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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
MAJOR JOHN W. MITCHELL, USAAF
Mitchell and Lanphier had taken part in the mission to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. Due to the secrecy of that mission, it was not discussed here.
DISTRIBUTIOIN: Air Information Branch Standard Distribution List
I left the States in January 1942 and spent eight months in Fiji. In September I went to New Caledonia, operating at the base staff there and at Guadalcanal in alternate periods of about six weeks, with a short leave in Australia and New Zealand.
I was assigned to P-39's at Guadalcanal in October, the Army having brought in twelve, eight of which were destroyed almost immediately by enemy shell fire.
We found the Army pilots very deficient in gunnery. I've been out of flying school three years, and I have had only three gunnery missions. After we were settled and got some equipment, I insisted that all the boys in the squadron get as much gunnery as possible when they were in New Caledonia. We got some targets from the Navy and had daily gunnery practice.
Although we'd had no practice in such missions, we in the P-39's and P-38's were to escort Navy dive bombers against the
U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
Jap task forces which were coming in all the time. The P-38's fly at such high altitudes they often lose sight of the bombers they're escorting; it's really difficult to see them.
We were used to close formation flying, but very little emphasis had been placed on sticking together. In our first few flights we scattered all over the sky; then of course the Japs picked us off - just as we pick them off when we get them broken up.
By practicing aerobatics, the pilots learned to handle the planes with greater ease; they didn't worry so much about flying and concentrated more on fighting and on enemy planes. When pilots think about handling their planes, they are absolutely no good in combat.
We were woefully lacking in night flying also. Most of the pilots had not even checked out at night. Many of our missions were late in the afternoon, trying to catch the Tokyo Express; and very often we'd come back after dark, frequently in bad weather and rain.
BUREAU COMMENT: For detailed discussion of night fighting see interviews of Lt. Commander J.O. Cobb, USN, April 26, 1943; Major M. M. Magruder, USMC, May 11, 1943; Lt. John II. Stickell, USNR, May 6, 1943; Lt. Colonel Edward A. Montgomery, USMC, June 9, 1943.
Many men were not in good physical condition when they came out; they were among the first to get sick. Those in good health on arrival didn't get sick; but some of them ran off the reel. Of course there's a fine line there -- it is often hard to ascertain whether a man really is sick or whether he is just "chickening'.
There was no system for pilot relief. We weren't relieved for sixteen months; and when new pilots finally arrived, we didn't stay long to break them in -- just turned things over to them. When new pilots did begin to come from the States, many more than necessary were sent out; for instance, when I left there were ninety in my squadron with only thirty attached. Promotion was thus very slow for the boys in the lower grades, which was no aid to morale.
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
The Marines were very helpful. They gave us fruit juices and many other things when we first got there, when the going was really tough and we couldn't get much of anything. I certainly want to say that all the talk about non-cooperation between the Army, the Navy, and the Marines has no truth in it. We received wonderful cooperation and no unfairness from the Navy or the Marines in anything we tried to do. Our missions, were assigned by the Marines but they never told us what tactics to use.
For a long time the P-38's flew daily escort missions for B-17's to Bougainville, Kahili, Shortland Island - an area of about 315 land miles from Henderson Field. On a day when six P-38's were escorting nine B-17's, we had explained to the B-17 pilots that if they split up we couldn't possibly take care of all of them. They, however, did split up, four going over one target and five over another. The P-38's stayed with the five. The four dropped their bombs and circled around over Choiseul Island, where they were jumped by about thirty Zeros. Three were shot down; one managed to get back for a crash landing.
The P-40's, acting as front cover as well as escort, flew with the bombers. They asked us to fly about 3,000 feet above them but when they were at 12,OOO that was not high enough; it was usually more desirable for the P-38's to go in at about 24,000 or 25,000. We had so few P-38's that's the only way we could do it; had we been jumped from above, we would have been wiped out, and the B-17's also. It is easier to work down, than up in a surprise attack.
