the list of the
American aces with a total of 10 kills with 300 combat hours on 110
On the return , however , his engine quit - betrayed by the inappropriate sparkplugs used and started beating erratically. Spiros took the way NW loosing height. When he asked for help on the radio he was advised to maintain course towards Le Havre. But when his engine failed totally and while he was receiving the ground flak he opened the canopy , put away his pilot gear and tried to bail out on the left side of his cockpit.
'...and then his engine went dead....'
STEVE PISANOS in the French Resistance
At this time , however , he felt the cord of his dingy blocked between him and the plane , he had to cut it with his pocket knife to get out. He then spotted a good plain valley where he could lay his plane safely except that the plane was heading against the only farmhouse existing in it. He had to enter again the cockpit he was struggling to get out and take again the controls raising the nose a bit so as to avoid the house but eventually loosing his lift , the right wing dipped down was violently detached and Spiros body was then flying over his plane landing near some bushes having most luckily escaped the propeller blades ahead. He felt an acute pain on the shoulder but tried to get up and set fire to his plane. While he was trying to use some matches a German machine gun started rattling. It was the nearby wooded area that saved Steve from being killed by the pursuing Germans. After going around inside the thick woods he finally managed to get away. For 4 days with an injured shoulder, hungry and weak Steve wandered about the French country side eating whatever his eyes could pick up from the ground drinking water from the running creeks . He spent his first night in a wooded area away from the crash site . Te next shelter was under a bridge then in an abandoned farm before he made contact with the maquis (Note : French Resistance Fighters) on the fifth day when he asked for shelter in a small village.
"THE GREEK WHO WOULDN'T DIE" article from the local Plainfield newspaper after his personal adventure when his plane fell. The text reads : " Another of the series of stories about how some obscure individual has given new significance to the principles that made this country great "
The farmers looked at him with some disbelief. A young one approached him saying :
- " English ? "
-" American " replied Spiros
The countrymen offered their homes as a hiding place changing often the place between the various villages around. On the 11th day 2 Frenchmen approached asking questions in English to identify him. Next morning they returned with policeman saying :
_ "So you are the Flying Greek. We made contact with London" and they started kissing him ...
They then gave him a false identity with the name Jean-Claude Bouaille and some false story for him : He was supposedly an engineer from Marseille in the French navy an artillery man who became deaf and was eventually retired. Next morning they escorted him to the nearest nursery station where a German doctor X-rayed him for his shoulder. Spiros heart was beating badly but everything went OK and the French doctor that visited him next morning said the shoulder would be OK within some time and nothing was broken. They have said to the Germans that he was injured after falling from a tree as he was helping his aunt in the country. Within the next few times he was moved to Paris as it was impossible at the time to evade him to Spain. At the same time Spiros was trying to avoid Gestapo but people from the resistance helped him to escape. Once he had to stay in the sewer for about an hour deep into the smelly mad with the company of huge rats.
Later Spiros was sent to live in an apartment in the city together with the company of some English pilots. Once during some 'frivolity' evenings at 02:00 the Englishman Sgt Pilot Scott , started singing in the piano loudly and became the target of the neighbors as the reward for rendering one to the Gestapo was 50.000 francs. At the sound of the bell on the door and the shout : "Police ! Open the door" the couple who owned the house asked them to jump to the next balcony. Spiros had to ignore the height and started jumping from one to another ending finally to the one he came from ! When later the Gestapo was gone the couple started looking for them into the next apartment while he was calling them from their own same balcony : " Ici Madame , ici !" (Over here lady , over here !). While in Paris Spiros joined the resistance as there was no hope of leaving France, the French patriots loved him as he was also speaking French from the foreign language he learned at the Greek school . In one of the places he had stayed on the southern part of Paris he met French, British, a polish lady and an American officer of strategic services the American secret intelligence service OSS in France. In another house he stayed on the northern side of Paris he met one of the most daring group of resistance fighters determined to kill Germans and destroy anything German in the occupied city. It was there he had the chance to go out on night missions of sabotage to German property, blowing up locomotives, derailing trains and ambushed military convoys. Once was able to detect some strange barges in the river full with pipes. He was then told that Germans were keeping there fuel for their planes to avoid the allied air attacks on their bases. The next days a raid of B-17s was taking care of them. He was also involved in mining and explosives on the preparation of D-Day. Once he was the one to signal an attack over a German convoy throwing a grenade which did not explode possibly due to sabotage from French workers in the factory. Spiros used his Sten machine gun and the whole group decimated the convoy. The apex of his 'Resistance' career took place few days before the fall of Paris. He was one of those who was neutralizing the German explosives to secure the bridges over the river.
