These WWII Aircraft Are Living History

 

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 FlightWind, 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.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Two awesome aircraft.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Another one: the Supermarine Spitfire.

    • #2
  3. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    And sometimes it’s the human element that triumphs:

    https://theavgeeks.com/2019/10/04/the-thach-weave-tactics-over-technology/

     

    I had the honor,  when I was an NROTC Midshipman on a training cruise on the USS Valley Forge in 1958, of serving in an ASW Task Group commanded by Admiral John Thach.

    • #3
  4. Poindexter Member
    Poindexter
    @Poindexter

    Percival (View Comment):

    Another one: the Supermarine Spitfire.

    The old Supermarine Haircut!

    • #4
  5. Poindexter Member
    Poindexter
    @Poindexter

    We’re losing more of these flying pieces of history all the time. Old airframes, old engines, and fewer and fewer pilots who are proficient in the skills necessary to keep them in the air-safely.

     

    • #5
  6. Flicker Member
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Were these P-38 engines supercharged? :)

    The P-38 was always my favorite WWII plane.  There was a time I even wanted one.

    • #6
  7. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    St-Ex was a great writer as well as a pioneering pilot.  I excerpted his description of slavery in North Africa, in the late 1920s or early 1930s, here:  The French Aviators and the Slave.

    • #7
  8. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side).  But hey – there were so many . . .

    • #8
  9. Flicker Member
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so.  The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest.  Twin booms.  Nose mounted machine guns.  Supercharged.  Lockheed.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    Two engines. You can lose one and still get home.

    • #10
  11. Flicker Member
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Percival (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    Two engines. You can lose one and still get home.

    And you had guns mounted in the nose so you could aim them directly, not placing them in the wings and mounting them to converge on a single spot a set distance away.

    • #11
  12. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    I suppose Admiral Yamamoto would be the best person to comment on this.  Oh, never mind…

    • #12
  13. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Lockheed’s ultimate aircraft was the SR-71, at least to this point in time. It’s always referred to as the Lockheed SR-71. Faster than a bullet fired from a 30.06 rifle.

    • #13
  14. Flicker Member
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    I suppose Admiral Yamamoto would be the best person to comment on this. Oh, never mind…

    Unavailable for comment.

    • #14
  15. Flicker Member
    Flicker
    @Flicker

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Lockheed’s ultimate aircraft was the SR-71, at least to this point in time. It’s always referred to as the Lockheed SR-71. Faster than a bullet fired from a 30.06 rifle.

    Of course, everyone’s favorite jet.

    • #15
  16. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Pardon this stupid comment, but I loved watching him manually roll up his windows! Duh!

    • #16
  17. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    My father in law, who passed last year at the age of 98, was a Navy aviator (did not see combat) but what he was proudest of and talked most about was when, prior to joining the service, he was a mechanic working on Alison 1710 engines in P-38s.  He loved that engine and that plane.  I found an original 1942 maintenance manual for the Alison 1710 and gave it to him.  He told me he read it every day.

    • #17
  18. Django Member
    Django
    @Django

    • #18
  19. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Palm Springs airport has a fantastic aviation museum. Can’t remember if the P-38 was there but think I saw a P-51. And got on the inside of a B17.  Much more cramped than I remember from the movies. Dad a WWII Marine transport pilot.  Flew RD-5s, Marine equivalent to the Army DC3 type.  

    • #19
  20. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    Combining the best of both was, of course, the P-82 Twin Mustang. One of the really odd designs of the era. 

    The idea behind this design was apparently to cause enemy pilots, upon contact, to shake their heads and rub their eyes, thus giving our pilots that crucial fraction of a second to gain the initiative. At least that’s what I assume. 

    As I understand it, though it came too late for WWII action, the twin mustang did have an aerial victory or two in Korea. 

    • #20
  21. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    Thirty years ago when my husband worked at a Naval Air Station in Southern California, these B1 bombers came for a visit. So he took our sons out to see them, since they are all airplane nuts. Here’s one boy….

    • #21
  22. Dominique Prynne Member
    Dominique Prynne
    @DominiquePrynne

    One of my current clients is a WW2 vet.  (I have been so blessed to know so many because of my career field).  I think he is the only living WW2 vet I currently have.  My current client is a short, but stout, man, in his latter 90s who still lives independently with some help from his children.  He grew up extremely poor in south Arkansas.  Until this past year, he was mowing his own grass in the Texas heat.  He is salty and stubborn and drives his loving children crazy! 

