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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Robert H. Neale Flying Tigers Collection

Identifier: 2008-08-29
The Robert H. Neale Flying Tigers Collection primarily relates to Robert H. Neale's 1941-1942 service as an ace fighter pilot with the American Volunteer Group (AVG), also known as the Flying Tigers, in Burma during World War II. The collection is comprised of visual and textual materials, including approximately 470 photographic prints and 61 negatives, military orders and documents, personal documents, and assorted clippings and ephemera. It also includes a significant amount of post-war material related to both Neale and the AVG, dated 1958-2004.

Most of the material was likely collected by Neale until his death in 1994. The remainder of the material was likely collected by his son, Robert H. Neale, Jr. The collection has been arranged into two series, Robert H. Neale and American Volunteer Group, which have been further divided into subseries. Materials are arranged chronologically within these sections. See the Note on Arrangement for more details.

The first series, Robert H. Neale, 1937-2002 includes two subseries: Military-related materials, 1938-1942, 1996 and Personal materials, 1937-2002. Military-related materials are a mix of textual and visual materials. They include military orders and documents; war-time correspondence, such as letters home to his wife, Frances; receipts and permits; certificates and awards; a laminated photocopy of his military biography page from American Fighter Aces Album; and a scrapbook of assorted military documents from his 1941-1942 service, that also includes some post-war documents.

There are also 16 black-and-white portraits and snapshots of Neale. They are a mix of vintage prints and modern reprints. Sizes vary from 3x5" to 8x10". Some duplication occurs. Only two images in this section include a caption on the reverse, written by Neale. Both captions are personal in tone and likely were for Frances, Neale's wife. In most of the snapshots, Neale is in military uniform or in flight apparel. Sometimes he is next to an obscured aircraft, likely a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk.

The personal materials contain Neale's 1937 University of Washington transcript and 1940 income tax form; assorted ephemera, including two blank postcards and a satirical pilot's license that allows him to drink and carouse; post-war correspondence to friends and fellow Flying Tigers; and several items related to Neale's death, including his obituary, funeral program, and a copy of the eulogy delivered by his son, Robert H. Neale, Jr. At the end is a copy of what is likely a speech, "A Tribute to My Father," given in 2002 by Robert Jr.

There are also approximately 77 photographs in the personal subseries. Most are vintage prints, though some are moden reprints, and a few are photocopies. The bulk of the photographs are black-and-white but some are in color. Sizes vary from 1x1" to 8x10" and some duplication occurs. Most of the photographs lack identifying information. Images depict people, most of whom are unidentified, although Frances, Neale's wife, appears in some photographs related to a 1941 California road trip taken by both prior to Neale's departure to Burma. Images from the road trip include one word captions on the reverse that provide locations, including Carmel, Fresno, and Monterey Bay, California. Also included are scenic shots from the road trip, restaurant souvenir photographs, and assorted post-war era photos, including a portrait of Neale as an American Overseas Airlines pilot and several snapshots that appear to be from AVG Flying Tigers reunions or events.

The second series, American Volunteer Group/The Flying Tigers, 1941-2002 includes two subseries: World War II-era materials, 1941-1945 and Post-war materials, 1958-2004. Within the World War II-era materials are military orders and documents, a single-page A.V.G. News newsletter from December 1941, assorted clippings about the Flying Tigers and the war, both loose and in a scrapbook; a transcript from an unidentified military radio program, and a 1943 program "Welcome Madame Chiang Kai-Shek."

The bulk of this subseries is photographic materials, including approximately 375 black-and-white prints and 60 negatives. Most are vintage prints, although some are modern reprints, and a couple are photocopies. It is likely that Robert H. Neale took most of these photographs during his 1941-1942 service. Sizes range from 1x1" to 8x10" and duplication occurs. Some images include captions, which provide contextual information such as date, location, or names. Note that a few images depict graphic scenes. Images depict military personnel and pilots, including Neale, engaged in military and recreational activities. Additional identified people include Chiang Kai-Shek, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and Claire L. Chennault. Also depicted are war-time activities, including a funeral; military aircraft, in flight, on the ground, and in accident scenes; assorted military buildings and ships, and aerial photographs, likely of Burma. Also included are scenic shots of Burma, featuring landscapes, buildings, and local people. The negatives are a mix of nitrate and acetate. They largely overlap with the prints but some may be prints from the personal series.

Post-war materials include a 1958 eulogy and tribute to Chennault; commemorative Flying Tigers lithographs, some of which are signed by members of the Flying Tigers; retrospective and commemorative articles; Flying Tigers reunion program booklets; a 1998 AVG roster; two brief booklets about the history of the AVG, and two commemorative letters from Madame Chiang Kai-shek in honor of the 50th and 55th anniversary, one of which is accompanied by a black-and-white group portrait featuring Chiang Kai-Shek, Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and Chennault.


  • 1937-2004
  • Majority of material found within 1941-1943


Language of Materials

Some materials are in Chinese. One item is in Chinese and English. All other materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The floppy disk is not accessible pending preservation of the digital media. The negatives which are stored in the freezer have been digitized and the digital images should be used in place of the originals. The rest of the collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. For more information contact us.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


1.65 Cubic Feet (2 full-width legal size document boxes, 1 full-width letter size document box, 2 oversize folders, 1 flat box, 1 floppy disk, and 1 compact disc )

Biographical Note: Robert H. Neale

Robert H. Neale was a pilot and ace with the American Volunteer Group (AVG) "Flying Tigers" from 1941-1942.

