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As our WWII veterans are fading away, sometimes we get a chance to see the aircraft they flew, not just in a museum, but in the air.
There is bit of history that may not be well known involving one P-38 that flew in the European Theatre:
At midday on 31 July 1944, the noted aviation pioneer and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Night Flight, Wind, Sand and Stars and The Little Prince) vanished in his P-38 of the French Armée de l’Air’s Groupe de Chasse II/33, after departing Borgo-Porreta, Corsica. His health, both physically and mentally, had been deteriorating. Saint-Exupéry was said to be intermittently subject to depression and there had been talk of taking him off flying status. He was on a flight over the Mediterranean, from Corsica to mainland France, in an unarmed F-5B photoreconnaissance variant of the P-38J, described as being a “war-weary, non-airworthy craft”.
In 2000, a French scuba diver found the partial remnants of a Lightning spread over several thousand square meters of the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Marseille. In April 2004, the recovered component serial numbers were confirmed as being from Saint-Exupéry’s F-5B Lightning. Only a small amount of the aircraft’s wreckage was recovered. In June 2004, the recovered parts and fragments were given to the Air and Space Museum of France in Le Bourget, Paris, where Saint-Exupéry’s life is commemorated in a special exhibit.
In 1981 and also in 2008, two Luftwaffe fighter pilots, respectively Robert Heichele and Horst Rippert, separately claimed to have shot down Saint-Exupéry’s P-38. Both claims were unverifiable and possibly self-promotional, as neither of their units’ combat records of action from that period made any note of such a shoot-down.