U.S. FIGHTERS VS ZEROS
One day about thirty Zero's came over the field. Fifteen Grummans, a few P-40's and six P-38's were up. The P-40's saw the Zeros come in and went after them; the Grummans didn't see the fight for about five minutes. The Zeros, up around 20,000 feet, had pulled us off to the side; and while we were fighting them, the Jap bombers sneaked in at about 500 feet and dropped their bombs, doing little materiel damage but killing a few men. The Grummans went after the bombers and left us six P-38's to fight the thirty Zeros, and we shot down seven. We lost two men. One followed a Zero, and at Cape Esperance over a hill about 3,000 feet high both planes went into a cloud and neither was seen to come out. The other boy went after two Zeros trying to get home; his belly tank was still on, and a Zero probably
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
put a couple of incendiaries through it because he blew up. That's the only time I've seen an American plane blow up; it just went all to pieces. We lost two planes and got seven -- not very good since we had plenty of altitude.
If we spotted Zeros first, we had no trouble keeping up with them. If we saw each other at the sane time and on the same level, we could always climb with them; they can't climb any faster than we. We have the advantage of being able to launch a high speed climb of about 190 miles an hour. (On one mission Captain Lanphier indicated 200 miles an hour, climbing about 2200 feet a minute - about wide open). One of our best ways of getting away from the Japs was to pull up in a high speed climb. Of course, if they began to climb when we did, we'd get up at the same time; but we were usually so far away they couldn't shoot at us.
The P-38's never tried to tangle with the Japs at any altitude. We'd follow them from 30,000 feet to sea level, but never tried to fight them; couldn't possibly do it at any altitude, regardless of whether we used our flaps or not. (Those new flaps, incidentally, are a great help in turning). We can outrun the Zeros straight and level at any altitude, from sea level up.
RANGE FOR BOMBER ESCORT
Q. What do you think the range is for bomber escort missions, fighting for fifteen minutes and then coming back?
A. Well, we can go a lot farther carrying two belly tanks; but if we have to drop the tanks, fight and come home, I think the maximum distance we can go out is 400 miles.
Q. That would give you fifteen minutes to fight?
A. Yes, I think that could be done. The farthest we went was about 345 or 350 land miles, and one of the boys ran out of gasoline and had to make a forced landing in the Russells, but we all got back all right.
Q. What was the relative amount of experience of your pilots, other than yourself?
A. I took fourteen pilots with me from Fiji. The fifteen of us had been flying fighters together for eight months at Fiji, so we were a fairly well trained unit.
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
Q. Did you have P-38's then?A. No, we had P-39's at that tine. I had had four hours in a P-38 when I went to Guadalcanal. Captain Lanphier' s group had had about twenty hours in P-38's the rest of us had had four, five, six hour; sone less tine than that.
FLIGHT AND AROUND PERSONNEL
Q. How about the separation of flight personnel and ground personnel?
Q. Did you operate with your own ground personnel a majority of the time or not?
A. On the P-38's, yes. On the P-39's, about half the time. When I first got to Guadalcanal, there was only one squadron of P-39's there; now I think they have parts of three squadrons.
Q. Would it be more successful to organize maintenance units for each type and keep them separate from the flight personnel so they could stay in one place and service any group of flight personnel?
Q. Did you have any trouble with turbos?
A. Very little; we had excellent luck with turbos. We kept them covered at night and if the weather was bad during the day. At first we had some trouble with the waist gate sticking.
Q. Have you any comment on turbos getting shot up?
A. Several planes which had the engines shot up must have been hit in the turbo. We usually saw white smoke pouring out,
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
which might indicate the cooling line had burst; but I believe the turbo was shot out. The boys seemed to have trouble feathering their props on that side; but when they could get them feathered, they came home with the rest of the outfit, on several occasions on one engine, slowing down to about 200 miles an hour. On the other hand, one day I saw two planes with one engine smoking, and neither got back; I saw the engine burn out of one and fall in the water. I've asked to have fire extinguishers installed for the engines.
BUREAU C0MMENT: From verbal reports received it is believed that fires are caused more often in turbo installations by first unbalancing the turbo by hits and then the resultant vibrations break fuel and oil lines. This creates a condition that is almost certain to cause a fire.
