This extraordinary P-38 joined the collection in 2016.
P-38L-5-LO “44-53186” was one of a hundred thousand plus aircraft ordered in fiscal 1944 by the U.S. War Department. The P-38 design had been improving rapidly as this aircraft was being assembled in 1945. 44-53186 would be born as an “L dash 5” P-38, considered the best and most capable of the fighter P-38 variants. All of the combat experience and hard lessons learned by the USAAF were poured into this plane, making it the deadliest Lightning to date.
P-38L-5-LO 44-53186 was one seven hundred aircraft ordered as “L-5” Lightnings that
Lockheed began building in early 1945. This order was shortened during production with the last 380 aircraft being cancelled due to the war’s changing requirements. The first 320 planes produced were flown directly to modification centers or to storage. The 320 new P-38 airframes were divided into three groups as they rolled off the assembly line. The first group of 182 remained fighters and were upgraded with the latest fighter modifications to dash 6 standard and most flown to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation center in Kingman, Arizona for storage. The second group, which contained our feature aircraft 44-53186, was a bit more special. These P-38s were designated to become photo reconnaissance versions of the Lightning. Lockheed had created a modification center in
Dallas, Texas tasked with producing the photo-recon nose and associated modifications to turn the fighter into an unarmed and elusive platform for tactical photos. 63 of these planes were constructed as F-5G-6-LOs. As the war ended, the modified “186” was flown to Kingman, Arizona for storage. The last group of 75 Lightnings became night fighters, and were flown from Burbank to Fresno, CA. There they were modified to the P-38M-6-LO standard. These 75 examples of the two seat night fighters were rarely used in late 1946. Most were flown to Kingman as well, joining their sisters on the desert floor.
The Kingman group of 320 P-38L, F-5G and P-38M aircraft decreased, as a few had crashed during ferry flights and mishaps. In late 1946 roughly 300 P-38s remained. During the
surplus sales at the time, 37 of them found civilian buyers. 9 of these 37 survive today. Almost half of the current P-38s are from this small group of Kingman planes sold many years ago.
“44-53186” was sold to Kargl Aerial Surveys of Midland, Texas as NL62350 in March of 1946 for $1,250. Photo survey companies knew that postwar mapping contracts would be well served by the reliable and tough F-5G. Sold again to Aero Exploration Co. of Tulsa, OK in 1947, she worked there for four years before being sold to Mark Hurd Aerial Mapping in November 1952. Registered N505MH in 1958 she flew all over the continent before being parked in 1963 in Santa Barbara, CA. Eventually derelict with two other Lightnings, the complicated and tired F-5Gs had become exotic oddities past their economic prime.
This P-38 was not an ideal air racer and photo work was being done by more capable platforms. By 1965, there was little call for the utilitarian P-38. Over time the other two were disassembled and stored in the care of a local man who loved the aircraft. Our forlorn “186” was sold to Bill Harrah, hotel and casino owner and a noted car collector, for his car museum. Taken apart and shipped to Reno, Nevada she was reassembled, painted and placed on display for 15 years. Most had forgotten about P-38 “186” until she emerged in 1982 as the new property of Frank Taylor, the latest winner at the Reno Air Races with his P-51 Mustang “Dago Red.” The old photo nose P-38 was trucked to Chino and reassembled in a hangar where the first deep survey of the airframe was taken. Recognized as a rare and special fighter plane, a new “fighter nose” was added to the plane and a meticulous restoration began to prepare the fighter for eventual sale. Acquired by the Doug Arnold collection, the restored P-38 was flown across the Atlantic by way of Greenland and Iceland by Mike Wright in 1989. Flown in the UK as “Miss Behavin” she spent almost a year on the Isle before returning to the USA in July, 1990.
Evergreen purchased “186” and had her restored as a P-38L over the next seven
years. Emerging in 1997, she was a showpiece and considered one of the best P-38
restorations to date. The P-38L was moved to McMinnville, Oregon, becoming a valuable crown jewel of the Evergreen Museum collection. The plane has been on display there since 1997. Still registered as N505MH, she was offered for sale in 2014.
We at the Collings Foundation have decided to restore the P-38 to “Pudgy V,” in honor of Major Thomas McGuire Jr. Major Thomas B. McGuire Jr. was the second highest-scoring, and one of the most decorated flying aces in World War II with 38 “kills” fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.
McGuire joined the United States Army Air Corps Cadet Program in July 1941. He quickly found himself flying a Lockheed P-38 Lightning against the Japanese in the South Pacific, scoring his first three victories in August, 1943. McGuire chose to name his
aircraft after his wife, Marilynn, whom he called “Pudgy.” Even when his plane was shot down, or exchanged for a newer type, he kept re-naming his aircraft “Pudgy.” “Pudgy V” was Major McGuire’s final P-38. McGuire is recognized as one of the most exemplary airmen of WWII. His fearlessness in battle was evident during two days of aerial combat over Luzon in December 1944. He and his squadron mates led heavy bombers to their mission, suffering relentless attack by Japanese fighters. McGuire repeatedly flew to the aid of embattled comrades, driving off enemy assaults while himself under attack, and at times outnumbered three to one. He was credited with seven fighter kills. Two weeks later, Major McGuire gave his life in service. On January 7, 1945, he led a voluntary fighter sweep over Los Negros Island in the Philippines. While attempting to save a fellow flyer from attack, he undertook a difficult maneuver, close to the ground, and crashed. In recognition of his conspicuous tenacity and valor during these final battles, McGuire was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.
*The P-38 is currently operating out of Worcester airport in Massachusetts and is not open for public viewing. For a schedule of operation please call the office.