Picture of ‘Pyro’ the only wartime flying domestic cat

This is very late in the day to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of a humble tabby cat who was rescued as a kitten by photographer, Bob Bird, who, during World War II, worked at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment based in Helensburgh, Scotland. As a photographer he named his rescued kitten “Pyro” because it is short for a chemical used to develop prints in a darkroom called pyrocatechol.

Pyro the flying WW2 tabby cat

Pyro the flying WW2 tabby cat. Image in the public domain.

Pyro liked to fly, or he had absolutely no fear of it according to reports. Bob Bird was involved in experimental bomb tests above the Atlantic in World War II. When he was ordered to fly, he whistled, and Pyro raced to him to join him on the flight.

These were dangerous flights. Nonetheless this humble tabby cat helped to keep superstitious young pilots company on these test bombing missions. He not only kept Mr Bird company, but other crew members and it is said that they kept Pyro inside their flight jackets when they were testing the legendary bouncing bomb which was used to blow up dams in World War II.

And on one occasion, Pyro prevented Mr Bird’s hands from developing frostbite when he placed his hands against Pyro’s body after the plane in which he was travelling was so cold that when he took his gloves off to change a lens, his fingers began to develop frostbite.

BBC presenter Fiona Bruce presented a posthumous award to Mr Bird’s son Robin during the Antiques Roadshow. Robin bird, 64, said:

“We are really very proud of Pyro. He was the only flying cat in the Second World War – and any other war as far as we know. The crews believed that Pyro kept them safe during the dangerous experimental flights over the Atlantic. Those missions were very dangerous, and a lot of crews died so they were very superstitious, and Pyro was very important for moral.”

It is probably true to say that Pyro is the only known or recorded domestic cat to fly regularly on missions during World War II or perhaps in any war.

As mentioned, he was rescued by Mr Bird in 1942. At the time Mr Bird was 22 years old and he found the kitten searching for a warm place inside his darkroom.

Mr Bird adopted Pyro after he inadvertently injured him when his tail got trapped in a sliding door. He found that Pyro became miserable when he was left behind by Mr Bird when he went on a flying mission. And he so loved flying that he had to go along. Robin Bird added:

“Pyro used to love to fly. He wasn’t scared at all. My mother told me that Bob would whistle when he was going flying and Pyro would come running.”

Pyro came to very sad, tragic end when he was hit by a truck and killed. At the time he was an adult, and it seems that he had stopped flying by then. Mr Bird had very fond memories because according to his son he used to talk about Pyro all the time. He was devastated when Pyro was killed.

A shrine to Pyro was set up at the Fort Perch Rock aviation museum in the Wirral. My thanks to the Daily Mail. And RIP Pyro, a wonderful cat and great companion.

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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1 Response

  1. tamara says:

    Your article reminds me of the weightless cat experiments.

    If a cat is dropped upside down at zero-gravity, will it fall on its feet? Well no, it’s zero gravity, you morons!

    Weightless Kitten in an F-94 Cockpit at 40,000 Feet

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