TWIN-ENGINE VS SINGLE-ENGINE FIGHTERS
Q. For fighter airplanes, would you comment on the desirability of twin engines versus single engines?
A. I've flown twin engine planes only a couple of hundred hours; but I like them much better than single engine, especially in that over-the-water fighting, because if one engine is damaged you can come back on the other. That is the main advantage. Stability in maneuvering is also important - you can pull up and slow down, do a loop and get out in zero miles an hour; and it will just mush down a little, come around and pull down and out. There's no tendency to spin. The P-38 is the most stable airplane I've flown. You can do aerobatics with it beautifully.
BUREAU C0MMENT: For observations on twin-engine vs single-engine fighters see the Interviews of Major M. M. Magruder, USMC, May 11, 1943; and Lt. Col. E. A. Montgomery, June 9, 1943.
Q. Row about the planes that got back on one engine, were they hit in the turbos?
A. I don't know of any case where they were hit in the turbos and got back. Most of them were hit either in the oil lines or the cooler.
Q. Could you use the engine with the turbo cut out?
A. It heats up.
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
In January of 1942 about twenty or us were listed by the Army in Washington as experienced, combat pilots, ready to go. I had had more time than most — I'd had three hours in a P-40! It was fortunate, then, that at Fiji we were trained by naval aviators before going to combat duty. The only gunnery we'd had was some ground target practice, which isn't really very much help. The SARATOGA'S fighting squadron came ashore with plenty of ammunition for practice; they were there for about a week and shot continuously. They then taught us to shoot; took us up and showed us the Navy patterns with the Grummans; towed targets for us for about three days. We learned and used their system. A precedent had been established, and for about two months many of us practiced gunnery Navy style.
OPERATIONS PROM GUADALCANAL
When we went to Guadalcanal, we had had only five, six, or ten hours in twin-engine planes. We got there just before Christmas, when things had quieted down considerably; the only thing left to do was to push the Japs off the island. The Marines, who had pushed them back five or six miles, with their bare hands, turned the matter over to the Army, that had come in there well equipped with artillery and other equipment. The Army made a concerted effort against the Japs, and we in the P-39's did some dive bombing with the SBD's. We also made daily trips with the SBD's to bomb Munda.
Before going on a mission, we'd get instructions from a Marine colonel, who had received them from headquarters of the Marine commanding general by telephone. The colonel would tell us what to do, but not how to do it, except that they were to have a complement accompany us and we ware to fly a certain strata. We usually flew at a higher altitude than the Grummans. On quiet days, Headquarters would inquire, "What have we done today?" If we had a blank report sheet, the order would come, "Send out a strike!"
On one such occasion, when the weather was so bad it was locked in from the water to the sea to the sky over Tulagi, we were sent to search the channel for a target. The SBD's were rendezvoused over the field; the P-38's and the Grummans formed. There was a lot of chatter back and forth; and when we were about five or ten miles from the wall of fog, about 4:30 in the afternoon, the SBD leader said, "All right, boys, let's head out". The P-38's were weaving back and forth at the highest elevation, about 6000 feet. Very soon we heard, "SBD leader calling flight -- let's turn around and go back and live to fight another day!" So everybody turned around and went home!
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
As I'said, they used to give us our missions and then let us alone. We lived generally with the Marines; the Navy was over on Henderson. The Marines fed and clothed us for a long time; when we couldn't get supplies from our infantry, we'd just go to the Marines, without any papers or any endorsements from our Congressmen, and get what we wanted. The newspaper reports about non-cooperation aren't truth.
Major Mitchell and his men flew six or seven missions, dirty missions with bombers to Kahili in P-40's, meeting lots of opposition. Their job was top cover; the bombers flew very high, at 25,000 to 26,000 feet, the p-40' s a little lower, and the Marines (Grummans) at about 15,000, working with the SBD's.
Several times when bombers had engaged Zeros, the P-38's, weaving back and forth up high, didn't see the fighting. That's quite possible! It happened two or three times and was extremely embarrassing. They'd come back and say to the P-38 pilots, "Where the hell were you when the fight was going on? We could have used you!" We'd say, "What fighting?" (As you all know, the radios never work in combat when you need them. The Navy flyers were on the main frequency, and we on another, so we had to switch to the main frequency to call the SBD's or be called by them. Quite often only one or two of our radios would be in operation - and the wrong man would hear the call). Well, two or three times the P-38's went blithely on their way while fighting was going on. They began to call our P-38's "high altitude fox holes"!
