Excerpts from THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTNING by Michael O’Leary

(First published in Great Britian in 1996 by Osprey ISBN 1 85532519 5)

P-38J-10-LO USAAF s/n 42-67543

Aircraft delivered to the USAAF as a P-38J at Burbank during October 1943 and then assigned to the Lockheed facility at Love Field, Dallas for conversion to an F-5C. After conversion, the aircraft went to the 36th PRS at Muskogee, Oklahoma and then to the 379th Base Unit at Coffeyville, Kansas. The aircraft then went into storage.

It was apparently sold to an unknown buyer and then probably flown on a ferry flight to Austin, Texas, where it began to sink into the ground. [following comments added – not part of the original article] The aircraft was then purchased as surplus by Robert “Bobby” Ragsdale. It was flown to Mueller Field in Austin, Texas sometime in 1945. On landing in Austin, there was a complete brake failure. After using up the entire runway, the aircraft was finally stopped. The aircraft was parked in a grassy area adjacent to Ragsdale Flying Service (later to become Ragsdale Aviation, Inc.) and never flown again by Mr. Ragsdale. The aircraft sat in the grass and was used over the years by various departments of the University of Texas for non-flying research. It also suffered some damage to vandals but the main culprit to it’s slow demise was years of sitting unprotected in the elements. [end of added comments] The aircraft was abandoned at Ragsdale Flying Service in Austin and gradually vandalized and picked to pieces. In the mid 60’s, the airframe was acquired by Lefty Gardner and transferred to Mercedes, Texas where it remained in the open for many years.

In 1988 what was left of the aircraft was sold to noted British collector Steven Grey for his Duxford based The Fighter Collection. Grey had contacted Fighter Rebuilders to work on other aircraft in the past, so a deal was struck that saw the airframe move to Chino.

Once at Chino the airframe was carefully broken down into components. Some interior parts were in surprisingly good condition, thanks to a protective coat of zinc chromate applied at the factory 40 years before.

Once fully restored and thoroughly air tested, the Lightning was crated up and sent across the Atlantic by ship to England in March 1992. Once Steven Grey had become familiar with his new fighter, he initially had it marked up in the bare metal scheme of eight kill 1st FG ace Jack Ilfrey. For the 1994 season, Grey decided to refinish the Lightning in an olive drab and neutral grey camouflage scheme which would protect the airframe in the damp English weather - the spectacular results was California Cutie. The original California Cutie of 1944 was flown by Lt. Richard Loehnert of the 55th FS/20th FG, Eighth AAF.