Thursday, June 8, 2017

Lockheed P-38 Lightning Crash in 1945 - Midland, TX

Report Photo
Report Photo
               Midland, Texas and the surrounding area has deep history in World War II military aviation, most of which involves bomber training.  While researching another project, I found a report on a 1945 fatal crash of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning in Midland.  Most accident reports in the area are bomber trainers, so the P-38 was unique.  This particular aircraft crashed shortly after taking off from Midland Municipal Airport, now called Midland Airpark (KMDD),  just a couple of miles from my home.

                On July 31, 1945, 25 year old First Lieutenant  Thomas R. Frederick unsuccessfully attempted to start the engines on a Lockheed P-38L Lightning aircraft on the ramp of Midland Municipal Airport.  Assigned to the 6th Ferrying Division, he had logged over 500 hours of flight time, with about four hours in the P-38.  A mechanic took his place in the cockpit and found the engines flooded.  Once started, the mechanic performed a run-up and Lt. Frederick got back in the cockpit.  He departed on runway 16 (southbound) for a ferrying mission to Love Field in Dallas.  About two minutes into the flight, Lt. Frederick reported trouble with his right engine which was trailing smoke.

                Several people on the ground, including mechanics, could hear the struggling engine and see the smoke trail.  One mechanic had just left his home for a trip to Pyote.   While at the intersection of “C” and Texas streets, he was directly in line with the runway and saw the distressed aircraft turn back for the field.  As the aircraft entered a downwind leg for a left pattern on the same runway, several witnesses saw that the right engine was completely stopped with the propeller feathered as he flew over the field. About two miles north of the field, Lt. Frederick turned west onto his base leg.   During the turn, the aircraft stalled, dropping the right wing.  Unable to recover from the stall, the aircraft crashed in a pasture about two miles north of the airfield.

Report Photo
Report Photo
                Firefighters and crewmen from the airfield responded immediately and found the aircraft on fire.  Lt. Frederick was unresponsive in the cockpit and rescuers struggled to free him from the twisted wreckage.  Before the crew could unfasten the seat harness, both fire trucks at the scene ran out of water.  The aircraft quickly became engulfed in flames and rescuers had to back away, leaving the pilot inside.  The emotional toll of the loss was evident in their written reports.

                The cause of the engine failure was never determined.  The stall was blamed on an improper single-engine landing procedure.  The pilot had lowered the undercarriage and flaps for a normal landing, which is not procedure for the P-38 on one engine.  The correct procedure was to land with flaps fully retracted and lower the gear as late as possible on final approach.

Lockheed P-38L
Lockheed P-38L
                Much of the report is dedicated to the lack of proper firefighting equipment at the airfield, detailing the need more water capacity and asbestos suits.  One officer reported that he believed the pilot would have survived the accident had they been able to fight the fire longer.  A pathology report, however, indicated that Lt. Frederick was most likely killed on impact.

                Photos and reports didn’t pinpoint the exact location of the wreckage, but crash site was on or near the present location of Midland Country Club.  While some wreckage was certainly left behind, the entire area has been developed or plowed and any sign of the aircraft is almost certainly gone.

                While it’s disappointing that I couldn’t call this one a definitive “find,” it was exciting to find a piece of local history that memorialized a lost military aviator. 

Click on the YouTube link for video of the crash site:





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