One afternoon in March a P-38 photographic plane got pictures of about thirty Japanese floatplanes in Palsi Lagoon at Shortland. The Navy planned a strike for eight P-38's and eight Corsairs, with a Marine major to lead the flight. This mission is also covered in this copy of 'Air Battle Notes from the South Pacific - No 14 Starting about three in the morning, we were to fly below the Islands through the Coral Sea; low, about 50 or 100 feet, to evade whatever radar the Nips may have had; and strike just before dawn, as soon as there was light enough to see. We were to make one pass and get out because it was thought there was a lot of antiaircraft. We took off in the dark and rendezvoused over our field. The Marine major had trouble with his electrical system, never heard or talked to anybody, and went back. I couldn't communicate with him, so my group started out with the six Corsairs. It was raining hard, and at the end of about two and a half hours the Corsair people and a couple of P-38's - the ones with any wisdom - decided they wouldn't be able to reach the target and get home, so they turned back. The others of us went through a particularly bad front, coming out almost on the target - five P-38's and one Corsair. The Corsair was right up under me; he was bothering my aileron with his propeller. Since I'm not the navigator that Marine major probably was, we picked the wrong target. They had given me some identification features: a hill 600 feet high that I was to find and leap over to find
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
the target. I found the 600-foot hill and leaped over it - and there was nothing there but a beach. So we went back through Shortland Harbor, flying among the boats there, in a sort of frantic string, just about on top of the water. I went back and found the target; there was no 600-foot hill, it was about 100 feet high. We went through the target and got eight of the planes. There was quite a bit of anti-aircraft, particularly for the people in the rear; for in strafing the leader goes through and has the time of his life; the poor devils in the rear getting shot at from all angles.
They'd had the mission so detailed that we each had an airplane to shoot at. We'd been given a point of retirement over a hill; they'd said, "This is the only place there is no anti-aircraft, head for it". After I'd made my pass at the floatplane, I turned and found the knoll all right; and everything was fine until I got to it, when five or six fingers came up -- all, of us flew right through it, not one got hit. We were quite fortunate that day.
As we came off the target, we saw a destroyer (Actually, Subchaser No. 28) at which we made three or four passes, leaving it burning. The photographic plane went over a little later and took a picture of it burning and sinking. On a pass over the destroyer one of the boys (then-Lieutenant Rex Barber) hit the mast and tore off 42 inches of his wing, and another lad had one engine shot out. Both of them got safely home. The man with one engine could only make about 170; we had to slow down for him; the one with the wing shot off flew his customary 210 or 220 and landed with customary speed. -- We knew the Marines would top that one, and I read the other day that a Corsair came in with 43 inches off! -— The Corsair pilot who was with us on this mission flew back to his own field, clear across the field, rolled a couple of times over it, pulled up in a chandelle - and ran out of gas at the end of the runway! The squadron commander came out and raized hell. I later asked another Marine pilot why this lad had kept on going when the others had turned back. He said, 'That guy doesn't know any better." Then I asked the lad himself, "How did you think you were going to get back?" He answered, "I didn't think I was going to get back, but I sure wasn't going to miss out on it; that was the first chance I'd ever had. I was pretty surprised when I got all the way home." -- And he came back and did two rolls! I believe he was later decorated for his work on the mission.
On that occasion we flew about 350 miles out and around and returned about 280 miles. One pilot ran out of gas; the rest of us had plenty. In a formation of anything over four planes you're bound to have one who will limit your range. On the mission Major Mitchell mentioned, we flew 450 out and around, dropped our tanks, fought, and returned about 320 miles.
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
CORSAIRS AND P-38's
We were also sent on a number of missions with Corsairs, because we were reputed to be the same speed. We found, however the Corsairs at their best economical speed cruise around 170 miles an hour (150 knots); we cruised economically at 210 or 280; so we had to weave quite a bit, and found that we could go farther than the Corsairs, straight distance. One day the Corsairs opened up and went after a target, diving and pulling away, and I had a hell of a time keeping up with them. I don't know how fast the Corsair is, but I'd bet money we could outrun them, straight and level.
