Fighter Pilot Traditions: Burning the Piano

In the article on fighter pilot traditions, one mentioned but unexplained tradition was that of burning a piano.  An F-15E pilot contributed this explanation to the history of the tradition:

The burning of the piano tradition dates back to the Battle of Britain.  A Brit pilot in one of the Eagle Squadrons, the 133rd I think, was quite the piano player and was popular in the squadron.  One day he was KIA, and the rest of the squadron felt that no one would ever be able to play the squadron piano like him, so they burned it.  This was near the turn in the tide of the Battle of Britain, so now every September a piano is burned.  This was a tradition carried on at Seymour Air Force Base [an F-15E Strike Eagle base], since three of the squadrons there were formerly Eagle squadrons, and had a fair amount of British exchange pilots.

An “Eagle” squadron doesn’t refer to the type of aircraft; an Eagle squadron in World War II was one of the British air squadrons composed of American volunteers (prior to the US entry into the war).   According to one website, there were three Eagle squadrons that became US Army Air Corp squadrons–the 71st (became the 334th), the 121st (335th), and the 133rd (336th).  According to the Seymour AFB website, those three squadrons continue to be active fighter squadrons, flying the F-15E Strike Eagle.

A local paper has a picture of a Vance Air Force base pilot training class continuing the tradition, though it neglects to describe the origin.  A Canadian unit also has a picture of a piano burning.

A recent article at the Air Force Times noted that the 335th was soon deploying to Afghanistan, and said

The squadron was constituted in 1942 and made up of pilots who flew with the Royal Air Force before the United States entered World War II.

The Air Force might be the youngest of the American military services, but it still has–and holds on to–long running and honorable traditions.



  • That’s awesome. Kind of a waste of a piano, but still pretty incredible.

  • Like most fighter pilot traditions, there are really several explanations. I think many Brit Fighter Pilots would take exception to Americans claiming they started the tradition, since I’ve heard the “great piano player” story before, but he was British, and it was the American Eagle squadron guys who saw the Brits burning a piano, and adopted the tradition (and several others) when America entered the war. The other main story I’ve heard is this. During the inter-war years, the British Fighter ranks were composed mainly of “gentlemen.” At the beginning of the war, the need for skilled aviators obviously precluded this requirement, but there were still those who were concerned that the new recruits were too base to be officers. In an attempt to make them appear more lordly, they were forced to take etiquette courses, as well as to take piano lessons at the officer’s mess. One day, the gent’s got sick of it, took the piano out into the commons, and burned it. Either way, it’s an awesome tradition.