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From "The Gunfighter" - Brig. Gen. (Rtd) USAF - Reg Urschler

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Brig. Gen. Urschler in 

 his P-51 Mustang

"The Gunfighter"

and as a young Lt. flying with SAC

Below is a RB-47H

Stratojet airplane of the type in which he flew elint missions during the cold war years

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How Did the O-2's Get To Vietnam ?

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It's 1967 or maybe early 1968, I forget, and the Air Force has bought a mess of Cessna Super Skymasters and called them O-2s. The Cessna factory at Wichita , Kansas is pumping them out at a pretty good clip and your problem is to figure out how to get them to Vietnam where they are needed. 

Your choices are: 1. Fly them to the West coast and turn them over to the Army for transport by cargo ship. 2. Take the wings off them and stuff them three at a time into the belly of C-124s and fly them over. 3.Fly them over under their own power with no C-124 attached.


Question: Which method was used?

Right! Every single one of those puppies was hand-flown across the Big Pond to Vietnam . That sounds like it might have been a Mickey Mouse operation. Believe me, it wasn't that good. Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) was running that show and their knowledge stopped somewhat short of knowing anything about ferrying airplanes. The Air Force had a perfectly good organization called the 44th Aircraft Delivery Group which operated world wide and managed the ferrying of all aircraft; except the O-2s. AFSC contracted with some outfit in San Francisco to deliver the planes to Saigon .

The contractor hired a bunch of civilian pilots who couldn't find honest work elsewhere. Since the O-2s were technically "public" aircraft (as opposed to civil or military aircraft) no pilot's license was necessary to fly one, and I'm not sure that all of the pilots had licenses. Some of them were pretty good, but the rest of them were the most god-awful collection of unqualified scruffy-looking alcoholics you ever saw. The dregs of the flying profession. The deal worked like this. 

The pilots were given a plane ticket to Wichita where they got a quickie checkout in the O-2 if they needed one. Then they launched in bunches of four and headed for Hamilton AFB on the west coast of California . Enroute, they were instructed to carefully monitor and record their oil consumption, which, of course, they did not do. That type of pilot does not monitor and record oil consumption. 

At Hamilton , the Air Force removed all the seats except the left front one. The seats were shipped to Vietnam by air,which is what should have happened to the rest of the plane, too. Extra fuel tanks were installed in the vacant floor space followed by the pilot himself.He had to crawl over the co-pilot tank to get to the left seat. Next, they installed an oil tank on top of the co-pilot tank followed by a small emergency HF radio on top of that.   

Now, the pilot was truly locked in. To get out, he could either wait for someone to remove the radio and oil tank or crawl out the emergency escape window on the left side. Takeoff must have been something to watch. With all that fuel, the planes were way over max gross weight. They had no single engine capability at all for about the first five hours of flight. If either engine hiccuped, the pilot went swimming.  

The route was Hawaii (Hickam), Midway, Wake Island, Guam ( Anderson ), Philippines (Clark) and Saigon (Tan Son Nhut.) The Hamilton-Hickam leg was by far the longest; nominally about thirteen hours. The O-2s were carrying fuel for about fourteen and a half hours of flight. 

Navigation was strictly dead reckoning. The pilots took up a heading based on wind calculations and flew out their ETA hoping to be lost within range of a Hawaiian radio station.  They had no long range navigation equipment. The fuel tanks were disposable and were dropped off as they were no longer needed. The fuel pumps were not disposable and the pilots were instructed to bring them back along with their dirty underwear and the HF radio. 

The trip was supposed to take about a week and each pilot carried an airline ticket from Saigon to Wichita to go back and pick up another plane. For this, the pilots were paid $800 per trip with the flight leader getting $1,000. They planned on averaging three trips a month and getting rich doing it. How come I know so much about this? Well, I was the Director of Safety at Hickam AFB and every single one of over 300 O-2s passed through my domain and created almost constant headaches. 

Before this all started, I had no idea what an O-2 even looked like much less any knowledge of the overall ferrying scheme. 

The trouble started with the very first flight and began with the extra oil tank. The reason for determining oil consumption on the Wichita-Hamilton leg was to know how much oil to add during the really long legs. There were no oil quantity gauges. Shortly after takeoff from Hamilton, boredom set in and the pilots would give the oil tank wobble pump a jab or two and squirt some more oil into the engines.The O-2 didn't need that much oil.All this did was over-service the engines which resulted in fluctuating oil pressure. The pilots didn't like that at all, so they added more oil which led to more pressure fluctuation. Meanwhile, they were totally lost and not getting much closer to Hawaii.

Time for the old MAYDAY call on the HF radio. When that call came in,the Coast Guard in Hawaii was running a very interesting seminar on sea rescue in downtown Honolulu . I was attending which is how I found out that we had an O-2 problem. The Coast Guard shut down the seminar and launched their C-130 and a pair of cutters to find the O-2s; which they did.

They herded them to the nearest runway which happened to be the Marine Corps Air Station at Kanehoe on the Northeast side of Oahu.  

I drove over the mountains to Kanehoe to find out what the hell this was all about. That's when I saw my first O-2; actually my first four O-2s. Aside from being ugly, they were all soaked with oil overflowing from both engines and they didn't have ten gallons of gas among them. One had flamed out taxiing in from landing. They had been airborne for 14 hours and 45 minutes. The Coast Guard was really pissed when they learned the full story and was making noises about sending someone a bill for the rescue effort. I must say, I agreed with them. That silliness continued for three or four weeks with every single flight of O-2s getting into some sort of trouble. 

At Hickam, the O-2 pilots were fairly easy to find. Most of the time they were draped over the bar at the O-Club; a situation which was attracting the attention of the Officers Wives  Club; always a dangerous thing to do. I went to PACAF Headquarters and told them what was going on and they were absolutely appalled. Civilian misfits ferrying Air Force airplanes across the Pacific to a combat zone? No way!  Between us, we began firing off messages to get this idiocy stopped.   

AFSC couldn't understand what the problem was and probably still doesn't. Hamilton AFB was taking a lot of heat for participating and allowing them to launch at all. I was agitating about the stupidity of this through all the safety channels. I think I may have mentioned that when the inevitable accident occurred, they better hope it was out of my area. If I had to investigate it, they were definitely not going to like the report. I was prepared to write most of the report right then before the accident even happened.

 AFSC backed down and agreed to let the 44th Aircraft Delivery Group run the operation. The 44th  wasn't too happy about that because the civilian pilots didn't seem to take instructions very well. Nevertheless, that brought some organization to the festivities which included things like mission planning, briefings, weather analysis, flight following and escort. The O-2s weren't allowed to fly unless accompanied by a C-47 or C-7 Caribou who could fly at their speed and handle the navigation. That wasn't much of a problem as there were two or three of those planes being ferried each week to Vietnam . 

That procedure eliminated most of my problems and things settled down to a routine. The delivery rate to Vietnam was slowed somewhat, but I think more total planes actually got there because of it. During the entire process, only two planes were lost. One ditched due to engine failure on the Wake-Guam leg. The pilot managed to get out of the plane and bobbed around in his life jacket until picked up by a Japanese cargo ship. The other crashed in the Philippines killing the pilot. I never knew the circumstances. 

We had, of course, the occasional problem at Hickam. I remember one pilot who landed nose gear first and managed to snap the gear off completely and ding the front propeller. I went out to see what had happened and got a load of bull**** and a strong whiff of gin from the pilot. The plane (he claimed) was nose heavy on landing and the elevator trim was inoperative. He couldn't get the nose up. Furthermore, his transmitter was out and he couldn't tell anyone about his problems. I checked the plane and found the elevator trimmed full nose down, but the trim switch and trim tab worked just fine. Just to the left of the trim switch, I noticed that the microphone toggle switch was actually bent backwards. After several hours of martinis, the pilot was trying to trim using the mic switch. He trimmed the plane full nose down while trying to talk to the control tower on the trim switch. Case closed. 

