The Last of The Tigers – Frank Losonsky

Frank Losonsky posing for the lens of John Willhoff
Aircorps Art Dec 2019

We are very sad to report the passing of Frank Losonsky this past Thursday, the last known surviving member of the legendary American Volunteer Group (AVG). Of course this unit is perhaps better known today by their nickname, the Flying Tigers. The AVG numbered 311 personnel – from maintenance crewmen, to nurses, to administrators, to pilots – recruited from the ranks of the U.S. military by Claire Chennault in mid-1941, to help the Chinese Air Force take on the invading Imperial Japanese horde. They were volunteers though, and had to officially leave U.S. service before heading to the Orient – and an unknown fate.

Of course, the U.S. Army Air Forces officially joined the fight in December, 1941, amalgamating remnants of the AVG into the 23rd Fighter Group, in mid-1942. The American Volunteer Group’s nickname stuck though, and the 23rd FG has been known as the Flying Tigers ever since.

Frank Losonsky had been in the U.S. Army Air Corps for about two years when the AVG came calling at Selfridge Field in May, 1941. They painted an adventurous picture to the young man, who promptly signed up and was soon sailing with his comrades in arms to Rangoon, Burma. The three squadrons of Curtiss P-40s formed the backbone of the AVG fighting force: 1st Squadron (Adam & Eves); 2nd Squadron (Panda Bears) and the 3rd Squadron (Hell’s Angels). Losonsky became a crew chief with the Hells Angels.

Hells Angels Flying Tigers 1942
The Hells Angels over China during a armed mrecce mission on May 28, 1942 armed recce mission. (image by R.T.Smith via wikipedia)

When the AVG disbanded on July 4, 1942, some of them stayed on in China as civilians to help train members of the 23rd FG, but quite a number decided to return home to the USA to rejoin their original services; many had to make their own way back. It wasn’t easy for Frank, who had to wend his way around the world, via South Africa, before he eventually found himself back in the States. He got married in the interim, and then returned to China as a mechanic with China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) a quasi-civilian airline which took part in the massive logistics operation flying supplies between India and China over the Himalayan Mountains (better known as “the Hump”) during the period when Japanese forces had cut off the norma land route via the Burma Road. After the war he joined TransAsiatic Airlines in Burma, eventually becoming a pilot himself…

Frank Losonsky posing in front of the former Texas Flying Legends P-40 during the 2016 Atlanta Warbird Weekend. Photo by Moose Peterson.

Four years ago, our very own Moreno Aguiari played host to Frank Losonsky, inviting him to the Atlanta Warbird Weekend air show at Peachtree-Dekalb Airport near Atlanta. Frank had a great time being feted by both participants and visitors alike. He even flew in the backseat of the former Texas Flying Legends P-40: “What a great experience!” he exclaimed after the P-40 performed a couple of barrel rolls!

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Pilot Bernie Vasquez flew Frank Losonsky around Atlanta in 2016. Photo by John Willhoff.

Moreno Aguiari stated: “In 2016 I had the honor to meet Frank Losonsky and Chuck Baisden (3rd Squadron armorer) on the  occasion of the Atlanta Warbird Weekend, which in that year was dedicated to the 75th Anniversary of the American Volunteer Group. The CAF Dixie Wing hosted the 75th Anniversary AVG Flying Tigers Reunion of Tigers and their families. Mr Losonsky impressed me for his very military like poise and an incredible sense of pride to represent the men of the American Volunteer Group. I believe at that time he was 93 years old, but his was still well spoken and his mind was still very much sharp. His fascinating stories were rich in detail. Thanks to Bernie Vasquez and the sadly-shuttered Texas Flying Legends Museum’s Chief Pilot Warren Pietsch, we were able to fly Mr. Losonsky in one of the museum’s P-40 Warhawks. It goes without saying that Frank enjoyed the flight very much, but even in those circumstance, he maintained that very military like poise!”

Frank Losonsky and warbird pilot Bernie Vasquez who flew the AVG veteran in the former Texas Flying Legends Museum P-40. Photo by Moose Peterson

Losonsky and his son, Terry, wrote a book about his adventures with the AVG entitled, Flying Tiger: A Crew Chief’s Story: The War Diary of an AVG Crew Chief, which makes fascinating reading. It’s certainly good to see the story told from the point of view of a crew chief, rather than the more typical pilot’s story, which is more commonly told. But Frank Losonsky’s passing, aged 99, sadly marks the end of an era, he was indeed the last of the tigers