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  P-38J-10-LO Lightning Serial Number 42-67638 Nose 85
USAAF
11th AF
343th FG
54th FS

Click For Enlargement
via Hill Aerospace 2001

Pilot  1st Lt. Arthur W. Kidder, Jr.
Force Landed  February 2, 1945

Pilot History
Lt. Kidder was an experienced P-38 pilot, having flown 54 combat missions on a previous tour of duty in Italy with the 96th Fighter Group. He had four enemy kills to his credit: one on July 4, 1944 and three on July 8, 1944.

Aircraft History
Built by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (LAC) in Burbank, California. Delivered to the U. S. Army.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 11th Air Force, 343rd Fighter Group, 54th Fighter Squadron during May 1944. No known nose art or nickname. Nose Number 85. This aircraft operated from Attu Airfield (Alexai Point Airfield) on Attu.

During early 1945, P-38s of the 54th Fighter Squadron began to fly special high-altitude missions to intercept Japanese balloon bombs drifting eastward in the jet stream towards North America. These last-ditch terror weapons were launched from Japan in hopes of dropping incendiary charges onto the United States and Canada. Attu Airfield was directly in their flight path, which passed overhead at between 30,000' to 37,000'.

Mission History
On February 2, 1945 took off on a local test hop following a 50 hour inspection. The test flight was scheduled to take two hours, checking the aircraft's operation at the extremes of its performance envelope.

After the mission, Lt. Kidder radioed Attu Airfield (Alexai Point Airfield) for clearance to land and headed down through the clouds. The controller gave him a vector heading and said he was only about 15 miles from base, but when Kidder broke out of the clouds at about 1,500 feet above the Pacific there was no land in sight. He tried to radio the control tower again for further directions, but discovered that ice had formed on his primary radio's antenna wire as he had descended through the overcast, causing it to snap off. He climbed back through the clouds to try a backup line-of-sight radio, but received no reply to his calls. He again let back down through the clouds and began to search for the base, flying a rectangular search pattern and extending each side of the box by five minutes each time.

For four hours Lt. Kidder searched in vain for his home island. Running low on fuel, he began to look for any dry land to set the plane down. Ditching in the frigid ocean was out of the question. Even in a life raft he would not last long. Finally he spotted Buldir Island and circled it looking for a suitable landing site. Only a small patch of relatively flat terrain existed on the island and he headed straight for it. Knowing that the P-38 was fairly smooth on the bottom and prone to slide great distances in belly-landings, Kidder decided to lower the gear and then retract them at the last moment, leaving the gear doors down to plow into the ground and slow his slide. This worked perfectly and the P-38 slid only 300' before coming to rest in the tall grass. With only 385 hours on its airframe, this P-38's short career came to an abrupt end.

Five U.S. Army soldiers stationed at a tiny weather outpost on the otherwise uninhabited island heard the crash-landing and ran to help the pilot. They informed Kidder that he had landed on Buldir Island, 100 miles east of his base on Attu. They immediately began sending messages on their low-powered weather reporting radio, but since no one was expecting a report from them at that time there was no response. Late that night a ham radio operator in St. Louis, Missouri, picked up their distress calls and contacted the War Department. A Navy patrol vessel picked up Lt. Kidder two days later and returned him to Attu.

Wreckage
This Lightning was abandoned and used as a ground target for other P-38s performing air-to-ground gunnery training. What remained of the aircraft remained in situ on Buldir Island for nearly fifty years, until August 1994.

Recovery
The Air Force Heritage Foundation of Utah staged an expedition to recover the aircraft from its crash site. Arthur Kidder, now retired and living in Colorado, was located and invited to accompany Heritage Foundation members and personnel from the 405th Combat Logistics Support Squadron from Hill AFB on the recovery expedition.

Restoration & Display
The recovered aircraft was delivered in October 1994 to an aircraft restoration company in southern California, where it underwent a complete rebuild.

The restored P-38 arrived at Hill Aerospace Museum in August 1996. Portions of other P-38's recovered by Dick Odgers from Cold Bay, Alaska were also used in the restoration.

References
Hill AFB - P-38 Restoration (via Wayback Machine 2007)

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

Tech Info
P-38

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