None of these accidents consumed any of my time. I had learned another quirk in the AFSC way of doing business. Appearances aside, the aircraft were not Air Force aircraft and wouldn't be until they arrived in Saigon and were formally delivered and accepted. Since they weren't, technically, Air Force aircraft; they couldn't have an Air Force accident. The planes weren't registered as civil aircraft, so they couldn't have a civil accident either. They were in regulatory limbo and any accidents were non-events. Nobody cared. That suited me just fine. I had other things to do and I couldn't see how an investigation of stupidity would contribute anything to the Air Force safety program. 

Incidentally, how do you suppose they got the O-2s out of Vietnam and back to the United States ? They took the wings off, stuffed them three at a time into the belly of C-124s and flew them back.  AFSC was not involved which, I later learned, tended to improve almost any operation.   

Author contact Info: Richard H. Wood 4563 El Dorado Way, #124 Bellingham , WA 98226 


USAF / RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint Partnership

Drone versus Scorpions or the Battle of Palmdale

16th August 1956

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At Point Mugu Naval Air Station, California, ground crews prepped an F6F-5K Hellcat drone for it’s last flight ever. The Hellcat was painted high-visibility red and was rigged to be guided by remote control. The plane was to fly out over the vast pacific into a training scenario where the navy would blast it out of the sky for target practice. But the Hellcat had other ideas.

Shortly after 11:30 A.M. the drone took off from the navy base heading west over the ocean. Soon thereafter it started a lazy turn to the south and began heading straight towards the teeming metropolis of Los Angeles. The remote controllers at the navy base tried frantically to turn the escaped plane back out to the ocean to no avail. Having lost contact it proceeded to head straight into the heart of one of the most populated areas in the country. 

When all backup systems failed, the Navy finally gave up and called for assistance. As the Navy had no fighter aircraft standing by, they swallowed their pride and made a call to Oxnard Air Force Base. Five miles north of the navy base were two F-89D Scorpion interceptor jets ready to scramble. Being that this was in the thick of the cold war era, the planes were armed and fueled and ready to go.  The Scorpions were armed with two rocket pods containing 52 Mighty Mouse rockets. These rockets were designed to be fired into approaching Russian bomber formations and thus had no guidance systems. However, today, this was an altogether different threat. 1st Lt. Hans Einstein and his radar op 1st Lt. C. D. Murray sprinted across the tarmac and climbed into their waiting silver steed.1st Lt. Richard Hurliman and 1st Lt Walter Hale jumped into the second plane and joined the pursuit. 

The Air Force planes raced southward at full speed to intercept the small wandering blip on their radar. At 30,000 feet just north of Los Angeles the sprinting jets intercepted the portly drone. It was on a southwest course that took it directly over Los Angeles, then it turned slowly circling over the city of Santa Paula. The pilots were waiting for it to wander away from populated areas so they could blast it from the sky.
Soon the red Hellcat drifted over a rural area known as Antelope Valley. The pilots tried to fire their rockets with a turning fire-fire control method, but a malfunction in the system prevented the rockets from igniting. The drone then turned southeast and began heading back for the center of Los Angeles. Under pressure, the pilots decided it was now or never. They abandoned the automatic fire modes on the rockets and decided to launch them manually. One snag was that the gun sights had recently been removed from the planes! The theory was that they shouldn’t ever have to use them because the automated firing system would target the rockets, but it had failed.

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The pilots decided to fly by the seat of their pants and began their first rocket run. They set their intervalometers to “ripple fire,” which would strafe the plane with three rocket salvos. The first plane lined up and let loose… and missed completely. The second plane’s rockets undershot the fleeing drone.

The rockets blasted past the mindless drone, overshooting their target. They then descended into the mountains near the town of Castaic and exploded in the forest below. They started a raging forest fire that would destroy 150 acres in an area known as Bouquet Canyon.

The second salvo of rockets also missed the drone, blasting into the town of Newhall. These rockets started fires in an oil field. They ignited a number of oil sumps and began a fire that burned more than 100 acres of brush. These fires blazed out of control and almost reached the Bermite Powder company’s explosives plant! 
The drone continued to drift northward toward the town of Palmdale. Frustrated, the pilots tried another rocket run. The first salvo went wide again, and of the second salvo, a few Mighty Mouse rockets bounced harmlessly off of the slow moving drone’s belly.


