Edward Franklin Rector – Colonel, United States Air Force

From a contemporary press report

Edward F. Rector, 84, an ace World War II fighter pilot, retired Air Force colonel and original member of Brigadier General Claire L. Chennault’s legendary “Flying Tigers” unit in China, died April 26, 2001, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after a heart attack.

Colonel Rector was credited with having destroyed 10.5 Japanese aircraft in aerial combat during the war, beginning December 20, 1941, when the Flying Tigers engaged in combat for the first time during a raid by Hanoi-based Japanese aircraft on the Chinese city of Kunming.

In an interview with Bob Bergin published in the February 2001 issue of Military History magazine, Colonel Rector recalled that day almost 60 years ago. “[I] . . . started a curve of pursuit down for the last plane [a Kawasaki Ki-48 bomber] on the left of that nine-plane ‘V’ formation and started shooting. I saw my tracers going in, wingtip to wingtip. . . . There was a tail gunner firing back at me as I came right up the tail, just shooting the hell out of him. . . . As I climbed, I looked back. There was a flame from just aft of the pilot’s cockpit, streaming back 50 feet beyond the tail.”

That bomber became the first of at least 296 Japanese aircraft destroyed in aerial combat by Flying Tiger pilots during the seven months that the unit operated in 1941 and 1942. An additional 150 enemy aircraft were thought to have been destroyed. Of the 70 Flying Tiger pilots, more than two dozen became aces, meaning that they were credited with destroying at least five enemy planes in the air. A half-credit was given when two pilots shared in the downing. No more than 20 of the original Flying Tiger pilots are believed to be alive.

Colonel Rector, a native of Marshall, North Carolina, graduated from Catawba College in 1938 and began his military career as a naval aviator. He was a carrier pilot on the Ranger, based in Norfolk, when he was recruited for the American Volunteer Group, the official name of the Flying Tigers. The unit was formed with the financial backing of the Chinese government to help defend the Burma Road and Chinese cities from Japanese attack before the United States entered the war.

“In my one year in the Navy, where they measure you in every way they can, I had gotten high marks,” Col. Rector told Bergin in the Military History interview. “When I heard about the AVG, I saw an opportunity to find out if I was as good as I thought. I also had read twice over everything that Rudyard Kipling had written, so this was right up my alley. . . . And to be paid a fabulous salary and a bounty for each plane destroyed sounded heaven-sent. I jumped at the chance.”

He resigned from Navy service and signed up for the AVG, which had agreed to pay its pilots an average of $500 a month, plus a $500 bounty for each enemy aircraft destroyed. Crossing the Pacific on a Dutch East Indies Java Line ship, Colonel Rector arrived in Singapore, where, with other members of his unit, he caught a Norwegian coastal freighter to Rangoon, Burma. When the United States entered the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he was sent to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in southeastern China.

During the seven months after Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers became one of the most effective fighting units in the history of aerial warfare and one of the few military operations capable of blunting the Japanese thrust into China. On January 24, 1942, Colonel Rector shot down two more Japanese aircraft while the Flying Tigers were assisting Britain’s Royal Air Force over Rangoon.

In May 1942, he played a critical role in locating and attacking Japanese military columns attempting a push into China at the Salween River Gorge. This allowed the Chinese time to blow up a key bridge across the river, and the Japanese subsequently retreated into Burma.

With the United States now in the war against Japan, there was pressure in the U.S. military to end the separate and special status enjoyed by the Flying Tigers. On July 4, 1942, the unit was officially disbanded. Colonel Rector was credited with destroying another Japanese aircraft during an enemy raid on an airfield at Kwelin on the Flying Tigers’ last day. This brought his total with the Flying Tigers to 6.5. During the unit’s seven months, a handful of pilots were lost in combat.

Most of the Flying Tiger pilots then left China. But Colonel Rector remained, rejoining the U.S. military and serving with the China Air Task Force, the successor organization to the Flying Tigers. He returned to the United States in December 1942 and was treated for a parasite infection at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Later, he was a test pilot at Eglin Airfield, Fla., then in September 1944 returned to China as commander of the 23rd Fighter Group.

On a mission over Quemoy Island off the Chinese coast, his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire, and he was forced to bail out. He made his way back to his unit on foot and, for a period, on a horse supplied by Chinese civilians. On April 2, 1945, Colonel Rector shot down his last Japanese aircraft, a twin-engine bomber, during a raid on Japanese airfields near Shanghai.

After the war, Colonel Rector served with the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group in China. After the communist takeover in 1949, he helped build Taiwan’s air force.

Since retiring from the Air Force in 1962, he had lived mostly at the Knollwood retirement facility in Washington. For a period, he was director of Watkins Aviation, a commercial air freight company in India.

Survivors include a sister, Louise R. Beauregard of Durham, N.C.; and two brothers, Warren, of Awendaw, S.C., and N. Jack, of Weaverville, N.C.


On Thursday, April 26, 2001, EDWARD FRANKLIN RECTOR, of  Washington, DC. Son of the late George H. and Gertrude M. Rector; brother of Louise R. Beauregard, Warren H. and N. Jack Rector. Funeral services will be held on Monday, May 14, 2001,  3 p.m. at Memorial Chapel, Fort Myer, VA. Interment will follow at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of  flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Catawba College, 2300 West Innes St., Salisbury, NC 28144.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 11/01/1942 – 11/01/1962
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 09/28/1916
  • DATE OF DEATH: 04/26/2001
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 05/14/2001

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