THE ORIGINAL FLYING TIGER
Claire Lee Chennault landed at Tucson twice, on November
30, 1927 as a lieutenant, and on April 4, 1930 as a captain.
On both flights he was flying typical military aircraft, on
his way from and to typical military destinations of the time.
The image, left, is from a 1932 newsclipping (Chennault
is 39 years old) showing the "Flying Trapezers".
Chennault and Williamson (center and right) are both signers
of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register.
"The Men on the Flying Trapeze" performed at air shows throughout the early 1930s. Immediately below, courtesy of site visitor Joe Kranz, is a U.S. postal cachet from September 2, 1934 that commemorates the National Air Races (NAR) that year. The clipping below the cachet identifies the pilots as Chennault and Williamson again, but one of the crew has changed. McDonald has been replaced by Hansell (not a Register signer). The envelope is signed by Chennault, Williamson and Hansell.
U.S. Postal Cachet, NAR, September 2, 1934 (Source: Kranz)
The following is taken from this downloadable (PDF) book
(see reference, left, and that book for images of Chennault).
Google has many hits on "Claire Chennault", providing
additional biographical information and images.
"In 1917 Claire Lee Chennault (1893-1958) left his job
in an Akron, Ohio, tire factory to enter the Officers Training
School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. Ninety-days later
he emerged as a lieutenant in the infantry reserves. Lieutenant
Chennault, however, wanted to fly, so he quickly transferred
to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.
"In 1919 he overcame Army opposition to his entering flying
training because of his age and because he was married with
three children. In 1920 he earned his pilot's wings. Later
that year, Chennault obtained a regular commission in the
newly organized Air Service and commanded a pursuit or fighter
squadron in Hawaii.
"His early career was controversial. In 1931 he graduated
from the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) at Langley Field,
Virginia, and remained on the school's faculty when it moved
to Maxwell Field, Alabama. At odds with most other ACTS instructors,
Major Chennault tried to promote his airpower theories with
the unpublished, but influential, text "The Role of Defensive
Pursuit" and with the Flying Trapezers, his aerial acrobatic
team. His advocacy of fighters, air superiority, and an air
defense warning net (before the development of radar) was
not well received by his fellow ACTS instructors who were
promoting strategic bombing theories.
"Claire and Nellie Chennault and their eight children lived
in the Stone-Young mansion on Old Selma Road and later at
322 Center Drive, Maxwell. Legend has it that Chennault rode
his horse into the old Montgomery Country Club. He supposedly
performed other noted feats. When Chennault lived at the Stone-Young
plantation, he flew his P-12C under the Highway 31 bridge
and even allowed a son to fly the plane, solo. Broken in spirit
and body from constant debate about how airpower should be
used, Chennault retired at his permanent rank of captain in
"At the invitation of Madame Chiang Kai-shek he went to China
to organize and train the Chinese air forces. Quickly he found
himself involved in the Sino-Japanese War. By 1940 he had
secured American assistance and formed the American Volunteer
Group (AVG) or Flying Tigers in August 1941. In the seven
months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the
A VG was the most effective Allied fighter group in the Far
East, shooting down hundreds of Japanese planes while sustaining
almost insignificant losses.
"Chennault returned to US service in 1942 as commander of
the China Air Task Force, which had to be supplied over the
Himalayas from India. His acerbic personality and almost in-
subordinate advocacy of his airpower tactics and politico-
military strategy led to estrangement with Gen. Joseph W.
"Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, commander of the China-Burma-India
theater, and with Gen George C. Marshall, chief of staff of
the Army. Major General Chennault retired just before Japan
[In 1947, after his divorce from Nellie, he married Chen Xiangmei (Anna) in Shanghai. They remained married for 20 years until his death. Anna died Friday, March 30, 2018 at age 94. Her obituary is at the link.]
"Subsequently, Chennault formed a contract cargo carrier,
Civil Air Transport (CAT), in the Far East. CAT provided Chennault,
an outspoken anti-Communist and friend of Generalissimo Chiang
Kai-shek, with the means to support the Nationalist Chinese
in 1948-49 during China's civil war. The Central Intelligence
Agency took over CAT in 1950.
"Appropriately, the street that is home to ACTS's descendants
the Air Force's professional military education schools at
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama is named Chennault Circle."
These items are available at the National Air & Space
Museum Archives, Washington, DC:
CHENNAULT, Claire Lee Papers
.4 cu ft
Call Nos. 42.041-34, 862.161A,B, 8162.289A, 862.317, 862.490-1,
IRIS Nos. 00115227, 0268371-0268373, 0268521, 0258720, 0268741,
(1890-1958). Lieutenant General. USAAF, 1917-1945. Born 6
September 1890, Commerce, TX. BA, Louisiana State Normal School,
1912. Air Corps Tactical School, 1931. Commissioned First
Lieutenant, Infantry Reserve, November 1917; transferred to
Aviation Section, Signal Corps, November 1917; discharged
April 1920; commissioned First Lieutenant, Air Service, 1920.
Career assignments include: various duties as company and
field grade officer, 1920-1931; Senior Instructor in Pursuit
Aviation, Chief of Pursuit Section, Air Corps Tactical School,
Member, Air Corps Pursuit Development Board and Organizer,
precision acrobatic team ("Three Men on a Flying Trapeze"),
1931-1935; Stations Operations Officer, Maxwell Field, 1936;
Executive Officer, 10th Fighter Group, 1936-1937. Retired
April 1937. Civil Advisor, China Air Forces, 1937; Organizer,
"Flying Tigers" American Volunteer Group, 1941.
Recalled to active duty, USAAF, April 1942. Commander, China
Air Task Force and later Commander,Fourteenth Air Force, 1942-1945.
Retired October 1945. Organizer, Chinese civil air transport
system, 1946. Promoted to Lieutenant General, July 1958. Died
27 July 1958, New Orleans, LA. Author of The Role of Defensive
Pursuit (1935) and Way of a Fighter; the Memoirs of Claire
Lee Chennault (1949).
Personal and official papers relating Chennault's
World War II service. Includes Chennault's personal correspondence
file (7 May 1944-21 May 1945) as well as official correspondence,
messages, and memoranda (1942-1943) pertaining to operations
with specific reference to activities against Japanese shipping
(3-25 September 1944). Contains correspondence between Generals
Chennault and Bissell. Also contains letters from Chennault
to General Arnold covering summaries of activities (July 1944-January
1945). Includes Plan for the Defense of China (4 June 1944)
and Plan for Air Operations in China. Also includes reports
(letters) on China operations (4 September, 10 October and
17 December 1944). Contains Chennault's 201 File (1942-1945).
Related materials located in the Hoover Institution
on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University (National
Union Catalog Manuscript Collections, MS 68-655) include other
Additionally, this photo of Chennault's A-2 jacket is available at NASM online at this link.
Claire Chennault, A-2 Jacket, Ca. 1938
Part of the text accompanying this image is as follows. Click on the link above for additional text.
Manufacturer: Aero Leather Clothing Co.
Country of Origin: United States of America
Clothing Size: 42
Cuffs and Waist Band: Knit Wool
Gen. Claire Chennault's United States Army Air Forces Type A-2 Flying Jacket; waist length seal brown horsehide jacket with brown knit wool cuffs and waist band; brass zipper down front; two front flap pockets with hidden snaps; stand and fall collar with snaps; brown rayon lining; shoulder straps; dark brown sewn in manufacturer's tag with embroidered gold text on inside collar (see inscriptions for full text); Blood Cit sewn on inside right side; 2 silver stars each epaulet; leather name tag over 14th Air Force insignia on left breast; China-Burma-India insignia on right shoulder.
This jacket is not the same one Chennault is wearing in the news photo at the top of the page. Please see Register pilot Lee Willey for additional images of insignia from the China-Burma-India Theater.
UPLOADED: 12/23/05 REVISED: 03/20/09, 04/18/18