Suddenly in the quiet bucolic town of Palmdale, all hell broke loose. Mighty Mouse rockets fell from the sky like fiery hail. An explosion outside Edna Carlson’s house caused shrapnel to smash her front window, blast through a wall, and wreck her pantry. Mrs Lilly Willingham heard a deafening explosion and nearly missed being maimed by a hot piece of metal that lodged in the wall inches from her face in her own living room. A rocket exploded in the middle of the street directly in front of the car young Larry Kemp was driving. The explosion blew out his tires, and made Swiss cheese of the front of his vehicle. 

After a few minutes the mayhem subsided and the bewildered residents of Palmdale searched the skies. Was this a coordinated Russian attack? A nefarious Sunday surprise?  Luckily, no one was injured in the battle and 13 dud rockets were recovered by air force ordinance disposal teams. But it took 500 of the region’s firefighters two days to put out the brush fires that raged.

The pilots of the interceptor jets were running on fumes so they abandoned the mission and returned to their base defeated. The drone itself headed east and ran out of fuel. It descended in a spiral glide into an unpopulated area eight miles east of Palmdale. In it’s final moments, it sliced through some power lines and cartwheeled into the dirt, disintegrating in the crash.


So this is the story of one of the only aerial battles to be fought in the skies over the continental United States. The story of how one oblivious, mindless drone evaded the concerted attacks of the state of the art weaponry of it’s day.

A day that will live in infamy for the rest of recorded history and will always be known as the Battle of Palmdale.


Spitfire article by Christies put together at the time of the auction of Spitfire P9374


The National Museum of the U. S. Air Force   at Wright-Patterson AFB, near Dayton, Ohio is well worth a visit. Look at their website to access a virtual tour of the exhibits including many cockpit tours of a huge variety of airplanes. As a taster the weblink below is for the B-36 cockpit tour. The 360 tours can also be accessed using apps from both the Apple and Google Play Stores although given the high definition quality they are best viewed on the largest monitor available to you.


Cold War Construction 1950's style - Thule AFB, Greenland

This article by Steve Jordon, from the Omaha World-Herald tells the amazing story of the building of Thule AFB, Greenland in just 100 days.   

It features our US editor, Reg Urschler, who is a retired U S Air force one star General (Brig. Gen). Reg flew the RB-47H Stratojet (above) with the 55th SRW (which he commanded) on many dangerous elint missions during the height of the Cold War. (See the article below)

Anyone wishing to learn more about America's top secret air war against the communist bloc and its cost in lives, should read the book by William E. Burrows,  "By Any Means Necessary".


Weblink to the article


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Operation Home Run

Author's Comments... 
My thanks to those who provided material and support in the writing of this significant event. Prior to publication, this article has been reviewed by various participants in the Operation and deemed correct in content.
Sam Pizzo

This article is written to honor those Air Crews and the outstanding Maintenance and Support troops who participated in Operation Home Run.

In early 1956 President Eisenhower authorized Photo and Electronic overflight missions of the entire northern slope and interior portions of the USSR from the Kola Peninsula to the Bering Straits, an approximate 7000 mile round trip. Missions would be flown out of Thule AFB Greenland. Accordingly, sixteen photo capable RB-47E model aircraft of the 10th Recon Sq from Lockbourne AFB, four RB-47H Electronic collection capable aircraft from the 343rd SRS and the 38th SRS Forbes AFB, plus 27 KC-97 Air refueling tankers from various Air Force Bases along with various Squadron Maintenance and other Supporting Personnel of the 55th SRW were directed to take part in this Operation. Missions would be flown between 21 March and 10 May 1956. A total of 156 combined aircraft sorties were flown during Operation Home Run. In 2001 the mission details were declassified and this is their story.


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The Soviet zones of interest for Operation Home Run

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During the 1956 time frame of the Cold War era, if the Cold War had turned into a Hot War, many of the SAC Bombers would penetrate Russia via the over the Pole flight plan when enroute to their targets. It was of paramount interest to know what capabilities the Soviets possessed within the Northern Coastline, with regards to defensive as well as offensive weaponry.

Areas of interest such as naval installations, airfields, radar sites, Atomic Energy Facilities, large industrial complexes, port facilities, missile sites, plus others would be of prime interest to the photo crews whereby our interests was to see what the Soviets had come up with regards to radar capabilities.

