Decorated WWII Veteran Pilot Gets One Last Flight In His Plane

Frank Royal is a 101-year-old veteran of World War II. He was born in Colorado during World War I. He was in college, studying to be a doctor when he signed up to fly planes as part of the Army Air Corps.

He was assigned to the Pacific theater where he started flying Bell P-39 Airacobras. The P-39 was slow with its single 1200 hp engine. The plane was no match for the Japanese.

In 1942, his outfit was upgraded to the new P-38 Lightning with dual 1600 hp engines and center-mounted guns.

“It flew like a Cadillac while the Airacobra flew more like a Ford,” said Royal, who twice earned the Silver Star for heroism over the Pacific.

Royal got one kill and two “probables” in the new plane.

After the war, Royal worked in the Pentagon planning air campaigns. The P-38 he flew was dumped in a scrap pit in New Guinea.

Royal moved to Colorado Springs with his new wife. The couple raised five children together.

Bill Klaers, who runs the Westpac Restorations and the National Museum of World War II, heard about the American warplane graveyard in New Guinea and went down, retrieved a P-38 to refurbish. Westpac restores World War II planes and flies them again.

Klaers visited Westpac last year and began talking about the P-38 he flew in the war. It turned out that the plane they were restoring just happened to be the one Klaers flew in the war.

Royal would frequently visit Westpac to check on the progress of the restoration project.

Members of his family say that he seems younger when he’s around his plane. His son, Randy Royal, says that 75-year-old memories come pouring out of his father.

On Monday, Royal got the chance to fly in his plane one more time, The Gazette reported.

“I’m 101 and three-quarters,” Royal said after returning to the ground at the Colorado Springs Airport to the applause of family and admirers. “As of last week, I went under hospice care. It’s kind of a special day.”

He’s not afraid of death, though, it’s just his “final flight.”

Ian Harvey

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