– A Lockheed built WWII P-38 Fighter will be making a triumphant return with P-38 pilots to its place of origin Tuesday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the delivery of the 5000th P-38 built in 1944 at Lockheed Burbank. The appearance of the P-38 is also to promote the P-38 National Convention being held this May in Southern California.
The return of the P-38 takes on a story that could be taken directly from a Hollywood script. Over 60 years ago a young woman by the name of Flora Belle looked to the skies with admiration and decided that one day she would be a pilot. The daughter of a preacher she was born in Sayre, Oklahoma and grew up on a farm. With her strong determination she soon began taking flying lessons before she even learned to drive. As time went on Flora Belle (3rd from left in photo) became quite skilled and after high school decided to enlist in the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots or more commonly know as the WASPS. In WWII she was trained to fly in various military aircraft from the Bi-wing Stearman to the Martin B-26 performing military missions stateside, helping to release male pilots for combat overseas. One day while on duty in Texas a P-38 touched down on the field. The plane taxied up to the hardstand and out stepped the nation’s highest scoring ace fighter pilot Richard (Dick) Bong who was in Texas on a war bonds tour. Flora Belle, admiring the P-38, got into a discussion with the crew chief and before long was sitting at the controls of the P-38 dreaming of the day she would be able to take to the skies in this astounding aircraft. (America’s number one Ace, Dick Bong died in a crash while taking off from Burbank airport. His Lockheed P-80 jet had engine trouble and he impacted in North Hollywood near Oxnard and Vineland. He died on June 6, 1945, the same day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Because of that coincidence and Lockheed’s secret jet development, little was made of his loss at the time. The webguy added this part.)
In December of 1944 the WASPS disbanded and Flora Belle’s dream of flight in the P-38 was never realized. After her service in WWII Flora Belle married her high school sweetheart and became Mrs. Flora Belle Reece. In her years after the service she became a mother of three and was also an active member of the community. Serving as a school teacher as well as a missionary overseas she has accomplished much throughout her life, but she never forgot the one dream that was never fulfilled. Her dream will become a reality on April 20, 2004 when she accompanies the Air Museums Planes of Fame pilot Steve Hinton in the P-38 Lightning into Bob Hope Airport. “We could not be more pleased to help fulfill a veteran pilots dream” says Bob Alvis a representative of the P-38 National Association. “Many things had to come together to help make this possible, and without the help of the Planes of Fame staff and many others this dream would not become a reality”.
The return of the P-38 Lightning to Burbank brings the planes history full circle. For the local citizens of the San Fernando Valley, who during WWII built this airplane and sent it off to war, it’s been a long journey from the production line to its appearance here this month. It will truly be an exciting event for all to see.
For more information about this event contact the P-38 National Association at 1-888-for-p380 or 1-888-367-7380
or email to email@example.com