The Hill Aerospace Museum will soon be home to a restored P-38 Lightning fighter, a rare remnant of World War II.
The aircraft is being restored in Southern California and will be unveiled July 24 to complement Utah's centennial celebration. The Lightning will be the museum's 56th aircraft."Everybody in the world knows we're restoring it. We expect it to be quite an attraction," museum spokesman DeLoy Spencer said.
The museum's P-38 crash-landed on an island in the Aleutian chain during the war. Museum volunteers also bartered around for an instrument panel, a seat and canopy, and found two engines being used for training in Fairbanks. Three wings were bought from a salvage operation.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rex Hadley said the aircraft is a rare commodity. "The Smithsonian doesn't have one. Only two or three other museums have one, and there are only two or three others being restored."
The P-38 was the only U.S. twin-engine fighter produced in significant numbers - 9,942 by the end of World War II. And it bristled with innovations. It was the first fighter to use turbochargers, power-assisted controls and a tricycle landing gear. It also adopted a steering wheel instead of the traditional stick.
A squadron of P-38s was involved in the most significant single mission of World War II.
On April 15, 1943, American cryptanalysts intercepted and decoded a radio message revealing the itinerary of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, chief designer of Japan's naval strategy and the principal planner of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
The message said Yamamoto would be making an inspection of installations in the Solomon Islands and a morale-raising visit to his front-line pilots. The word went out to make the 550-mile flight and try to get the admiral's plane.
A flight of 16 P-38 Lightnings from Guadalcanal intercepted Yamamoto's G4M bomber and escort planes on April 18, 1943, shooting down the admiral's aircraft over Bougainville, at the east end of the Solomons. Yamamoto's death was a grievous blow to Japan's war effort. It never regained the offensive.