BACK TO USA
Soon after the liberation of Paris at the end of August 1944 Steve finally found his way back to England along with hundreds of downed allied pilots hiding there. He was however disappointed when upon returning to Debden was told there could be no flying for someone previously in the resistance as in the case of a possible imprisonment after an air kill he would possibly reveal secrets on their network. For his action in the resistance he was honored with the French War Cross with Silver Star and the American Purple Heart medal. On September the 9th 1944 as Lieutenant of USAAF took over his new duties in Wright Field Dayton, Ohio as test pilot. Before , he paid a visit to Plainfield took the dimensions of a 'hero's welcome' and a special evening was organized on his honor at the Park Hotel he had worked before under the welcoming of its director Mr. Albert Stender who bestowed an elaborate testimonial dinner for the 25 year old 'Flying Greek'. When Steve reported for duty was among his best friends: Don Gentile, Francis Gaby Gabreski - America's leading European ace - and Chuck Yeager (Note : the first pilot ever to brake the sound barrier) who unbeknown to Steve, he too have gone down in France on the same mission that Steve had, from another fighter group on, the 5th of May 1944 near the Pyrenees but he had the change to escape via Spain ! There were some pilots who had come from the war zone like Bob Hoover, a daring test pilot and Richard Bong - America's leading ace of aces in the Pacific. There Steve had the opportunity to attend the USAAF test pilots school and where he flew not only American fighter planes but also captured machines like a Me109 a Fw190 , a Me262 the premium German jetfighter and a Zero . Steve and Gentile were chosen to conduct the service test of the first American jet fighter the YP-80 Lockheed Shooting Star forerunner of the famous T-33 trainer jet that equipped almost all NATO air forces. Spiros was the pilot when for the first time the journalists wrote the story of this new 'strange' air machine.
Spiros after having tested a captured Fw 190
It was at Wright Field after the surrender of Germany when Steve received from the Department of the Air Force the French Croix de Guerre medal with Silver Stars, awarded to him no doubt for his work with the resistance , the order signed by Gen. Charles De Gaulle.
Spiros testing a F-102. Some F102s flew with the Hellenic (Greek) Air Force
By the end of February 1946 Spiros had completed his USAAF career as Captain and left USAAF for a position of a civil pilot thinking as many others that the civil aviation was the future. He worked with TWA after attending the co-pilot school in Kansas city Missouri and started flying DC-3s and later the famous 'Big Conie' the 4 engine Constellation transporter. It was the time in Kansas when he was acquainted with his future wife Sofia Mary Pappas. Their marriage took place on the 30th of June 1946 with Don as best man. They were blessed with the arrival of Two children would follow later : a son Jeffrey ( from the Greek : Zafiris ) and a daughter Diana born in Naples when Steve was serving then in NATO. As a fighter pilot he had difficulties in checking out with this big aircraft and after some 30 months as airline pilot , in October 1948, after some furloughs and a pilots strike he joined USAF again , assigned to the Pentagon in Washington DC.
