A SO-CALLED P-38

As a World War II Tac Recon pilot with the 64th TRG, 9th AF, ETO, I caught the misidentification of the so-called P-38 that Bill Lear Jr. was flying on page 46 of your Jan. 19 issue (Art Report: “Bill Lear and surplus WWII aircraft — what’s the connection?”). No gun ports on the nose, plus more important, you can see the window on the right side and — looking through that window — apparently another on the left which allowed their big cameras to shoot oblique pictures left and right and finally the tear drop item under the nose. I don’t remember exactly what it was (I think radar) but I do know it was involved in high altitude photography and was not on any P-38 I ever saw. All together that tells me the plane is an F-5 — the unarmed photo recon version of the P-38. Oh yes, they also had a window on the bottom of the nose for their vertical camera.

I was with the 107th TRS flying the F-6 version of the P-51. The 67th TRG had two squadrons of F-6s and one of F-5s. I am currently trying to finish a book on flying in World War II and I have one very unusual F-5 item in it that might pique the interests of your readers.

Since the F-5s were unarmed, you’d think they were easy prey but that was not the case since they flew, after D-Day, at very high altitudes and away from most German fighters. Their most dangerous enemy was the mess hall. I’m not sure of the date, but at one time the brass decided to change our food rations from C to K. Nowadays they call these MREs — Meals Ready to Eat. We had those things daily, sometimes more than once a day.

Well, after all the months of eating C Rations day in and day out your digestive system does not accept an immediate change to another regimen, in this case the K Rations. The F-6 pilots noticed some intestinal discomfort but we were usually flying at 12,000 feet and below. The F-5 guys were up there two-and-a-half times higher and experiencing misery. Since comedy is normally based on tragedy, we needled them a lot about being at 30,000 feet without a commode, which many of them needed.

ELDEN WILLIAMS

Major, USAF-Ret.

via email

NOTE from Art Report’s Larry Bledsoe: Mr. Williams, thanks for the sharp eye. Yes, it is an F-5. I stated in the article that Bill Lear, Jr. chose a “brand new P-38L-F5G (photo version),” but used the term P-38 in the rest of the article because most people are not familiar with the “F” designations. All “F” series aircraft were production models that had been modified for the photo-reconnaissance role. Lear chose the F5, instead of a P-38, because it had a Bendix radio compass (ADF), which he needed for the 1946 American Bendix Cross Country Race. The tear drop item under the nose was the ADF antenna.

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