New F-35 built in honor of WWII P-38 pilots

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Members of the 49th Fighter Squadron Association and their families poses in front of the F-35 built by Lockheed Martin in their honor.

Officials of Lockheed Martin unveiled their newly assembled F-35 Lightning II  at Fort Worth October 4 this year to honor the World War II veterans who flew the P-38 Lightning. With them during the unveiling ceremony are the veteran pilots themselves who inspired the team to build and fly the F-35.

During the World War II,l the P-38 hangar was one of the most reliable aircraft used by the Allies. It served as a dive bomber, a ground attacker or a long-range escort. It was flown over waters and mountains. In short it was flexible, reliable and cunningly deadly. The Star-Telegram reports that this was one of the the planes unpopular among the Nazis that they named it the “fork-tailed devil” to refer to the plane’s twin booms.

Joe LaMarca, VP for Communications of Lockheed Martin said the words of late test pilot Col. Ben Kelsey that the P-38 planes “… fight like a wasp upstairs, and land like a butterfly.”

And like the famed aircraft, the pilots who flew the P-38 were as tough, reliable and wily as the plane itself, the Star-Telegram reports.

Among the 21 veteran pilots of the 49th Fighter Squadron Association who were present during the occasion was B.W. Curry Jr. Now at 91, Curry could still remember flying the P-38 on over 50 missions. He was assigned in Southern Italy during the World War II.

“You could walk through a building like a hot knife through cold butter,” the veteran from Hattiesburg, Miss. said. “You could fly over water, 500 miles, then go over the mountains, then take out some railroad lines and bridges.”

Another WWII veteran present during the ceremony was James Cooke. Already at 88, he could still recall working as a ground crew for the F-38 at Foggia, Italy.

The veteran from Arlington said, “In the morning, we would reload the machine guns, reload the cannon and get it clean. Then we would get up at 11 o’clock at night and load bombs on the P-38.”

After the war, Cooke got his engineering degree at the University of Oklahoma. He them proceed to work at General Dynamics. The place is now Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth.

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The Legacy Continues with the F-35 living up to the name of the famed WWII aircraft P-38, which is known for its versatility and reliability.

Another WWII veteran who graced the ceremony is Don Luttrell. Hailing from Dallas, he is now 90 years old. He holds the record of flying over 55 combat missions during the invasion of Southern France.

During his missions he holds the record of bringing down two planes, although Luttrell remembers five. He is also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross. This Air Medal with Seven Oak Leaf Clusters was given for his service in the 49th Fighter Squadron. He also received the European Service Medal with five stars.

Luttrell has only good remarks of the P-38. “It worked very well,” the veteran pilot said. “You could put the guns out of the nose, put glass in it and put a bombsight in it.”

“It worked very well,” he said. “You could put the guns out of the nose, put glass in it and put a bombsight in it.”

Air Force Col. Alex Stathopoulos administered the F-35 contracts and dedicated the shining new aircraft to the hero pilots of WWII. Nicknamed after the P-38, the F-35 is the legacy of the versatile and reliable WWII plane fast-forwarded 70 years of evolution of modern science and technology.

Test pilot for Lockheed Martin Bill Gigliotti describes the F-35 as “modern marvel of a machine with immense technology and stealth capability.”

“You show up to the fight with all the information,” he finally remarked, “and the enemy never sees you.”

Used as backdrop of the ceremony is a mural of the two planes, F-35 and P-38 and the slogan “THE LEGACY CONTINUES: P-38 Lightning Hangar Dedication”.



Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE