Sep 24, 2012 3:19 PM by Matt Stafford

Remembering WWII - local pilot Frank Royal remembers watching air power grow

Colorado Springs will soon be home to a brand new national World War II aviation museum. The grand opening is October 13th; it's located at 765 Aviation Way, backing right up to the runways at the Colorado Springs Airport.

The museum focuses on not only the planes that helped win the war, but also the community effort that made victory possible. That effort was evident across the country, and in southern Colorado.

News 5 has had the opportunity to sit down with some local men and women who played a role in that fight.

"It reminds me of the first one that I crawled into," says (ret.) Col. Frank Royal, who flew missions as a pilot in the Pacific during WWII; he tells us that while looking into a restoration project of a P-38 at WestPac Restorations in Colorado Springs. That's what he flew.

Royal's unit, the 39th Fighters, was called to the Pacific shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941.

Now 70 years later Col. Royal might have flown in the plane sitting behind him.

"Very likely," says Col. Royal.

WestPac Restorations pulled the P-38 from a wreckage pit in New Guinea, where the military left it after the war. The facility uses fabrication methods from the 40's and completely restores planes like that P-38; even making them flyable.

The P-38, when finished, will be on display at the soon-to-be National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs opening in October.

"Kind of surprising to think back on what contact I might have had with that airplane those years ago," says Col. Royal, but it wasn't the first plane his squadron, the 39th Fighters, had.

"Initially we had the Bell Airacobra," says Col. Royal. "The Airacobra hadn't been a good airplane for that war."

"We were trying to get on top of the Japanese who had been on top of us because their planes were better for altitude and agility initially," Col. Royal explains. "But we got the P-38s; we were the first squadron in the Pacific to get the 38s." Col. Royal was part of the leadership group that went to get the first fleet of P-38s, and he says they noticed how much they would help right away.

"We could get up above them (the Japanese) because it had supercharger and two engines," says Col. Royal.

They were proud of the new plane, and it was a big help. Col. Royal knows it came to them because of hard work back home.

"Both the Japanese and the Germans were ahead of us in preparing for that war. We were scratching trying to catch up," says Col. Royal. "I think it's different from any war we've had since because there was such an effort, unanimous support, to do what needed to be done."

To this day Royal is still proud he got to help.

Col. Royal tells us the 39th Fighters were the first to shoot down 100 Japanese fighters in the Pacific theater.

For more on the National Museum of World War II Aviation, click here.

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