• Lt. Bong, meet the Lockheed P-38

    Posted on May 12th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments
    Hamilton AAF main gate

    Hamilton AAF main gate
    Photo courtesy the California State Military Museum

    It was 74 years ago today, May 12, 1942, that 2nd Lt Richard Bong first flew the Lockheed P-38 Lighting. In the book, Dear Mom – So We Have a War, his letters home set the stage for the big day in this young pilot’s life.

    2nd Lt. R.I. Bong
    49th Sqdn, 14th Group
    Hamilton Field, Cal.
    5/7/42

    Dear Mom:
    Well, I’m here and settled in my new barracks. This is an old post and it is pretty complete and also pretty nice. I got my assignment today. I’m assigned to the 49th Pursuit Squadron of the 14th Pursuit Group stationed here at Hamilton. We start training tomorrow. Start out in ships like the airlines and then get shipped into P-38s. That is all they have here and so that is all we can fly.

    Richard Ira Bong entered the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) on May 29, 1941 at Wausau, Wisconsin. He had earned his Private Pilot Certificate through the Civilian Pilot Training program (CPTP) conducted at Superior State Teachers College (UW-Superior) in Superior, Wisconsin.

    Flight Cadet Bong went immediately to the Rankin Aeronautical Academy in Tulare, California, for primary training and became a member of Class 42A. He soloed the Stearman PT-17 “Kaydet” less than a month later on June 25, 1941. Next was basic training at Gardner Army Air Field (AAF), arriving on August 20. Here Cadet Bong flew the Vultee BT-13A “Valiant” and soloed this airplane on September 3, 1941. He then went to Luke AAF for advanced training in the North American AT-6A “Texan” arriving on November 4. Graduating from flight school on January 9, 1942 Bong received his wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.

    Lockheed C-40, image courtesy National Museum of the USAF

    Lockheed C-40
    Image courtesy National Museum of the USAF

    2nd Lt Bong stayed at Luke as an instructor, building his skills as a pilot and adding one more aircraft type, the P-36, and flight time to his logbook. He arrived at Hamilton with 501 hours of military flight time, all of it in single engine aircraft. The “ships like the airlines” Dick wrote about in his letter home (above) was the Lockheed C-40, or its civilian designation, the Model 12 Electra. He received one hour of instruction in this type, his only twin engine time, and later that same day made his first flight in the P-38. This first flight would last 40 minutes.

    Here is Dick’s next letter home:

    5/12/1942

    Dear Mom:
    Well I flew a C-40, (a ship like the one that flies on the airways and comes into Duluth or Superior every day), and a P-38. WOOEY!! What an airplane. That’s all I can say, but that is enough. You know what they look like from the pictures.

    He continued a few paragraphs later,

    Our training program is supposed to finish on the 13th and we leave the states shortly afterward, I guess. I don’t know where to, but it will be a long ways from home.

    It won’t turn out quite like that, but that is another story.

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) kicked off its Bong Anniversary Tour at the Wisconsin Aviation Conference in Wausau on May 5-7, 2014. Learn more about the tour kickoff  or all of the tour details.

    70th Anniverssary MOH logo

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