They strafed a good sized cargo ship and set the superstructure afire, which was about all they could do with the .50's. The P-38's followed and set more fires, but we couldn't do much with the thing. It was pretty big, not like the destroyers which, Navy men tell me, have very thin sides. We could see the shells bouncing off the cargo ship, sitting like a duck in the water with no anti-aircraft, so we dropped our belly tanks and some incendiaries on it. It blew up; had ammunition on it. When within their range, the Corsairs and the P-38's are used for strafing missions of that sort.
Once in the Russells we went to meet eleven Nips with four of our planes. We kept the fight at 30,000 feet. None of us got any scratches. We claimed seven Jap planes out of the eleven; three fell which none of us claimed because we didn't see them go down; one got away.
We abused the supercharger somewhat. On the mission just mentioned, chasing a Jap full throttle, I was getting about 45 inches and indicating 265-270. Another time I was right down on the tree tops, indicating 310 miles an hour with almost a full ammunition load, full throttle. The needle went clear around past the two so-called stops, to about 10. I guess I was getting about 65 Inches out of each engine, and I held that for about eight or nine minutes, two or three minutes on the ground until the Japs got down to my level. Then, with all that speed, I started to climb, and immediately left them behind. For about eight or nine minutes I gave those two Allisons full power, and the supercharger had turned in long since. Neither engine heated up. The day we made the interception in the Russells, keeping the formation together, we climbed to 30,000 feet in eighteen minutes. Keeping four planes together, I think that's the fastest we can do.
P-38's are-pretty rugged; they take a lot of punishment. They're apparently vulnerable only in the engine. The pilot is pretty well protected. A major came in one day with bullets all over his plane, all around ths cockpit; they'd glanced off the armor, hit the instruments, or come to the front and glanced sidewise - but the pilot hadn't been touched. A Nip pilot who'd
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been shot down over the Russells was put in a P-38. He had also been a commercial pilot. He took a look around the P-38; for a minute he said nothing; then he reached up and rapped that big glass in front, rapped the thing underneath - then made a long-drawn-out exclamation with his eyes just popping out. He looked at the gunnery equipment and was speechless. He said, as did others, the Japs thought the P-38's the best planes they were running into. They didn't, however, have much respect for the pilots who flew them. That was in January; I hope they've changed their minds about the pilots since then.
The firepower, four .50's and a cannon, is quite satisfactory. The cannon is all explosive, although on strafing missions we loaded them 1-1-1 when possible. The four .50's flying right straight up make a splendid concentration of firepower.
New people coming out there are miserably trained. They're afraid of the planes because they've heard unfavorable comment about them. When they've been kidded along a little, flown the planes and learned how stable they are, how well the pilot is protected, what a lot of damage can be dealt out with them -- in other words, once they get in a flight -- they're OK. It doesn't take very long for the ordinary American kid to catch on.
JAP PILOTS AND TACTICS
The Japanese continue to fly as they always have; react the same way to an attack, do the same fundamental things. I've never run into one who when attacked from behind would cut his throttle; their planes, I should think, would stop abruptly if they'd cut the throttle, and we'd overshoot them. Some of them are smart enough to pull off to the side, but that's usually taken care of by our wing man. Generally speaking, they still pull right up in the air; or roll upside down and go straight down, which puts them out of the fight. The Japanese pilots coming over are not so smart as they used to be; they're probably running into the dregs now.
Q. What kind of tactics do you use in the P-38's against the Zeros?
A. Well, I had a four-plane section which had flown together for about a year, which is unusual for the Army. Each of us felt very responsible for the others; I was responsible for my wing man and he for me. We never had occasion to use any evasive maneuvers; we were never surprised from behind. We had planned that if we were completely surprised and had to get out in a hurry we would pull off in a dive and scissor the way naval
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aviators do in the dive, except we would endeavor to pull off sidewise and back. In an attack, my first two planes would go in formation.
Four Grummans, away beyond their altitude at 26,000 feet, were jumped by some Japs from above. We P-38's went in at 240-250 miles an hour indicated and had a lot of speed when we got up to the Jap planes. I got a direct hit at one; another pulled off to the side and followed me. I pulled away at full throttle, about 180-190 miles indicated. The Jap fell back and back, keeping at the same level but no longer shooting. When he turned around to leave, My wing man got him.
