This is for real! I gotta help my buddies! Your plane is undamaged;
you’ll get your chance tomorrow.
The morning comes, and your plane is ready. You will be on 1st
Lt. Meeker’s wing. You brief; then you wait for four hours. No word
from the coast watchers or from radar. You feel some apprehension,
but keep it to yourself. The warning finally comes: “Inbound
Japanese aircraft, 30 or 40 of them.” You run to your airplane,
climb up, step over the canopy rail, plop down on the seat, and hit
the starter. The Pratt sputters, starts, and rumbles. You fasten your
belt and harness and pull on your helmet. Meeker pulls out and you
follow him. He goes directly to the runway and powers up; you do
the same, and just like that, you’re off.
You’re airborne, in your familiar little cocoon of stick, rudder,
throttle, guns, and clatter. You fly a loose formation while you
crank the gear up, and then settle in off Meeker’s wing. He looks
out at you. This is it—combat! Your squadron mates are forming up
around you. Some P-39s take off after you. With no oxygen, they’ll
climb to 12,000 feet and be low cover; you’ll climb to 15,000 feet
and be high cover.
Where are the Bettys and Zeros? You rubber-neck looking
for them. They like to be high and pop out of clouds. The radio
crackles: It’s the P-39s. “Zeros over us! Jumping us!” The fight is
on! Meeker dives and you follow to protect his tail. Damn, there
are airplanes all over the place! Some are in and out of the clouds.
Other Wildcats are diving on the Bettys with high, side-angle
passes to avoid the tail guns. You see the Wildcats fire and one
Betty explodes like a tin can full of gasoline. They told you the Zero
would do the same if you hit it; it’s maneuverable but it isn’t tough
like the Wildcat.
Meeker fires on a Zero and pieces fly off, but no explosion. The
Zero rolls slowly left and goes into a cloud—you’re pretty sure he’s
hit bad. You follow Meeker under the cloud; your aircraft
shudders and you feel some pings—pieces from the Zero.
You both pull up and head to the left, toward the fight,
with your head turned as far as possible to see if anyone
is behind you. There’s a Zero, but he’s pointed toward a
Wildcat on your right. Those two are head-to-head and
no one is blinking! They both fire, miss, and immediately
turn to try to gain advantage.
Lauran Paine Jr., EAA 582274, is a retired military pilot and retired airline pilot. He built
and flies an RV- 8 and has owned a Stearman and a Champ.