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Aces of Aviation

Lockheed P-38J Lightning of Richard Bong

Lockheed P-38J Lightning of Richard Bong

Lockheed P-38J Lightning piloted by Captain Richard Bong, in New Guinea, in March 1944.

Wingspan: 15.85 meters.

Length: 11.53 meters.

Height: 2.99 meters.

Engine[s]: Two Allison V-1710 of 1425 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 666 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 13410 meters.

Range: 725 kilometers.

Armament: One Hispano M2 20-millimeter cannon; four Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine guns.

Richard Bong became the American pilot with the highest record of victories in the Second World War, achieved at the expenses of forty Japanese aircraft. Being a descendant of farmers, Bong was born the 24th September 1920 in Superior, Wisconsin. He enlisted as Flight Cadet in 1941 and achieved the Pilot's Diploma the 9th January 1942. Having been denied to him a combat position at the moment of his graduation, the young pilot performed a ground-skimming acrobatic exhibition, something which was totally forbidden and earned him a serious reprimand from the authorities; however, he also got the attention of General George C. Kenney, who later awarded him a position in a fighter squadron.

Bong remained in the 9th Squadron until November 1943, being promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant in April and to that of Captain in August of that year. The 11th November he was transferred as Operations Assistant to the headquarters of the 5th Fighter Command, in New Guinea. However, he continued taking part in flight operations as soon as the occasion arose, having been assigned to him a Lockheed P-38J Lightning, serialized with the number 42-103993, for his personal use. In January 1944 Bong placed a photograph of his girlfriend in the nose of this aircraft, which thus he nicknamed "Marge". With this aircraft he destroyed two "Sally" bombers while flying over Tadki, in New Guinea, the 3rd March. The illustration depicts the P-38J as it was when returned from that mission.

Promoted to the rank of Major in April, when his record had reached 28 victories, Bong was sent to United States for being trained in advanced aeronautical techniques. As Firing Training Officer, he returned to the Pacific Front in September and, albeit he was not required for combat missions, he volunteered for such thirty times, being attributed to him twelve more victories and becoming so the recordman of American fighter pilots.

Bong was hired as Test Pilot by the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation based in Burbank, California, but the 6th August 1945, the same day that the first atomic bomb fell upon Hiroshima, the engine of his Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star turbojet fighter caught fire when taking off. Bong tried to save his life by parachuting but the altitude was too short to allow the parachute to unfold.