Robert Hawthorne Neale was born on May 3, 1914 in British Columbia, Canada to Joseph T. Neale and Margaret Osborne Meta Hawthorne. In 1916, his family relocated to Washington state. Neale married Frances Cole in 1935 and the couple had a son, Robert, Jr. in 1943. Neale attended the University of Washington but left to enlist in the United States Navy in 1938, earning his aviator wings in 1939. He then served as a pilot on the U.S.S. Saratoga.

In June 1941, Neale resigned from the Navy to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG), nicknamed "The Flying Tigers," of the Chinese Air Force. He arrived in Rangoon, Burma in August 1941 and earned his first air-to-air victory flying a Curtiss P-40 on January 23, 1942. Neale attained ace status with his fifth confirmed victory on February 6, 1942. During his service, Neale earned a total of 13 confirmed aerial combat victories and six probables. He is considered the top-scoring ace of the AVG Flying Tigers. Neale also earned several awards, including the Distinguished Service Order, Chinese Cloud Banner 3rd Class, and Chinese Air Force Medal.

When the Flying Tigers disbanded on July 4, 1942, Neale served with the AVG for an additional two weeks, as a civilian commander of the United States Army 23rd Fighter group while waiting for the arrival of its designated commander, Colonel Robert Scott. He then left military service, refusing a major's commission.

Post-war, Neale worked for American Overseas Airlines and American Airlines as a pilot. Later in life, he ran a resort on Camano Island, Washington state. Robert H. Neale died on November 29, 1994.


Biography derived from multiple sources, including donor information, collection material, and assorted online and published resources.
Historical Note: American Volunteer Group (AVG), "The Flying Tigers" The First American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942 was nicknamed the "Flying Tigers." The AVG was commanded by Claire Lee Chennault and consisted of 3 fighter squadrons that trained in Burma. The AVG were officially members of the Chinese Air Force and flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks.

AVG pilots earned official credit and received combat bonuses for destroying 296 enemy aircraft, while losing only 14 pilots in combat. Nineteen AVG pilots earned ace status (five or more confirmed air-to-air victories). The group was disbanded in July 1942 and became the 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces, then was later absorbed into the United States Fourteenth Air Force, led by General Chennault.


Wikipedia and assorted publications.

Note on Arrangement

Arranged into two series: Robert H. Neale and American Volunteer Group (AVG). Each series is further broken down into two sub-series, as outlined below. Materials are then arranged chronologically.

  • Series I: Robert H. Neale, 1937-2002
    • Subseries: Military-related materials, 1938-1942, 1996
    • Subseries: Personal materials, 1937-2002
  • Series II: American Volunteer Group (AVG)/Flying Tigers, 1941-2004
    • Subseries: World War II-era materials, 1941-1945
    • Subseries: Post-war materials, 1958-2004

Custodial History

The collection was donated to The Museum of Flight in 2008 by Barbara A. Neale, the daughter-in-law of Robert H. Neale.


No further accruals are expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

Materials from this collection have been digitized and are available at The Museum of Flight Digital Collections.

Related Materials at The Museum of Flight

Flying Tigers Association Collection (2001-04-27A). Collection includes materials such as diaries, logs, correspondence, identity cards, and photographic prints. Most of the material is from dates of active service, 1941-1942, but some items are commemorative, primamrily lithographs and reunion materials, circa 1990s.

Online finding aid available at:

Jesse R. Crookshanks Flying Tigers Collection (Accession 2001-05-25). Small collection of American Volunteer Group (AVG) "Flying Tigers" photographs and publications related to reunion activities.

Online finding aid available at:

Separated Materials

The following items have been separated from the archival component and are kept in the Library:

  • CAC 23 manual
  • Book, Pictorial History of the Flying Tigers by Larry M. Pistole
  • Two issues of Life, July 20, 1942 and August 10, 1942 (Photocopies of relevant article from magazine were made and remain in collection.)

Additionally, several other items have been separated and are kept in Objects storage:

  • American Airlines pilot jacket
  • Silk scarf, white
  • Framed painting of Robert H. Neale
  • Framed military decoration, Fourth Cloud-Banner
  • Medals, bars, and pin in case

Processing Information

Initial processing by A. Heidrick in 2008. The materials in Box One, Folders 8-91 and Box Three, Folders 1-3 were originally in scrapbooks, which were disassembled for preservation reasons. Original order was maintained for these materials. Another scrapbook, which holds newspaper clippings, was interleaved with acid-free paper. Photographic materials were sleeved.

Additional processing by J. Parent in 2019. The collection arrived in no discernible order so was arranged thematically, then chronologically by the processing archivist (See Note on Arrangement for more details). Most folder titles have been derived by the processing archivist; original titles are denoted by quotation marks. Nitrate negatives have been sleeved and placed in freezer storage. Some fragile materials have also been sleeved, such as certificates and correspondence. Rolled items were humidified and flattened.
Guide to the Robert H. Neale Flying Tigers Collection
Completed - Level 3
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
2nd edition

Revision Statements

  • December 2019: This finding aid was updated to reflect additional processing.

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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