Wang Tai Yu, known “Tiger”, died in Los Angeles on 8th July, aged 95. He was the last survivor of the six original pilots from the Republic of China Air Force on Taiwan, who trained on the Dragon Lady in 1959 and began flying over mainland China in 1962 in a joint operation managed by the CIA.
Like the others who flew for the 35th Squadron, also known as The Black Cats, Tiger showed tremendous courage and skill as he flew deep into ‘denied territory’. By the time of his first mission in December 1962, one of the squadron’s U-2s and pilot had already been lost to a Chinese surface-to-air missile (SAM). Tiger’s SAM warner lit up even before he crossed the mainland coast. He evaded that threat, but there were nearly 30 more attempts to intercept him by Chinese fighters. But he returned safely after covering more than 3,000 miles.
His subsequent missions were equally fraught, but the prize was great. US intelligence learned much about China’s military strength, and especially about its development of nuclear weapons. During a long mission in March 1963, Tiger again had to evade SAMs, but he brought back good imagery of a nuclear reactor and a Uranium enrichment plant.
After nine missions over the mainland, Tiger was posted to an ROCAF RF-101 squadron. He returned to the Black Cats as squadron commander 1968-69. During his 22-year ROCAF career, Tiger also flew with the RF-104 squadron that was tasked to fly over the mainland coast at low-level. He retired in 1970, and went to work for China Airlines, flying Boeing 747s for another 17 years. He then worked as a senior manager for the airline until his retirement in 1992. He moved to the US that same year.
“When I was a military pilot, my wife didn’t know if I would be coming back,” he reflected in later life. “When I was a civil aviation pilot, she knew that I would return.”