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Mon, Jun 09, 2008

Lightning Lives: Famous P-38 Takes Flight After Seven Years

Now Owned By Red Bull, "White Lightnin’" Back In The Sky

The world population of flying Lockheed P-38 Lightnings increased by one last week, as P-38 N25Y took to the skies over Breckenridge, TX after a three-year restoration by warbird restorers Ezell Aviation.

The polished silver P-38 took off at 1915 local time on June 2 with well-known warbird pilot Steve Hinton at the controls. The uneventful 20-minute flight was the first time the aircraft had flown since a crash landing on June 25, 2001 which heavily damaged the modified twin-engined World War II fighter.

Well-known through the warbird and air racer community as "White Lightin'", N25Y formerly owned and flown by Lefty Gardner was a fixture at many Reno air races and airshows around the nation from the 70’s through the 90’s. As Gardner was one of the founding members of the original Confederate Air Force (now Commemorative Air Force) in Texas, the P-38 was one of the first aircraft flown with the group. For years, Gardner was known for putting the all-white P-38 through its paces in a spirited aerobatic demonstration that has not been seen in a P-38 since.

On June 25, 2001, Ladd Gardner, Lefty's son, encountered an internal compressor wheel failure in the left engine of the P-38 on decent to landing in Greenwood, MS.  The failure caused an in-flight fire and Ladd was forced to conduct a gear-up emergency landing in a cotton field.  Though Ladd escaped uninjured, the damage from the forced landing was extensive and the aircraft was trucked back to Texas for rebuild.

Nearly four years later the Gardner family, unable to fund a full restoration of the aircraft, sold the P-38 to energy drink manufacturer Red Bull to assure it's return to flight while preserving the Gardner family nest-egg.

The aircraft was transported to Breckenridge, TX to Ezell Aviation in 2005 and the comprehensive restoration began. Technicians completely rehabilitated the aircraft but kept the race modifications that gave the P-38 engine cowlings a distinctive look.

Ezell Aviation hit a setback a two months ago when the airport and their hangar was hit by a tornado on April 9. The P-38 sustained minor damage to the elevator and right side tailboom though many of the hangars and aircraft on the field were damaged or completely destroyed.

According to the website for the Flying Bulls, the Red Bull flight operation based in Salzburg, Austria, the P-38 will eventually be housed at their unique "Hangar-7" facility at the Salzburg Airport.

FMI: www.ezellaviation.com, www.p38whitelightnin.com, www.flyingbulls.at

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