Thus, Operation Home Run was born. Some of the cities and points of interest to be over flown were, Dikson, Makarova, Chelyuskin, Ust Olenek, Tiksi, Nordvik, Khorgo Ambarchik, Taltumus, Anadyr, Wrangel Island, Providenya and Novaya Zemlya ( Banana Island ), and Mys Shmidta. 

This was the real deal. No flying 12 miles off of the coastline for purposes of studying Electromagnetic Wave Propagation. This was it.

Accordingly on March 21,1956 the four RB47H aircraft departed for Thule AFB Greenland, and deplaning was greeted by a 35 degrees BELOW freezing temperature. And of course there was total darkness at this time of the year in the Arctic.

All told, twenty RB's and 27 KC 97 Tankers were operating out of a base certainly not designed for this magnitude of operations. For instance none of the RB's had hangers and all maintenance, refueling operations etc, were conducted outdoors in 35 degree below freezing weather conditions which included blowing snow adding to the chill factors.

There is not enough praise that can be given to the dedicated Crew Chiefs, maintenance and ground support personnel who performed yeoman duty under the worst weather conditions imaginable. Line Chief Kitchens and his Crew Chiefs F Filburn, J Rodecap, L Ross and G Grenrke deserve the highest of praise for their efforts. Those efforts certainly added to the success of the mission.

Adding to the woes of just having below freezing weather there was ice on the runway. As fighters would take off on their daily routine air patrols, their jet blasts would melt the snow which would then turn to ice. Made takeoffs and landings most thrilling.

Secrecy was of paramount importance. It is doubtful that 55th Hdqrs or the Squadron staffs had any insight as to what their crews were involved in. Individual crews at Thule were instructed not to discuss any facet of their missions with their counterparts. Each flight element which might be a two or three ship flight (one H accompanying one or two E models) would brief separately, i.e. an element only knew what they would be doing that day. This policy of secrecy remained in effect until 2001 when the missions were declassified.

All flights were conducted in radio silence, with hand signals being used between aircraft in flight. The RB's did monitor single Side Band Radio in case of recall, but absolutely no outgoing calls were permitted and none were ever reported on 156 sorties.

Aircraft formations varied mission to mission. In some instances aircraft were in trail formation, ie the RB H model flew approximately one mile or so behind the RB E model aircraft. At other times they were flying in tight formation, ie, a wing length to the side and the same distance to the rear of the RB E model aircraft. Yet on other occasions the H model aircraft did not see the RB E model aircraft.

Distances involved on these missions required that the mission aircraft have a specific on board fuel load at a given point of the route. If attempting to obtain this amount, usually around 20,000 lbs from a single tanker, it would leave the tanker with insufficient fuel to return to Thule. On some of the longer missions,two separate refuelings were required. Thus two or three tankers would fly abreast for each aircraft in the element, each to offload an amount less than the total required. The RB's would take on a certain amount of fuel from one tanker then slide over to the next tanker getting the balance of fuel required to go the distance.


Soviet response to Operation Home run from the standpoint of fighter intercepts reflected quite a few attempts, however in all instances they were most ineffective. There were no reports of missile firings. Basically, with regards to fighters, it should be noted perhaps that the Soviets, during this time frame, shut down some of their fighter bases in the area due to the harsh winter weather conditions.

As to the results of the mission, we shall probably never know. All data, Photo and Electronic, was sent back to SAC Headquarters. Crews were never briefed on their accomplishments.

Due to the fact that that there is no official documentation available, sortie and overflight data has been derived from information gathered from various crew members. The average number of sorties flown by each crew is estimated to be between eight ( 8 ) and ten ( 10 ) with half of those being overflights.

What can be determined however, is the outstanding performance given by the Air Crews of the 343rd and 38th Squadrons and Ground personnel of various Units of the 55th SRW in meeting the goals of this operations, and doing so under the harshest of weather conditions.

Flight crews were awarded DFC'S or AM'S for their efforts.

After the Soviets complained about the overflights, President Eisenhower responded, with tongue in cheek, . . . Must have been Navigational errors.

