Warren E. Olsen, age 23, from Racine, Wisconsin would graduate from flight school and receive his single engine fighter pilot rating early in 1944. He only had 223:35 hours flying time when he began his twin-engine fighter pilot training in the fast and agile Lockheed P-38J "Lightning". Lt. Olsen would be flying one of the fastest fighter aircraft of World War II. It was also a dangerous and unforgiving aircraft to fly by the novice pilot.
But in the hands of an experienced pilot, this aircraft could out perform almost anything in the air. It was a twin engine beauty with speed and firepower that was seldom equaled by its adversaries. It was a welcome sight to the bomber crews headed for the German homeland. The P-38s provided escort for the heavy, bomb laden B-17s and B-24s, who were carrying the war to Hitler's front door. To the Luftwaffe it was known as "The Forked Tail Devil"
In the South Pacific, Japanese Admiral Isoroko Yamamoto would meet death over Bougainville when his plane was intercepted by a flight of sixteen P-38s from Guadalcanal. Lt. Thomas Lanphier would later be credited with downing Yamamoto's "Betty" bomber. Admiral Yamamoto was the mastermind behind the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and the P-38s were seeking revenge.
In New Guinea, Major Richard Bong would become America's top scoring fighter ace while flying a P-38 he named "Marge", after his soon-to-be wife.
Lt. Olsen would not get the chance to equal these great aerial feats in his P-38. At 13:00 on the 24th of May 1944, he would depart the Santa Rosa Army Airfield and head out to sea for some aerial gunnery practice. He was the second man in the flight of three P-38s. About twenty-five miles out to sea the flight intercepted the plane towing the target, and the gunnery practice began.
As Lt. Olsen commenced his run at the target, he was firing his .50 caliber machine guns. Suddenly, one of his bullets hit the tow cable, and the target broke free. Lt. Olsen made every attempt to avoid hitting the free falling target, but because of his speed and position, he was not successful.
In the new book "Aircraft Wrecks in The Mountains and Deserts of California", (3rd edition), by G. Pat Macha and Don R. Jordan, you'll read the full story of this tragic accident. You will learn where to go to see one of the engines from the long lost P-38J, and view the memorial, commemorating the life of Lt. Warren E. Olsen.
The new book is now available from Info Net Publishing, or any retail book store.
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