Restored WWII fighter morphs into Flying Bull
For more than three years, the P-38L Lightning has been sitting in a nondescript hangar, slowly being brought back to life bolt by bolt.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
BRECKENRIDGE, Texas — For more than three years, the P-38L Lightning has been sitting in a nondescript hangar, slowly being brought back to life bolt by bolt.
One of six still flying, the World War II-era fighter built by Lockheed will trade its humble West Texas airfield this week for the sleek, all-glass Hangar 7 in Salzburg, Austria.
Once there, it will be the centerpiece of the Flying Bulls team funded by billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder of the popular Red Bull energy drink, to promote the beverage.
Mateschitz, 64, who Forbes magazine says is worth $4 billion and ranks as the world's 260th richest man, has assembled a fleet of 34 planes and helicopters, including a Douglas DC-6B airliner and a B-25J Mitchell bomber. Hangar 7 also includes several bars and a high-end restaurant where a new celebrity chef takes up residence every month.
"This plane will be the featured attraction along with the B-25," said Siegfried "Sigi" Angerer, the chief pilot for the Flying Bulls. "It will be the only P-38 in Europe. It's going to get a lot of attention when we get it over there."
The Flying Bulls team started 20 years ago after Angerer took Mateschitz on a sightseeing flight. Angerer later was asked to paint a red bull on his plane and he agreed. In time, Mateschitz would return, seeking flying lessons and eventually help acquiring planes.
"Every one is always going to be the last one," Angerer said.
To get the plane to Austria will require a 7,500-mile journey across the North Atlantic to Greenland, Iceland, the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, Germany and finally Austria. The four-day journey will require 25 hours and 5 minutes of flight time.
"I can't have any head wind," Angerer said. "I only have four-and-a-half hours of fuel and the leg [from Iqaluit, formerly Forbisher Bay, Canada] to Greenland takes three-and-a-half hours. You can't mess around out there."
Nelson Ezell, owner of Ezell Aviation, the company that rebuilds warbirds, described restoring the P-38 as a monumental task but declined to detail the cost other than to say it was a "multimillion-dollar" project.
"We put an entire new skin on it. We had to build a number of parts here by studying old manuals and borrowing parts from a P-38 at the War Eagles Museum in El Paso. It was a very complex job."
Any misgivings about seeing the Flying Bull P-38 leave the country should be offset by seeing it fly again, said Larry Gregory, president of the Lone Star Flight Museum in Galveston.
"Being a proud American, you can be selfish and want to keep these in the United States," Gregory said. "But the folks at Red Bull keep these planes flying and professionally maintained. One of my pilots has even flown it and says it's amazing."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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