Colonel (ret) Spiro N. “Steve” Pisanos flew 110 combat missions in Spitfires, P-47 Thunderbolts, and P-51 Mustangs during World War II, becoming a double-ace. He was born in Athens, Greece, in 1919, the son of a subway driver. At the age of 11, he heard the humming sound of a Royal Hellenic Air Force biplane and, as the pilot performed acrobatic maneuvers, it left Pisanos with a yearning to become an aviator. In March 1938, after a chance encounter with a Greek-American boy from New York, he was hired on a Greek freighter bound for America.
Although he arrived in Baltimore with only seven dollars to his name, Pisanos made his way to New York City and began work in a Greek-owned bakery. After teaching himself some English, he began flying lessons six months later and soloed in 1939. Despite having only 120 hours of flying experience, Pisanos was accepted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1941. In England, Pisanos began flying Mustang Mk Is on low-level missions off the Dutch coast. Later, in 1942, he was assigned to the 71st Eagle Squadron, one of three squadrons in the RAF comprised of American volunteers flying Spitfires.
When the US absorbed the American members of the Eagle Squadrons in September 1942, Pisanos was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army Air Forces, despite the fact he was not an American citizen. Naturalized as an American, in London on 3 May 1943, he became the first individual to be naturalized outside the continental US. While flying his P-47 named “Miss Plainfield,” he scored his first victory on 21 May 1943, downing a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 over Ghent, Belgium. By January 1944, he had become an ace with six confirmed victories and, on 5 March 1944, he scored four more aerial kills, making him a double-ace. While returning from an escort mission in his P-51B, he experienced engine failure and crash-landed south of Le Havre in German-occupied France. For 6 months he evaded the Germans and worked with the French Resistance in Paris.
After the liberation of Paris in August 1944, he returned to England along with hundreds of other downed Allied pilots who were hiding in France. Because of his association with the French Resistance, he was prohibited from flying further combat missions. Upon his return to the United States, he was assigned to the Flight Test Division at Wright Field, Ohio, where he completed test pilot school and conducted the service tests of the first American jet fighter, the YP-80 Shooting Star. He returned to active duty in 1948 to assist the USAF conversion program to jet aircraft. His last assignment sent him back to Greece where he was instrumental in the Greek government’s acquisition of the F-4E Phantom II. Colonel Pisanos was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 2004 and subsequently honored in 2006.