Flying Tiger Line
Pilots Association

Our History

historyimgThis is dedicated to information about the founders of the Flying Tiger Line and the History from 1946-1989. Vern Moldrem has graciously allowed us to use references from his comprehensive Book "Tiger Tales" to supplement the stories


aboutimgHe was the man employees were willing to go without pay for when the airline was struggling and on its knees; whose office door was open equally wide for any man or woman on his Flying Tiger Team. Bob Prescott was the kind of man who could turn a crushing personal tragedy, the death of his only son Peter in a plane crash, into something positive for his fellow employees -- the Peter Prescott Memorial Scholarship Awards, presented each year to the children of Flying Tigers.

These are the ten AVG pilots who in 1945 formed the Flying Tiger Line

Bob Prescott
Duke Hedman
Link Laughlin
Cliff Groh
Bus Loane

Bill Bartling
Tommy Haywood
Joe Rosbert
Dick Rossi
Catfish Raine


Robert Prescott returned to the United States in November, 1944 and on a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, met a group of Los Angeles businessmen associated with Samuel B. Mosher, Los Angeles oil pioneer and magnate. They were exploring the possibility of establishing an airfreight line along the west coasts of the United States and Mexico. Prescott convinced them that a better idea would be a transcontinental route across the United States. They agreed to match whatever capital he could raise, and Bob was appointed to find aircraft and set up the airline that was to become Flying Tiger Line.

He found 14 Navy surplus Budd Conestoga cargo aircraft and collected $89,000 from friends who had flown with him in China. This sum was equaled by Mosher's group. A month or so later, he landed his first three loads -- a planeload of grapes from Bakersfield to Atlanta, flowers from California to Detroit, and furniture from New York to California. Flying Tigers was off the ground. A four-year fight for official government certification ended in 1949 with approval of the nation's first commercial all-cargo route.

Twenty years later, in mid-1969, Flying Tigers was awarded the first scheduled transpacific all-cargo route. In 1977, Congress and the President approved the deregulation of the airfreight airlines which now enables Flying Tigers to offer expedited freighter service to all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Bob had witnessed his original fleet of World War II surplus aircraft grow into a multi-million dollar fleet of Boeing 747 and stretched DC-8 jet freighters.


From an August 1973 Retirement Party for Tom Haywood:
Pilots from the Chennault days in China ---

Standing, from left:  Bob Raines, Paul Greene, Eric Shilling, R.T. Smith, Jim Cross, Dick Rossi.  Seated: Tom Haywood, Bill Bartling, Cliff Groh.

John Richard Rossi

RossiSTo the right is the photo collage of Dick in the AVG.  Anyone wishing a copy send $15 check (includes first class postage within the U.S. International needs to add $2 extra) to Lydia Rossi at 3038 E. Mission Road, Fallbrook, CA 92028. Any questions, call 760-723-4757. Photo is 8x10"  Autograph can be personalized if they let me know when they send the check.

John Richard Rossi was born on April 19, 1915 in Placerville, California. Schooled in San Francisco, he attended the University of California at Berkeley. He entered the Navy for flight training in the fall of 1939. Upon receiving his wings and commission in 1940, he was assigned as Flight Instructor at Pensacola, Florida.

"Dick" Rossi resigned his Navy commission in 1941 to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) under the command of Colonel Claire Chennault. He arrived in Rangoon on November 12, 1941 with a group of thirty volunteers on the Dutch ship M.S. Bosch Fontein. He was undergoing a training program in P-40 aircraft at Toungoo, Burma, when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Rossi engaged in his first combat over Burma in January 1942 (the second time he fired the guns in the P-40 he was in combat) and flew his last over the East China front in July 1942. Most of his combat missions were over Rangoon. Dick was a member of the AVG's First Pursuit Squadron (Adam and Eve). He also did detached combat duty with the Second and Third Squadrons, serving under all the AVG squadron commanders. He attained Ace status with a confirmed 6-1/4 victories in air-to-air combat.

When the AVG, better known as the "Flying Tigers," was disbanded in 1942, Rossi joined the China National Aviation Corporation, flying supplies from India to China. By the time the war was over he had flown more than 735 trips across the "Hump." After the war, Rossi, a founder of the freight carrier, the Flying Tiger Line, returned to California where he flew as a captain for 25 years, logging a lifetime of over 25,000 flying hours. He has served as president of the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers Association for fifty-five years and is a member of the American Fighter Aces Association.

The Chinese government awarded Rossi the White Cloud Banner (Yun Mo) V Grade, China Air Force Wings (5 Stars) and the China War Memorial (Kang Chan Chi-nien Chang) Decoration. He has also earned and received two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal, two Presidential Unit Citations, a World War II Victory Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze stars for the India-Burma, Central Burma, China Defensive and China Offensive campaigns, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button. In 1969 he was given a Commendation from the USAF for sustained aerial support of combat operations in South Vietnam. The AVG was inducted into the Confederate Air Force Hall of Fame in 1998, in Midland, Texas. In 1999 Rossi was awarded the status of "Eagle" by the International Association of Eagles, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. The AVG was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio, in July 1999.

Tally record: 6 - 1/4 victories

Thomas Haywood

founder2Captain Thomas Haywood, a founder of Flying Tiger Line and a member of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) in China, died April 28th ('79) at the Centinela Hospital, Inglewood, California, after a long illness. He was 61. Mr. Haywood, one of the original "boys from China" who threw in with Bob Prescott to finance the Flying Tiger Line almost 34 years ago, worked his first flight for the airline in 1945 as co-pilot to Bob Prescott on board one of the notorious stainless steel Budd Conestogas. He piloted Flying Tigers aircraft around the world for the next 15 years, until his flying career ended with a major heart attack in 1959. Upon recovery, Mr. Haywood directed the airline's flight operations and served as manager of ground training until his retirement in 1973.

Mr. Haywood is survived by his wife, Betty, and his two married daughters, Mrs. Marilyn Haywood Orr and Mrs. Suzanne Haywood Nahurski. He also leaves his mother, Marie J. Haywood, two sisters, a cousin and two grand-children.

Duke Hedman

memori2Hedman, a member of the Flying Tigers, became the first American ace when he shot down five enemy aircraft over Rangoon, Burma, on Christmas Day 1941. Family records indicate he did this in less than 15 minutes and accomplished it in part by flying into a formation of Japanese bombers.

The Japanese pilots apparently were afraid to shoot at Hedman's tiger-toothed, P-40 because they might accidentally hit their own planes.

Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault commanded Hedman as part of the American Volunteer Group fighting Japan before the United States entered the war and wrote the pilot's father, a banker in rural South Dakota. "He is a first rate combat pilot and the reckless bravery of his attacks, both on strafing and bombing missions, and in aerial combat with the Japanese, are something you can well be proud of," Chennault wrote.

memori3"The ace of the American Scalpers squadron is an unassuming straight-forward farm boy from South Dakota who is known as "Duke" to American fliers in Burma," the Chicago Daily News reported.

Actor John Wayne later picked up the nickname "Duke" after playing another member of the Flying Tigers.