    Forgive me if I have shared this story about him before – 

    He was a ball turret gunner on a B-17.  He had just completed his training and landed in Europe on the weekend of  May 5-6, 1945 to report for duty.  His first scheduled “live” run was slated for Tuesday, May 8, 1945.  The Germans surrendered on May 8.  The bombing run was canceled.  In discussing VE Day, my client stated to me, with all the spit, vinegar and swagger he still musters, “Those &%*#! Germans heard I was coming and those cowards surrendered!!”  He is still mad – just like this happened yesterday –  that he never got to bomb them.  He lives his life on these same terms. Age and frailty are his enemies now – and he is fighting them just like the Germans – no fear and daring them to take him out!  I’m sure going to miss him!  

    • #22
  23. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Dominique Prynne (View Comment):

    One of my current clients is a WW2 vet. (I have been so blessed to know so many because of my career field). I think he is the only living WW2 vet I currently have. My current client is a short, but stout, man, in his latter 90s who still lives independently with some help from his children. He grew up extremely poor in south Arkansas. Until this past year, he was mowing his own grass in the Texas heat. He is salty and stubborn and drives his loving children crazy!

    Forgive me if I have shared this story about him before –

    He was a ball turret gunner on a B-17. He had just completed his training and landed in Europe on the weekend of May 5-6, 1945 to report for duty. His first scheduled “live” run was slated for Tuesday, May 8, 1945. The Germans surrendered on May 8. The bombing run was canceled. In discussing VE Day, my client stated to me, with all the spit, vinegar and swagger he still musters, “Those &%*#! Germans heard I was coming and those cowards surrendered!!” He is still mad – just like this happened yesterday – that he never got to bomb them. He lives his life on these same terms. Age and frailty are his enemies now – and he is fighting them just like the Germans – no fear and daring them to take him out! I’m sure going to miss him!

    If you shared that before, I missed it. Thank you for sharing it now.

    • #23
  24. Cosmik Phred Member
    Cosmik Phred
    @CosmikPhred

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    Two engines. You can lose one and still get home.

    And you had guns mounted in the nose so you could aim them directly, not placing them in the wings and mounting them to converge on a single spot a set distance away.

    Yeah, well having fighter escort all the way to Berlin was important, so P-51 Mus

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Flicker (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I think the P-51 is the ultimate WW2 fighter (on our side). But hey – there were so many . . .

    Probably so. The P-51 might have outperformed the P-38, but the P-38 was the coolest. Twin booms. Nose mounted machine guns. Supercharged. Lockheed.

    Two engines. You can lose one and still get home.

    And you had guns mounted in the nose so you could aim them directly, not placing them in the wings and mounting them to converge on a single spot a set distance away.

    The Lightning has two engines because when Kelly Johnson designed a 400MPH fighter that was about the only way you’d get there in 1938 using an Allison V-1710 and turbosupercharging.  You need space to install the GE turbos of that day so you need a biggish airframe (see also:  P-47). Bell couldn’t quite figure out how to turbos to work in the small P-39. There is only one P-38 still flying with functional turbos.

    A Mustang easily gets over 400MPH with similar armament, greater range, lower drag, and less complexity.  They built Mustangs in Dallas (Grand Prairie) and Inglewood and P-38s only came out of Burbank. You could also escort bombers all the way to Berlin. Mustangs were also supercharged, but with a simpler, fantastic 2-stage mechanically driven blower on the Packard-built Rolls Royce Merlin. 

    Don’t get me wrong, the P-38 really showed its stuff in the pacific theater where two engines are a good thing flying over so much water.  Bong, McGuire, et al figured out how to get the most out of that airframe and the number of kills tell the tale.

    Allison eventually developed a high altitude supercharger for the V-1710, but for the later models of the P-82 Twin Mustang.

    • #24
  25. Cosmik Phred Member
    Cosmik Phred
    @CosmikPhred

    The Red Bulls P-38 has quite the air racing pedigree including both Cleveland AND Reno.

    It was also part of the Confederate Air Force and beautifully displayed in aerobatics for decades by pilot/owner Lefty Gardner.

    • #25
  26. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Cow Girl (View Comment):

    Thirty years ago when my husband worked at a Naval Air Station in Southern California, these B1 bombers came for a visit. So he took our sons out to see them, since they are all airplane nuts. Here’s one boy….

    Noisiest aircraft I was ever around…

    • #26