The two colleagues and friends : Spiros and Don Gentile (in a P51D) during a Veterans Air Show
Steve was well trained when flying with TWA and this experience allowed him to acquire the Airline Transport Pilot rating license from CAA the highest in Civil Aviation Industry. It was also a coincidence that at the time Steve returned to active duty, the USAF was converting to jet fighters. Steve's experience with some 100 hours with jets to his credit was a valuable asset in this new Air Force. While on duty at Pentagon Steve found the time to attend the University of Maryland at night where he eventually earned the Bachelor's Degree in Military Science, after his Pentagon assignment. He served overseas in Germany , in Italy with NATO and other places in the US including a tour in Vietnam where he commanded an airlift squadron. Upon his return to the US in October 1968 he was promoted to Colonel and was assigned as Deputy Commander at a ballistics missile wing
The country , adopted or real ...'In recognition'
BACK TO WHERE ALL HAS STARTED
In 1970 Steve was caught by surprise when the HQ selected him due to his ability to speak Greek for an assignment as Chief of the USAF section with the Joined Military Mission for Aid to Greece (JUSMAAG). He was not only happy but really excited to return to the place his odyssey to America has originated. After he had checked in the new job in an office at Syntagma Square he visited the 'Greek Pentagon' (Note : Military HQ) to pay respects to the Chief of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) and the Staff , the people he was going to work with.
Steve's most moving moment while serving in Athens was when he visited the Tatoi aerodrome one day to and observed a parade of cadets of the Air Force Academy , the school he had dreamed to attend at a different time when he feel in love to the airplane. It was a moment full of nostalgia and memories when his thoughts flashed back to the days he had spent at Tatoi just to watch the planes fly. He also visited the Hill of Kolonos one day , wearing his uniform and as he looked up at the Oedipus monument he thought of that bygone day when the Gloster mars biplane flew by and the aviator waving his hand to the young boy from his cockpit.
Spiros (Steve) Pisanos on the left as JUSMAAG delegate for the F4E integration to the Hellenic Air Force , back to Greece where " ..All has started..."
One of the most important part of Steve's assignment in Athens was to advise the Chief of the HAF on the modernization of his fleet. It was then when Spiros introduced the F4-E Phantom fighter plane which the government decided to acquire from the USA. A well built aircraft still in the inventory of the HAF today
The Phantom F4E with the HAF
Finally the conclusion of Steve's assignment in Athens coincided with the completion of 30 years of honorable service in the USAF and in December 1973 the 54 year old Spiros Steve Pisanos retired from the mighty air force of America. "..It was the most important period of my life ..." declared the boy from Athens who wanted a day to become an aviator. In retrospect Steve's Odyssey to the new world was a successful enterprise. As the record shows he not only fulfilled his boyhood dream but he was able to overcome overwhelming odds and achieve much more than his vision of being up in the air with an airplane. He was trained and served a short tour with the British RAF, he served in the US Army Air Force in WW2 and the USAF after the war. He attended the USAAF test pilot school, he earned a college degree from the University. He attended the USAF Air Command and Staff College and completed the War College through the USAAF extension Institute.
Although Steve learned to fly and soloed in a small Piper J-3 Cub throughout his flying career he flew more than 50 different types of planes jets or propellers accumulating more than 8000 flying hours. In addition he flew twice at the speed of sound with the F-102 and F-106 interceptors. When Steve was asked what he thought of the goals he was able to achieve in his life , this was his direct reply :
" Although I would always remember my odyssey to America when I left the place of my birth, as it was a significant adventure of my life, above all however, I am and always will be indebted to America for the opportunity she gave to me not only to fulfill my boyhood sought dream of becoming an aviator but bestowing the American citizenship to me during the war in Europe.
This I believe was an honorable gift and I am proud to be an American. I am also thankful to the RAF for having trained me to serve in that great air force as a fighter pilot into its ranks in England during the WW2 even though I wasn't an American citizen.