Wow ! On ALL those overflights! SAC must have had some really inept Navigators back in those days ! (This, by the Author, also said with tongue in cheek.)

Photo below is Thule AFB, c March - May 1956



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The four crews selected for Operation Home Run are shown below:

38th SRS


38th SRS


B Barrett



R Campbell


D Waller



J Gyulavics

J McDonnell



P Caselton


Phil Mitchell



B Rosser


S Elliott



P Fortin


Bill Kane



T Everling


343rd SRS


343rd SRS


D Grant 



R Hubbard


D Wells 



C Aslund


A Benziger  



R Mayer


C Waters  



G Duer


C R Smith 



R Thompson


N Yanuzzi   



M Sawyer


Newsline USA

Russian near miss prompts Pentagon complaint

A Russian fighter passed dangerously close to an RC-135 intelligence-gathering aircraft over the Baltic Sea, sparking a US diplomatic protest, according to US military officials. "On the morning of April 7, a US RC-135U flying a routine route in international airspace was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker in an unsafe and unprofessional manner" north of Poland, said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez in a Washington Free Beacon report. "The United States is raising this incident with Russia in the appropriate diplomatic and official channels," she added. A Russian military spokesman claimed Russian radar detected the RC-135 "making steady progress toward [Russia's] national border," alleging the aircrew was not employing the aircraft's transponder. US European Command officials denied that claim in an April 11 post at the command's Twitter page, asserting that the aircraft was operating in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization flight rules. The RC-135U is primarily equipped to detect, analyze, and gather technical data on foreign air defense radar systems. An RC-135U was involved in a similar incident with a Russian fighter north of Japan last year.

April 2015

Airplane Action

1946 Blue Angels Bearcats

F8F-2 Bearcat.  An airplane with a wing span three feet less than the Wildcat and just about as long with massive 2,100 HP engine.  Nothing could touch a Bearcat and they were on the carriers sailing to Japan when Japan surrendered in 1945. 


A top speed of 447 MPH; a ceiling over 41,000 ft. Production climb rate was better than 6,000 fpm, the best of any piston-engine fighter.  The Bearcat could out turn any allied fighter and even would turn with an A6M5 Type 52 Zero. 


With its fast speed, great acceleration and high climb rate, the Bearcat was the definitive answer to the Japanese Kamikaze threat.  The Bearcat remained as the Navy’s frontline fighter into 1952.  


Why?  Because it out-flew and-out fought the early F-1 Phantom and Banshee jets.  Only the Saber Jet, in its J4 Fury version, could finally catch the Bearcat.  Even so, a lightened version of the F-8-F held the time to climb record from the ground to 10,000 ft. until the mid-sixties. 

The Bearcat went from a standing start on the runway to 10,000 ft. in 90 seconds.  This rush to altitude was faster than the F-104, the F-100, the F-102 and all the other early supersonic fighters could manage. 


It took a stripped down version of the F-4 Phantom to finally match the Bearcat’s climb rate and then by just a few seconds.  For those of you that wish to reminisce about the glorious past, this is a pleasant interlude.  


The F8F Bearcat--the last of the big radial engine fighter aircraft!  From brake release, the Bearcat could climb to 10,000 feet faster than the F-4 Phantom!
Blue Angels 1946: Al Taddeo, one of the original Blue Angels, died at the age of 94.  Al was a Blue Angel from 1946 to 1947 flying Hellcats and Bearcats.


This is a great video, enjoy, meet Al and feel the pride and love of country.

From: Gunfighter - An Aircraft Collection - Lewis Air Legends - Bombers, Fighters and Trainers

Check out this warbird website for great photos and video of airplanes.


Another veteran has made the Atlantic crossing on its return to the Normandy Commemorations

While waiting for the CWHM Lancaster to cross the pond in August, why not enjoy this video and Colin Fawcett's photo taken at Duxford

A Great Send Off and a Duxford Welcome
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Lockheed P-38 Lightning 75th anniversary

The XP-38 prototype first flew in January 1939 and after protracted development became one of the most important fighters of WW11.

 For a great review of the P-38 visit Global Aviation Resource at