We try to stay in a ball within a mile area, each keeping his wing man in sight. The leader, being the ranking man, has first chance to shoot; and the wing man, although he also wants to shoot down enemy planes, suppresses that desire until the leader has taken care of his Jap. Then it's the wing man's chance, with the leader protecting him. We operate that way - just two fellows working together. It is the leader's responsibility, however, to keep the two pairs of planes in proximity to each other. Naval aviators are far better disciplined than Army, primarily because they've flown together longer.
Q. Is the high wing loading of the P-38 a handicap in combat?
A. It has a high wing loading on paper but not in the air. It won't stall because of the action of the two engines. You pull it right up; when it is time to stall, you look at the altimeter. You feel no sensation until it starts to drop. You can get right up steeply; if something is following you keep pulling up and up until it indicates zero, then start falling.
Q. You went head-on at the Zeros?
A. I only got two head-on passes. If the Zeros saw there was a chance of our getting around them, they'd turn and go off; we couldn't seem to get them to tangle with us. The P-38 is a very maneuverable plane, despite its size.
Q. How did you like the 20-mm?
A. The 20-mm is all right. The 37-mm in the P-39 fires too slowly; so slowly that the Zeros can bounce in and out between shells! It used to jam. It's all right for ground strafing.
BUREAU COMMENT: The P-38 has 4 - .50 caliber guns in the nose with 500 rounds per gun, plus 1 - 20 mm gun with 60 - 120 rounds. It is a very good installation lending itself to easy servicing.
The bomb and drop tank installation is also very neat. The Bureau is endeavoring to adapt as many of the P-38 armament features to new designs and to present service types as is practicable.
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
Q. Did you do any skip bombing with the P-38?
A. No; but they're practicing.
It's very nice having those two engines, especially going over that water! When one goes bad, you can use the other.
Q. How many airplanes did you keep in commission?
A. About sixteen.
Q. Were replacement pilots furnished you, or did you use what was in your original organization all the time?
Q. With your experience in training available people at Guadalcanal, do you have any general recommendations, in so far as a flight training program is concerned? Did it appear that the Army training system, up to the time a boy gets his wings, is lacking in particular phase, other than gunnery and night flying?A. I think the main trouble was that the pilots were sent out directly from flying school, with only about 30 or 40 hours of flight time. I'm sure if they had had 100 or 150 hours of flight time before going out they would not have been lacking in the things I mentioned. It was not so much improper training as insufficient flying experience.
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U. S. CONFIDENTIAL
Q. Do you think it would be a good thing to keep four people together through flight training and operational training?
Q. A Navy squadron was recently forming in the States, and the squadron commander said, "By all means give me men who have been together for a while; it's much less trouble training men who already know each other, who have been to flight school together." By chance we were able to do that, but we are going to make it a practice hereafter, if possible.
BUREAU COMMENT: The Navy at the present time is giving practically all graduates from Intermediate Training necessary to fill fleet requirements · a two months course in operational training in service type planes. This course simulates actual combat conditions in the latest type combat planes. The student will now go to a new squadron with about 105 hours flight time in the type plane he will fly in combat.
A large percentage of the instructors in operational training have had actual combat experience in the fleet.
As far as available personnel permits, men going through flight and operational training at the same time are kept together.
P-38 — PERFORMANCE AND TACTICS
Q. Did the handbook restrictions on P-38 compressibility in higher altitudes hinder you in combat?
A. We out there didn't know the meaning of the word! It means "the absolute", does it not? Apparently the P-38 can become unmanageable in a dive. All of us, I guess, have tested that at least once; but you don't have to hold it that long usually. It builds up a lot of "compressibility", but you could
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indicate between 400 and 500 miles an hour around 20,000 feet and pull out without any trouble. You get a shudder but bring it out on the bridge of the shudder instead of going into it, and let it buck. In that bucking you won't snap anything off; ordinarily in bucking you vibrate right down to the ground, but you get back on the edge and ease it out.
Q. Does that bucking build up pretty heavily as you go down?
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