Lastly , I am proud and thankful and always will be to the USAF for allowing me to serve after the war in Europe at some other wonderful places at home and overseas. The USAF educated and promoted me to a rank never dared to hope for and never dreamed that some day, there would be eagles pinned on my shoulders"
Yes , that was the boy from Athens who at an early age developed a burning desire to fly and whose odyssey to America brought success and happiness and today Steve Pisanos at the age of 82, lives happily with his wife more than 55 years in beautiful san Diego and is writing his memoirs that will be titled "My Odyssey to America"
But before closing this adventurous tale it should be noted that on July 19th, 2002 Steve Pisanos was inducted among other living members of the Eagle Squadron Association into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton Ohio. This is another significant achievement of the boy from Kolonos who at an early age developed the zeal of wanting to become an aviator
In the National Hall of Fame
Few words by the webmaster :
Spiros on a recent photo. He wrote to me that when back to Greece he took again the 'subway' between ATTIKI and KIFISIA to revisit the places of his memories. He also noted that he would often get off at the AG NIKOLAOS intermediate stop to buy the excellent sweet 'galactoboureko' from the KOSMIKON shop he loved so much. Well , I have noted a number of coincidences of his life with mine. Our parents had the same names Nikolaos and Athena. My mother was born in the same area with Spiros, actually one street away from 'Odos Petras'. I have spent some 10 years living in ATTIKI and using the 'subway' very often I would have probably met his father still working there. Then I moved for the next 20 years to the AG NIKOLAOS area and I had paid a lot of visits to the KOSMIKON and tasted many times the same galactoboureko. When Spiros retired in 1973, I was getting married to my wife with whom I spent many happy hours in Kifisia. When Spiros came to Greece with JUSMAAG - but I did not know that of course at the time- I wanted to make a model of a P-47 flown by a Greek pilot , I searched for information but I was not lucky, still somewhere in me there was a belief that there should have been someone, which I discovered some 15 years later. At least I have produced Spiros P-47 profile in this website adding the correct 'Miss Plainfield' drawing on it. Last but not least I feel proud to have worked on the life and adventures of this prominent person and made them known to the rest of the 'air enthusiasts' in Greece who ignored his existence.
THE VERY BEST OF NEWS !!!
Steve is still amongst us ! This is the Xmas CARD received from him (sent 15 Dec 2006) . Many wishes from everybody of us for a long life to him and his wife Sophie. But don't forget to read the inside ! .....
IT WAS NICE TO HEAR FROM
YOU AND I TOO WANT TO
WISH YOU AND YOUR FAMILLY
A MERRY CHRISTAMS AND
A HAPPY NEW YEAR
THE BOOK NOW TITLED
"THE FLYING GREEK " SHOULD
BE OUT ABOUT THE MID-
DLE OF THE COMING YEAR.
AS TOLD BY MY PUBLISHERS.
AS SOON AS I HAVE
WORD FROM THEM, I'LL
LET YOU KNOW. YIANNIS
OUR WARMEST REGARDS
Did you notice the new title ? Instead of 'My adventure in America' , it will be now : 'The Flying Greek' !! Maybe we have influenced things a bit ! I can hardly wait ! And I am not the only one !
And then another distinction came very recently (end of 2008) . Steve entered the International Hall of Fame in the San Diego Air Space Museum
The text reads :
You are commanded for your exceprional courage , devotion to country and dedication to the advancement of aviation , as a decorated
combat and test pilot and command leader. During your distinguished career you epitomized the spirit of patriotism as an original
member of the 244 Americans of the Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons and as a new United States citizen embarking on a career in the
United States Army Air Corps. You are and remain an inspiration to others as a true patriot; there is no hesitation ever in your zest to
carry on the spirit of our nation. Your air combat skills are of the highest caliber, shooting down 10 enemy aircarft you have ascended to
the honored pilot title of the "Double Ace" joining an elite society few have known. Becaise of your superior World War II performance you
were ultimately assigned to test pilot school and tested the first new jet airplane programs , including the XP-80, America's new jet fighter
designed to defeat the German ME-262, the world's first turbine powered fighter. Flying with the absolute best pilots in the world you were
immersed in the most progressive , exciting time in history of aircraft development , you had the "Right Stuff" and contributed
significantly to the improvements to modern jet fighetrs. You are truly a fighetr pilot's fighter pilot to be emulated by others
For your invaluable conntributions to our knowledge of aviation technology as one of America's premier test pilots and combat heroes, San Diego Air & Space Mueum takes great pleasure inducting Steve Pisanos into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame
James G. Kidrick
Museum President & Chief Executive Officer
Despite his 90 years Steve is always very pleasant and his voice very 'sound' on the phone when I called him for my congratulations. He promised to send me a copy of the letter followed the medal award by the French Ambassador himself as well as the Ceremony Program that took place in San Diego's Aerospace Museum in March ! Admire them below :
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