IMG_1083 closeup of Tiger Wang_Fotor
Tiger Wang during U-2 flight training in the US in 1959

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.IMG_1086 Tiger Wang in pressure suit_Fotor

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.

GRC-144 28MAR63 Paotou Nuclear Component Manufacture Plant via Lin Xu Apr12_Fotor
The Paotow nuclear weapons development centre in Inner Mongolia, photographed by Tiger Wang on mission GRC-144 on 28 March 1963. (courtesy Lin Xu)

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.

Indigo Films Director Yang interviews Tiger Wang Apr16_Fotor
Film maker Jonathan Yang with Tiger in Los Angeles in 2016

“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.”

Jonathan Yang, who made “The Lost Back Cats” documentary in 2016, has produced a short video tribute to Tiger. It can be viewed here. I make a brief appearance at the end of the film.


  1. Thanks for bringing this important piece of history to us Chris! Tiger was the original Black Cat hero.
    Rick Bishop


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