Eagle Profile

After World War II, Gerhard Thyben, one of the Luftwaffe’s most successful young Aces, immigrated to South America to find “new horizons” in aviation. Thyben was born in Kiel, Germany in 1922 and like many boys developed a great desire to fly. He joined the Luftwaffe and in the summer of 1941 gained his pilot’s badge. His first operational assignment was to a fighter wing on the eastern front as an enlisted pilot. Just 2 days after his 21st birthday, he claimed his first aerial victory when he shot down a medium bomber. Frustrated that he scored no further victories in March and April 1943, he almost asked to transfer from the Messerschmitt Me 109 to bombers.

His luck changed in May 1943 when he downed a Red Air Force Supermarine Spitfire. His skills sharpened, and by January 1944, Thyben listed 37 victories. In June 1944, he transferred to the “Green Hearts” fighter wing to lead the 7th squadron. By September 1944 his list of victories topped 100. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross in December after 116 aerial victories. His success continued with a four-victory mission on the 21st and a five-victory mission on the 22nd. He received the Oak Leaves to his Knight’s Cross in April 1945 and on 8 May 1945, just before the war ended in Europe, he intercepted and downed a Petlyakov tactical bomber. He later learned it was flown by two Heroes of the Soviet Union sent to attack a convoy of German refugee ships.

Thyben had flown 385 missions and shot down 157 allied aircraft. In 1948, he left Germany for Argentina. Arriving in 1949, he developed a successful auto repair business, but yearned to fly something more than light aircraft. One frequent customer, former Luftwaffe general Adolf Galland, mentioned that there were opportunities to fly in Colombia. Thyben pulled up stakes again and followed his dream to Bogota. At Palanquero AB in the Magdalena valley, he test flew Republic F-47 Thunderbolts for a year and also instructed fighter pilots of the Fuerza Aerea Colombia. In 1955, he moved to Cali and instructed cadets of the Colombian Air Force Academy in the Beechcraft T-34 Mentor.

Next, he worked for an air taxi subsidiary of Avianca, Colombia’s national airline. He then became interested in agricultural spraying and began his own business flying a variety of aircraft. Unfortunately, he had a terrible accident and sustained extensive injuries to his legs, chest and face. He recovered after 8 months, returned to the cockpit and enjoyed 15 more years of flying. Thyben retired in 1978, but aviation remains a part of his life. In 1990, he constructed a Kit Fox and flew it many times before passing it on to his son, Gerhard.

Years Honored:


1994 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

In 1949, Colombia received a squadron of Republic F-47 Thunderbolt fighters, but by 1954 the aircraft sat idle at Palanquero in the intensely hot and humid Magdalena valley. The climate had caused fuel tank seals to deteriorate. Colombian pilots were not eager to fly these potentially "flaming coffins." When Gerhard Thyben came to the base, he soon discovered the problem and engineered a fix. He "had a ball" flying over the next year with virtually his own squadron of planes. He also made a name with his flying skills. Today, every Colombian pilot knows the "Tibelina," an aerobatic maneuver demonstrated by Thyben.