101-Year-Old WWII Veteran Had One Last Flight With His Plane

Lockheed P-38 Lightning
Lockheed P-38 Lightning

Frank Royal, a World War II veteran Air Force pilot, died one month after he flew with the P-38 he had flown in the war. He was 101 years old.

Royal visited the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs and found a P-38 Lockheed Lightning just like the one he flew in New Guinea.  After looking the plane over, he came to realize it actually was the plane he flew 70 years before.

Royal was born in Colorado and grew up on a ranch near Rocky Ford.  When the Market Crash of 1929 happened, it nearly wiped out his parents.  They then had to weather the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

Royal left home at the age of 16 and worked odd jobs throughout the country.  Eventually, he received some experience flying a plane while working with a barnstormer.  He came back to Colorado and enrolled in the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Times were tight for Royal. “If I didn’t sleep very much and if I didn’t eat very much I could stay in college,” he said.

To pay the bills, he signed up for an Army program for potential pilots in 1940.  As World War II began, he was sent to fight in the Pacific in a Bell P-39.  Royal was not a fan of the plane.  It was nearly impossible to bail out of if there was trouble.  The plane was well-armed but was sluggish at high altitude and could not keep up with the more nimble Japanese Zero.

When his unit received the new P-38 planes, he fell in love with his, named “White-33.”  He was credited with one kill and two probable’s with his P-38 before the Army sent him to the Pentagon to help plan air campaigns while his plane remained in New Guinea until it sustained too much damage in battle and had to be scrapped.

After the war, he married and raised five children.  After 30 years of service, he retired from the military and settled in Colorado Springs.

He taught his children to put other people first, do everything to serve others and fight hard for what is right.

Bill Klaers and the rest of the crew at Westpac Restorations worked to rebuild Royal’s P-38. Royal would often visit while they worked on the plane.

White-33 was returned to flying status last month.  Royal rode in a Cessna with the Westpac team and flew beside his P-38 for the first time in 70 years.

Royal entered hospice care in October.  His family said that he put off death in order to see his plane fly one more time.

“Mentally, I was flying it,” he said after the flight.

He said he missed his wife who preceded him in death and all the men he flew with that didn’t get to come home from the war, Military.com reported.

He passed away on November 19, with his family nearby.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE